The buzz around enormous body-on-frame luxury SUVs has reached a fever pitch. As lavish and accommodating as ever, these massive driving implements continue to advance in high-tech usefulness, with new and updated entries from Jeep and Lexus bolstering the segment's ranks. Someone at General Motors even had the idea to give the V treatment to the Cadillac Escalade, supercharged V-8 and all. To that lot we'll add the 2022 Lincoln Navigator, which has been polished with thoughtful touches and new hands-free driving capability as part of a mid-cycle refresh.
The ability to transport people and stuff with glitzy curb appeal makes full-size luxury utes outsize status symbols unto themselves. Jeep doesn't even badge its Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer as Jeeps, lest they be tainted by the mud-plugging reputation of its lesser models. Not so with the latest Navigator, which has LINCOLN plastered across its stern and the brand's crosshair emblem set as a nearly foot-tall protrusion within its gently redrawn grille. Flanking that grille are thinner LED headlights, while the rear dons a slimmer full-width LED taillight bar that now emits horizontal animation sequences when you approach and exit the vehicle. Michael Knight's K.I.T.T. would approve.
It takes a careful eye to spot the new Gator on the road, but glance inside and its 13.2-inch center touchscreen is an easy giveaway. Compared to the 10.1-inch display that it replaces, the updated setup is a better fit in this seven- or eight-passenger Lincoln's cavernous interior, which remains one of the more fetching environments in automobiledom. As a gateway to the new Sync 4 infotainment system's bounty of features—including an optional 28-speaker Revel audio system that does its best to shake the windows out of the truck—the touchscreen also is crisply rendered and smartly laid out. Additional animations, such as swaths of faint twinkling stars that follow the needles around the digital speedometer and tachometer, grace a more data-focused 12.0-inch instrument cluster display.
The Navigator's plethora of pixels extends to its rear quarters, with second-row passengers gaining both an optional 5.8-inch infotainment touchscreen and a pair of 10.1-inch, Amazon Fire TV–equipped monitors affixed to the front seatbacks. While a three-across second-row bench remains available, stick with the standard captain's chairs and you'll unlock the newly added massage function for those heated and ventilated middle seats. Put a butt in every seat of the 131.6-inch-wheelbase L model, and there's still plenty of luggage space for all occupants—34 cubic feet behind the third row versus 19 cubes in the regular 122.5-inch-wheelbase version.
From the optional 30-way power-adjustable front seats to the lovely open-pore wood trim laser-etched with a map of the pathways in New York's Central Park—the latter included in one of two new design packages for Black Label models—the Navigator is a warm and inviting place to be. Classic luxury vibes aside, this Lincoln's greatest draw probably will be the new ActiveGlide driver assistant, which debuts as standard equipment on the upper Reserve and Black Label trims as the brand's version of Ford's BlueCruise. Much like GM's Super Cruise, ActiveGlide employs lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and driver monitoring to provide hands-free motoring on roughly 130,000 miles of divided highways. Virtual steering-wheel icons and overviews of the vehicle on the road combine in the gauge cluster to indicate when the system is active. An available head-up display (standard on the Black Label), plus a phalanx of standard active-safety gear, provides additional convenience and security.
Though our exposure was brief, ActiveGlide works as advertised, and the steering column-mounted camera and infrared light emitters saw through our attempts to trick their vision by wearing a mask, sunglasses, and hat. If it does detect your attention has strayed from the road, the system beeps with increasing intensity, the steering wheel vibrates, and the vehicle will eventually tap the brakes before the system shuts off. It will not stop the vehicle if you fail to heed its warnings, as some other systems do. Ford is upfront that this initial version of BlueCruise/ActiveGlide has been programmed rather conservatively and that improved capability, among other features, will come via over-the-air updates. This is a good thing, as ActiveGlide currently is not as capable as it probably can be and, from our experience, not as stoic in operation as GM's Super Cruise. We observed some wandering between lane lines, the system is quick to disengage around tighter bends, and occasionally it refused to recognize that we were paying attention, even after we wiggled the steering wheel. But as a tool for reducing some of the strain from gridlock and boring highway treks, it is a welcome addition.
Fortunately, the Navigator is now better to drive when a human is in full control, thanks in part to a retuned suspension that includes a stiffer rear anti-roll bar and a new camera-based system that scans the road ahead and primes the adaptive dampers for upcoming bumps. This is still a large and heavy vehicle imbued with minimal athleticism—despite what its Excite drive mode suggests—but its slow, numb steering is well suited to its preferred casual pace, and body motions feel calmer and more collected than we remember. The newly added electronic brake booster is tuned to provide a reassuringly firm and progressive brake pedal, making smooth stops a cinch. And all versions can now be had with new 22-inch wheel designs (20s remain standard on base models), which returned good ride quality on the smooth pavement around Phoenix. But we'll hold off on a final verdict until we drive one on our familiar Midwestern goat paths, as the big rollers did clomp uncomfortably over the few sharper impacts we encountered.
Little has changed under the Navigator's hood since this generation debuted for 2018. The twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 still develops 510 pound-feet of torque and is backed by an unhurried 10-speed automatic transmission. Also familiar are an 8700-pound maximum towing capacity and standard rear-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is a $2695 to $3000 option, except on the Black Label, where it's included. However, minor tuning changes have dropped the engine's horsepower count from 450 to 440, which apparently the EPA notices more than we did. The Navigator's combined fuel-economy estimate has increased by 1 mpg to 18 or 19 mpg, depending on the model. But we don't expect much deviation from the 5.2-second run to 60 mph that we recorded in our test of a 2021 model. That's satisfyingly quick for a big SUV that costs $78,405 to start and can top $120K in loaded L form. Just as noteworthy is the V-6's revised exhaust note, which thrums more deeply than before and lends this big Lincoln an appropriately throaty voice that could (almost) be mistaken for a burbling V-8's.
A comparison test ultimately will determine how the new Navigator fares against its also-fresh peers, including its archrival, the Escalade. We could argue that Lincoln fumbled the finishing touch by not commandeering the blown V-8 from the GT500 Mustang as a riposte to the Escalade V. But as a mainstay of the segment that it pioneered back in 1998, the Gator's latest revisions help keep it in step with the times.