The all-new 2020 Lincoln Aviator three-row SUV debuted in production form at the LA Auto Show. (We caught up with it at the Detroit auto show for this preview video.)

The Aviator will slot in between the Nautilus and the full-sized Navigator, sitting in the growing, three-row luxury SUV segment. The Aviator uses a new, rear-wheel-drive platform (although all-wheel drive is available). The newest Lincoln features a luxurious, nicely finished, and tech-rich cabin, but the biggest news might be the announcement of the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid version, which has 450 horsepower and can run silently in electric-only mode for a short distance.

Prices range from $51,100 to $87,800 for the Black Label Grand Touring. 

Here is what we know so far:

2020 Lincoln Aviator SUV front

2020 Lincoln Aviator

What it competes with: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Buick Enclave
What it looks like: Classy little brother to the Navigator SUV.
Powertrains: 400-hp, 3.0-liter V6 turbo engine; 450-hp, 3.0-liter V6 turbo hybrid; 10-speed automatic transmission; rear- or all-wheel drive
Base price: $51,100
On-sale date: Early Summer 2019

Outside

The Aviator has a refined look to its styling, with visual connections to the full-sized Navigator. But it sits lower and appears more dynamic, reminiscent of some Land Rover models. Lincoln cites aeronautics as an influence, but regardless of how the design language is explained, the Aviator looks sharp.

The Lincoln Way app lets owners get into the Aviator’s cabin by using a smartphone as a key. The app mimics the traditional key-fob functions, allowing owners to lock and unlock, open the tailgate, and start the Aviator and drive away, all while the phone is left in the owner’s pocket or purse. The app can also store the driver’s profile for various comfort settings. Should the phone battery die, the Aviator can still be accessed using an exterior keypad—a quirky Ford/Lincoln feature that dates back decades.

2020 Lincoln Aviator SUV dash

Inside the Cabin

The cabin has lots of chrome and open-pore wood trim, with an overall a sense of simplified elegance. The distinct horizontal design theme makes the controls—and even the vents—seem manageable.

Center stage on the dash is a large 12-inch display screen that looks like an iPad propped up—it houses the latest version of Lincoln’s Sync infotainment system. Wireless phone charging and numerous power outlets should ensure that the family’s devices remain charged, and standard WiFi will help passengers stay connected. A 28-speaker audio system from Revel is available.

The Aviator has the same push-button gear selector setup as the Lincoln Navigator; we found it to be fussy and unintuitive in our testing.

Thirty-way powered front seats have available massage capability; we hope the standard seats are more comfortable than those we tested in the Continental sedan and the Navigator. The Aviator can seat six or seven occupants, depending on whether the vehicle is equipped with second-row captain’s chairs.

There are several special Black Label editions available, each with a different interior design motif. For instance, the leather seats in the Flight theme are intended to look like tan luggage, using minimally processed leather to retain its natural texture. Another theme, Destination, celebrates the art of travel (Lincoln says), with mahogany-red leather that has a diamond weave on the seats, and special wood trim.

An optional air suspension system will lower the Aviator as the owner approaches to make loading easier. The adaptive suspension system also has the ability to “see” potholes or other road imperfections through a system called Road Preview that uses a camera to constantly scan the road. This lets the Aviator adjust the suspension in real time to keep the ride as smooth as possible.

2020 Lincoln Aviator SUV back seat

What Drives It

The Aviator comes with a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 400 horsepower paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, with standard rear-drive or optional all-wheel drive. The Aviator can switch between five different drive modes that alter the transmission, throttle, steering, suspension, and all-wheel-drive system.

The Grand Touring version uses the 3.0-liter turbo V6 and 10-speed automatic combined with a plug-in hybrid system to produce 450 hp and a substantial 600 lb.-ft. of torque—200 more than the regular model. That gives it, in Lincoln’s words, “effortless performance.” Besides the five original drive modes, the Grand Touring gets two hybrid-specific modes: Pure EV has the ability to keep the Aviator in electric mode in most driving conditions, while Preserve EV is designed to sustain the battery charge for later use.

Lincoln says owners can fully recharge within 3 to 4 hours using 240 volts (level 2) at a public charging station, or with a home-installed charging station. Lincoln says it will share fuel economy for the gas-only model, and the electric range of the plug-in hybrid, closer to the Aviator’s market launch in summer 2019.

Safety & Driver-Assist Systems

The Aviator will come standard with the Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 suite of advanced safety systems and driver-assist features, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and automatic high beams.

The optional Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 Plus adds even more features. Traffic Jam Assist uses adaptive cruise control that can stop-and-go, resuming even after the SUV has come to a complete stop. It also has lane centering and speed limit sign recognition (which adjusts the Aviator’s speed based on the signs) to make driving in traffic less stressful. Evasive Steer Assist provides additional steering support when a collision can’t be avoided by braking alone. An automatic braking system will stop the vehicle if its sensors and camera detect an obstacle at the rear while reversing. And drivers can parallel park at the push of a button, using Lincoln’s Active Park Assist Plus, which takes care of steering, shifting, braking, and acceleration.  

CR’s Take

Stunning good looks, abundant power, a swanky interior, a plug-in hybrid option, and a rear-drive platform create an immediate appeal. Based on our Navigator road test, our biggest trepidation is whether the seats will be comfortable.

It’s possible, although Ford has yet to admit this, that the Aviator hints at what the next-generation Explorer might be like. If that comes to pass, the Explorer could become more desirable than the current, lackluster model.

We will buy the all-new Aviator and put it through our full testing regimen as soon as it goes on sale in the summer of 2019.

2020 Lincoln Aviator rear