SAN DIEGO — It's easy to think something is great when you don't have anything to compare it to. In a vacuum, whatever you're considering is automatically the best because there's no competition. But competition is what makes everything better. Capitalism, and, you know, survival of the fittest.
In-N-Out makes the best fast food burger, as long as there isn't a Shake Shack nearby because that makes the competition much more fierce. And Popeyes is clearly the best chicken sandwich unless you have a Chick-Fil-A handy. LeBron and Jordan. Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. Serena and... ok well, there's no competition there.
It's the same with cars. McLaren is obviously the best super sports car around, unless Ferrari and Lamborghini come to play, in which case it's much less obvious. Ford F-150 and RAM 1500 and Chevy Silverado? On their own, all three are wonderful trucks. But throw them into a competition, and it's much less clear.
And that brings me to my review vehicle this week: The 2020 Lincoln Aviator. It's roughly a Ford Explorer with a whole lot of luxury and class poured all over it, with a bit of extra "wow" for good measure.
It has thirty-way "perfect position" seats in the front. Thirty-way adjustability. You might think "who needs seats that adjust thirty different ways"? And the answer is no one because it's too complicated to get it fitted just right. Volvo seats have far fewer adjustable options but are way more comfortable. I don't need to adjust the thigh bolsters individually for the left and right legs, Lincoln, but I appreciate the effort.
Not everything is unnecessary in the Aviator though. There's a full digital dash that includes all kinds of nifty animations when you change drive modes. The warning chimes in the Aviator are live recordings from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from combinations of percussion, violin and viola. They're lovely. And then there's the piano key push-button shifter that debuted in the Navigator a few years ago, which seems weird for the first day and then is totally natural.
These push-button shifters are becoming much more common by the way, showing up in the new Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, as well as a number of other vehicles. They feel very unusual at first, but you get used to them very quickly and gain a lot of useful storage space in return. They're a Good Thing even if change is hard.
It's also exquisitely styled on the outside. I can't quite put my finger on what I like so much about it — it doesn't exactly feel like an airplane (Lincoln's models are adopting exploration themes: Aviator, Corsair, Navigator), but it does look... slippery. In a good way.
Anyway, all that pizzazz doesn't come cheap. My tester, a top-of-the-line "Black Label" Aviator with the $3,000 Dynamic Handling Package (adaptive suspension dampers and height-adjustable air springs) fitted, was an eye-watering $81,790. That's a lot of cheese for a mid-sized luxury SUV, even one with every feature Lincoln can think of stuffed inside it.
But it's a three-row midsize luxury crossover and that's great, but the 2021 GMC Yukon Denali with the Ultimate trim stickers for $83,495 (if you can find one) or less than two thousand dollars more than the Aviator — and that's a fully-equipped, full-sized SUV. Sure, it doesn't have quite the whizz-bang gee-gaw gadgetry of the Aviator with its fancy dash animations (you'll have to jump up to the Cadillac Escalade for all that), but the Yukon has more presence (and more space) for basically the same money.
The Aviator has a terrific 400-horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6, though it only makes 17/24/20 city/highway/combined miles per gallon. The Yukon has a massive 6.2-liter V8 that gulps down at 14/19/16, but at this price point, it's unlikely folks really care about fuel economy.
Seen in a vacuum, the Lincoln Aviator is a fantastic luxury vehicle and you can see why Matthew McConaughey likes it. But look at the larger automotive market and the extraordinarily tough competition at the same price point, and suddenly the Aviator is only alright.
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