Whoa. Stay with me. Allow me to explain. The lavishly equipped Navigator Black Label is top dog in the current Lincoln lineup—the biggest, most expensive vehicle from Ford’s luxury division. It’s also the first luxury vehicle from an American automaker in decades that isn’t a self-conscious New World riff on a Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Audi. Or a sad, plastic-chrome and fake-wood parody of former glories.
Proper luxury cars have always been big, powerful, and expensive. And America once built some of the world’s best—from the extravagant V-12 Packards and straight-eight Duesenbergs of the Roaring ’20s to the glitzy Cadillacs and Imperials of the rocket-age ’50s. But for more than 40 years, automotive luxury has been defined and dominated by German automakers.
When Toyota and Nissan launched Lexus and Infiniti in 1989, the cars they created for their newly minted luxury brands unashamedly channeled the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series. Cadillac’s Catera and the Lincoln LS attempted—much less credibly—to convince consumers they were E-Class and 5 Series rivals.
Today’s Rolls-Royce and Bentley models are more subtly wrought expressions of the German luxury vehicle hegemon: artful confections of British luxury iconography wrapped around engineering DNA straight out of Munich and Wolfsburg.
The Lincoln Navigator Black Label 4×4 is different.
The Black Label’s interior is stunning, especially in the pale blue and white palette Lincoln calls its “Yacht Club” theme. It’s quintessentially American, with echoes of Eames and Loewy and Neutra in its exuberant elegance, lavish scale, and midcentury-retro touches. And the Navigator is the perfect canvas for it, a uniquely American vehicle format with a commanding road presence.
Yes, the Navigator is basically a truck, but in an era when Rolls-Royce has an SUV of similar dimensions, semantics are moot. There’s a quad-cam, twin-turbo V-6 under the hood, independent suspension at the rear, and—unlike Cadillac’s Escalade—no pickup truck column shifter thrusting out from behind the steering wheel, as incongruous as muddy work boots with a tuxedo.
More important, the Navigator Black Label is just a few tweaks away from genuine luxury vehicle greatness. The 450-hp V-6 copes impressively with the 6,100-plus pounds of mass, but it does get a little grainy at higher rpm under load. The primary ride is plush, but the damping needs to better control secondary body motions, particularly at the rear axle. And those giant 22-inch wheels and low-profile tires patter on indifferent road surfaces, sending distant shudders through the frame.
None of this is difficult to fix.
With a drive mode menu that runs the gamut from sporty hustle to low-range all-wheel drive, the Navigator is a surprisingly capable all-weather, all-road all-arounder. Let’s be clear, however: Like a Rolls-Royce, this big Lincoln prefers being driven gently. It’s not about a Wagnerian blast down the autobahn at 155 mph or thrusting through the Alps en route to the south of France. No, the Black Label 4×4 is about taking you across America in quiet comfort, through a snowstorm in Chicago, a heat wave in Houston, at 11,000 feet on the I-70 west of Denver, below sea level on a gravel road in Death Valley.
Lincoln has been cruelly abused and debased by Ford Motor Co. over the years. Once the preferred transport of plutocrats and presidents, an automaker whose stately V-12 limousines rivaled Rolls-Royce in the 1930s, Lincoln had by 2006 become little more than a rounding error in the Blue Oval’s books. I’ve lost count of the number of times Ford has heralded a Lincoln comeback since, promising, “This time, it’s different.” But this time, it really feels … different.
The Navigator Black Label 4×4 is Lincoln’s new lodestar, with an appealing visual, tactile, and technical DNA that’s clearly understood and easily transferable. Yes, it’s expensive, but with good reason: There’s none of the cheap skating on mechanicals and materials that turned modern Lincolns into Walmart luxury. And underpinning it all is one simple idea: Lincoln is not trying to be German. It’s unapologetically American. It’s American luxury, resurrected.
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