Auto123 reviews the 2021 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring PHEV.
After driving the Lincoln Aviator when it was first revealed in 2019, I had some high hopes for this new, hybridized Grand Touring (GT) version. The non-hybrid version had great power, it looked fantastic and I liked much about the interior. The GT adds more power, to the tune of 494 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque. 630! That’s not much less than the bonkers Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk.
Now, of course, this being a plug-in hybrid you only get the full slug of torque for certain bursts, but even without counting in the 75-kw EV motor, you still have a twin-turbo 3.0L V6, which suggests that passing on the freeway and so on should never, ever be a problem.
So, it stands to reason that this GT version would be a huge step up. And in many ways, it is.
You have the power, plus you get full-EV motoring if you have the charge; you can achieve some fantastic fuel economy figures as a result. I saw 8.9L/100 km over the course of my drive, 83 of which were “electric km”, according to my trip computer. According to Lincoln, the Aviator GT is good for 34 km of EV range on a full charge. While my battery indicator showed “full” on two occasions during my test, I never saw more than 28 km on the readout, but remember: the vehicle has a memory and if whoever drove it before me had a heavy foot, that will affect my estimates.
Regardless, the computer stayed pretty true to its word and I saw almost a 1:1 ratio of km driven and km remaining on my gauge when driving in full EV mode, activated by choosing the Pure EV mode via a rotary dial mounted to the centre console. Preserve EV mode kind of sits at the other end of the spectrum (there are 7 modes in total, assuming you have enough charge to activate Pure EV) as it uses the engine to maintain EV power for use at a later time. If you’re out on the highway where the gas engine is at its most efficient, then you may want to preserve your EV power for once you’re back in stop-and-go traffic in town; Preserve EV lets you do that.
Then, of course, once you arrive home, you can plug it in, although you’ll need 10 hours or so for a full charge from zero when using a standard household outlet.
I was sure to make use of the modes – those two in particular – during my drive. You might think that requires too much thought and it’s inevitable you’ll stick with select Drive and be done with it, it becomes almost second nature after awhile. Although, seven drive modes is a lot, especially when the differences between Conserve, Normal and Preserve EV are a little tough to understand. Most Aviator GT buyers will like use either Conserve, Pure EV or Preserve EV as they do provide a good cross-section of how to achieve efficient driving, and you have to think that 494 hp/630 lb-ft or no, most are probably going with the GT because they want to save money on gas.
Excite mode – that’s the performance mode – is worth a shot if only to experience the modified exhaust note, quicker throttle response and even heavier steering it provides. It does transform the Aviator into a different animal, which surprised me. It felt properly quick when in Excite mode and that’s the mode I ended up choosing when on the highway.
Excite mode also lowers the Aviator down on its Air Glide suspension for better aerodynamics, making the ride both smoother and quieter while it’s at it. Which is something because the Aviator’s ride is already so spot on to start with, even on choppy urban roads. With the air suspension, everything just slides nicely below you as you move; even speed bumps are nicely metered out, because the vehicle is reading the ground ahead and making the necessary adjustments to make forward progress as smooth as possible. Potholes, sunken manhole covers, speed bumps – you name it, the Aviator will spot it.
All that hybrid tech does add weight – the GT weighs over 300 kg more than does the non-hybrid Reserve model – and that weight can be felt in most of the drive modes but is blunted a little once you select Excite. And that’s fine; again, not sure if buyers really care if their three-row luxury SUV is a lightweight or not, as long as you get the fuel economy, but it presents as a bit of a microcosm for the other bugaboos I found with this vehicle. And those all revolve in some way around the same thing: a delay in response.
That it starts as soon as you open the door, which is done via an electronic door handle. So, you press a button and half a second later (probably less, really, but this is how I felt) the door opens. Usually, you yank a mechanical handle and with that, you open the door. No delay in response. There’s also a button-activated door release on the inside, which is kind of awkward. I really don’t see the point and even with all that, there are no soft-close doors. Odd.
Then there’s the transmission and its gear shifter, a button-activated affair. I don’t dislike these as a rule – they reduce clutter and look slick -- but this one is a little on the slow side. Not so much when it comes to shifting actual gears, but more when going from drive to reverse and so on. It takes time, and coupled with a frustrating lack of creep, it can make parking more of a chore than it needs to be. There is a self-parking system, though, which works rather well so I suppose you can just go ahead and use that most of the time.
Style-wise, the Aviator actually turned quite a few heads during my time with it, including those of some younger neighbourhood kids. That surprised me as I doubt many of them have Lincoln Aviators – or any Lincolns at al – on their bedroom walls. There’s just something about the Aviator; maybe it’s the grille (emblazoned with a “blued-out” emblem, to signify the GT’s hybridity), the turbine-style wheels or awesome side grilles with big, blocky Aviator scripting – also blue -- inside. It probably wasn’t the colour, though, as my tester’s Ceramic Pearl paintjob is so tame a shade. There are more colourful options, of course.
Inside, you get a bit of a dichotomy: I love the styling and detailing, such as judicious use of aluminum and chrome trim around various dials and buttons, a very crisp 10.1-inch infotainment display, digital gauge cluster and spiraling Revel audio speakers that sound fantastic. That’s all great, it’s just that the Roast Leather interior doesn’t really work. It looks like it’s trying just a little too hard; I get that it’s meant to look like a coffee bean, but it’s so dark it looks closer to a burnt coffee bean. The woodgrain inserts don’t really work either in that they’re too close in shade to the leather around them, until you look closer and realize that they’re closer in shade to the wood housing around a circa 1975 Zenith television.
There are plenty more interior colour options and I’d go with any one of them over this, as they all look really nice. Inside cars brown either works really well or not well at all, and this is closer to the latter. It’s too bad because otherwise, it’s an attractive, open and airy interior.
It’s also roomy; the third row seats are properly usable with enough head- and legroom for adults to be OK even for medium-length drives, and they’re accessed via a tilt-and-slide second row. Or, you can just pass between the two second-row captain’s chairs to get back there, but the floor-mounted cupholders make this more of a chore. Not sure why they had to be mounted there in particular.
The front seats, meanwhile, are adjustable 30-ways – 30! – and while I would have liked a little more padding on the lower back area (the seatbacks are thin to give second-row occupants more room, meaning cushions are more of the high-density variety), almost everyone will find a position that works for them. I mean, each thigh gets its own adjustability, for goodness sakes!
So, as I said, in many ways – the powertrain, interior room, even the styling – the GT is a big step up over the Reserve model. There are a few letdowns that surprised me, a few features that seem like “tech for the sake of tech”. Get used to all that, though, and you’re left with the nice combination of a proper three-row plug-in hybrid with a healthy dose of luxury.
Powerful hybrid drivetrain
We like less
Strange ergonomic decisions
Odd interior colours