With The New Lincoln Aviator, Is Ford’s Premium Brand Finally Ready To Lead?

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No premium automobile buyer wants hand-me-down technology and engineering from a more budget-friendly, mainstream automotive brand.

Competition in the luxury automotive segment is fierce, yet while plenty of Lincoln Motor Company’s competitors either get exclusive content (engines, driver-assist features, etc.), or at least debut that content before it trickles down to the budget brand, for years, Lincoln’s model has been the opposite, with technology generally trickling up from Ford-brand products.

In 2013, the Cadillac ATS was GM’s first product to use the all-new, lightweight Alpha platform, and it would be three years after its introduction before the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro would become the first non-luxury car to use it. The current Lincoln MKZ, by contrast, launched alongside the most recent Ford Fusion in 2013, riding on the same CD4 platform. The all-new Lincoln Continental, brought out for 2017, rolls on a long-wheelbase version of the same platform. And sure, both cars have access to a Lincoln-specific twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6, but we all know it’s just an EcoBoost engine without the branding.

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Now, with the Lincoln Aviator concept unveiled at the 2018 New York International Auto Show, Ford might be signaling that it’s decided to let its luxurious Lincoln brand take the lead for once. Unlike the same-sized Explorer, the Aviator has a rear-wheel-drive layout – a move made to “deliver the capability luxury customers want,” according to Ford President of Global Markets Jim Farley. Also unlike that model, the Lincoln Aviator has an available plug-in-hybrid powertrain, which ought to deliver even more performance, along with better fuel economy.

Attractively styled with a low, sleek hood and a more cab-rearward profile, both attributes afforded by the RWD layout, the 2018 Lincoln Aviator concept could represent a turning point, in which Ford finally puts the Lincoln-branded variant out in front of its Blue Oval-badged equivalent.

Granted, there are some indicators that this isn’t entirely the case. The Lincoln Aviator will debut a standard suite of active-driver assists called “Lincoln Co-Pilot360”, built around Automatic Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Information System, and a few other technologies. But Ford already announced an equivalent “Ford Co-Pilot360” technology suite earlier in the month, which will debut on the refreshed, 2019 Ford Fusion before it ever makes its way into a Lincoln.

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The Aviator’s twin-turbocharged V6 engine will almost certainly be an existing EcoBoost mill, too. Lincoln’s brand-specific 3.0L TT V6 is a possibility, but it would have to be adapted for a longitudinal, RWD layout (both the MKZ and the Continental are FWD/AWD). More likely, the range-topping engine will be Ford’s familiar 3.5L EcoBoost – a great powerplant, but one that we’ve seen in a range of Blue Oval products already.

And of course, there’s every possibility that the same engine, plug-in-hybrid system, and RWD layout could make their way into the next Ford Explorer – a vehicle also due for a thorough redesign. Should the Ford Explorer launch before – or at the same time as – the Lincoln Aviator, Ford again will have failed to give the higher-priced luxury option anything uniquely compelling in the way of technology, instead employing the same familiar, “trickle-up” strategy that makes Lincoln seem more like a leather-trimmed afterthought than a true premium brand.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Written by Aaron Brzozowski

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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