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Lincoln Aviator.

TYLER GOURLEY

The fastest-growing vehicle sales segment in North America is the premium SUV, and Lincoln is counting on its new Aviator to compete with German rivals by offering a ‘certain American exuberance’.

Ford’s luxury brand already has a mid-sized SUV, the Nautilus, with two rows of seating. The Aviator is a three-row, seven-passenger vehicle, a little larger but not so big as the full-sized Navigator. It will come to Canada next summer. Pricing is not yet announced, but if it’s mid-way between the Nautilus and Navigator, then expect it to start at about $70,000.

The Aviator will have cutting-edge technology, including the ability to recognize a smartphone in place of a key.

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The “phone as a key” goes a step farther than just being able to locate the vehicle with an app and activate some of its features, which is already commonplace for new vehicles. Now, the SUV will recognize up to four activated phones to unlock the vehicle and start the engine, so there’s no longer a need to carry an electronic fob. If the driver’s phone battery is flat, the Aviator can still be unlocked with a special code. If the phone is lost or stolen, the feature can be easily deactivated from another connected phone.

“You set it, forget it, and have what I call a fobless experience,” said John Davis, Lincoln’s chief program engineer.

There’s also technology that brings it up to speed with the German competition, such as speed sign recognition, which will keep cruise control at the local speed limit, and adaptive suspension with road preview, which uses a camera to scan the road ahead for potholes and bumps, and prepares the suspension beforehand.

The SUV will recognize up to four activated phones to unlock the vehicle and start the engine, so there’s no longer a need to carry an electronic fob.

TYLER GOURLEY

Canadian Aviators will only be available with all-wheel drive, though rear-wheel drive models will be sold elsewhere. A 3.0-litre V6 engine, combined with a 10-speed automatic transmission, creates 400 hp and 400 lbs.-ft. of torque.

A plug-in hybrid version, called the Aviator Grand Touring, will be sold a few months later. It will use the extra power from its battery to create 450 hp and 600 lbs.-ft. of torque.

Inside the SUV, options will include as many as 28 speakers, including inside the actual roofliner overhead, and front seats that adjust in 30 different ways. Lincoln wants its SUVs to be welcoming sanctuaries for their passengers.

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Lincoln offers all buyers a collection-and-return service for maintenance, making sure owners don’t have to bother driving to their dealerships. More than 1,100 such deliveries have been made in Canada since the service began earlier this year.

Inside the SUV, options will include as many as 28 speakers, including inside the actual roofliner overhead, and front seats that adjust in 30 different ways. Lincoln wants its SUVs to be welcoming sanctuaries for their passengers.

TYLER GOURLEY

Lincoln president Joy Falotico lauded attention to detail “from a human, warm, personally crafted way” such as “a series of considerate prompts” from the vehicle if it senses a need: for example, when it senses from its GPS that it’s crossed from Canada to the United States, it will ask the driver if it should switch the instrumentation display from kilometres to miles.

“Our design is different from a German design, very different, and our approach to the interior space and creating that sanctuary with serenity, again very different to the competition,” said Falotico. “We know there’s a customer space out there that’s looking for that type of design.”

One exclusive feature is that Lincoln commissioned musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to record the sound chimes that passengers will hear inside the Aviator when there’s a door open, or when they need to fasten their seatbelts. Actual people with real instruments recorded 25 different chimes and tones, at three different levels of urgency.

“I think there’s a certain exuberance (to Lincoln) that’s very American, and that’s perhaps the differentiator to the German marques,” said David Woodhouse, Lincoln’s design director.

“I think the nationality of a marque is really important. It’s the heart and soul – it’s the legacy.”

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The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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