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The 2020 Lincoln Aviator PHEV.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

It may not look it, but the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) edition of the Lincoln Aviator, known as the Grand Touring, is the most powerful Lincoln you can buy. It doesn’t look it though, because these days, Lincoln is all about serenity, peace and calm.

Wind the windows up and outside noise all but disappears. Set the instrument gauge display to “calm,” and all that’s left as distraction on the digital screen is a whisper-thin speedometer that sweeps above the basics of a fuel bar and temperature bar. Turn the drive mode setting to Normal and you’ll barely feel any bumps on the road.

Yet the PHEV engine and motor combine for 494 horsepower and a thumping 630 lbs.-ft. of torque. That’s a big increase over the 400 hp and 415 lbs.-ft. of the regular Aviator. Of course, it needs serious power because this is a seriously heavy SUV; it weighs in at a hefty 2,570 kg, which is more than 350 kg heavier than the conventionally-powered Aviator.

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Whichever version you choose, the Aviator is an expensive machine; the regular vehicle starts at $69,000 while the Grand Touring begins at $81,000. My top-of-the-line tester, optioned up with the Elements Package Plus, came in at almost $100,000 with the $2,100 Freight and PDI charges.

The Aviator PHEV's hybrid powertrain qualifies it for a green licence plate in Ontario.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

All four Lincoln SUVs offer similar comfort and convenience features and generally just vary in size. The Navigator is the largest, while the Nautilus and Corsair are smaller. Only the Aviator, however, offers a PHEV option.

That clever hybrid powertrain lets you plug it in and drive solely on electric power for around 30 kilometres. That doesn’t sound like much because it isn’t, but it’s probably good for a run to the stores if you remember to top it up again when you get home. Mostly, it’s good for adding power to the drive and – in Ontario, at least – for qualifying for a green licence plate that allows you to drive with no passengers in the HOV lanes. It’s easier to be an environmentalist if you’re wealthy.

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $81,000 / $95,035 plus $2,100 freight and PDI
  • Engine: 3.6-litre V6 with 75 kWh electric motor
  • Transmission/Drive: 10-speed automatic / AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.7 city, 9.7 hwy.
  • Alternatives: Cadillac XT6, Lexus GX, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q5


Looks

The Aviator boasts Lincoln's style-over-sportiness design philosophy.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The Aviator, like all Lincolns, looks classy with its sweeps and curves, eschewing the creases and wedges that other makers use to emphasize sportiness. There’s nothing obvious to differentiate the powerful Grand Touring from the regular edition except for the extra fueling flap for the electric plug above the front left fender.

Interior

The Aviator's interior is comfortable, quiet and calm.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Lincoln now offers one of the most satisfying interiors in the business. The leather is thick and comfortable, and the seats adjust more ways than you’ll need. As mentioned, it’s very quiet, even on the highway. Open any window just a crack, and you’ll immediately notice the effectiveness of the acoustic glass.

There are familiar buttons in familiar places, which older drivers will probably appreciate, and the central display screen could be larger and less like an iPad, but everything falls easily to hand. The push-button transmission above the centre console is simple to use and saves space, giving the front of the cabin an airier feel than most.

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Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The Aviator has three rows of seating, though the third is a bit snug for most adults.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The second row can be ordered for three seats straight across or a pair of cushier captain’s chairs, while the third row seats two children – or adults with short legs.

Performance

Even set to its “Excite” drive mode, this is not a sporty vehicle like a BMW X5 or a Range Rover Sport. You won’t long for twisting roads, and you’re unlikely to pump up the satellite radio volume for Liquid Metal. It’ll do it, but you won’t yearn for it.

Instead, you’re more likely to not get stuck because you set the drive mode to Deep Conditions (which means mud or snow, and which adjusts the various driving responses and allows wheel-spin to free the vehicle) or to not drive off the road because you set it to Slippery.

The Aviator's electric motor is more about boosting power than fuel economy.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Theoretically, you may never pay for gas again, but in practice the electric driving range is far too short for that. For Lincoln, the PHEV is about extra power, not really about saving fuel. The extra weight of the PHEV’s batteries mean the official fuel consumption of the Grand Touring is exactly the same as the regular Aviator. My own average consumption, including numerous recharges of the battery, was a respectable 8.2 L/100 km.

Towing capacity is reduced by a half-tonne, however. The conventional Aviator is rated to tow 6,700 lbs (3,040 kg), while the Grand Touring edition is rated for 5,600 lbs (2,540 kg). When it’s equipped with the optional tow package, the SUV automatically detects a hitched-up trailer and adjusts its power and suspension accordingly.

Technology

The Aviator PHEV isn't compatible with Level 3 fast chargers, but that shouldn't be a problem for most owners.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The plug-in hybrid powertrain is about as clever as it gets, but it only allows Level 2 or the slower Level 1 household charging – it cannot cope with the super-fast power of a commercial Level 3 charger. This isn’t really a big deal, as it takes around three hours to fully charge at 240 volts, or overnight at 120 volts. The average owner will install a Level 2 charger at home and won’t be fussed with looking for a few extra high-speed electric kilometres while out and about.

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Lots of little touches make the difference for the Aviator. One of its smartest features, which will surely be soon copied by every other maker, is that you no longer need to carry the key fob; it can be activated through an app on your phone. You can leave your key safe at home, and when the Aviator senses the secure app on your phone, it will run just as if the key is there.

The warning and acknowledgement sounds are no longer ding-ding chimes but actual recorded chords from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, unique to Lincoln. This doesn’t seem like much, but it’s very pleasant and adds greatly to the peaceful feel of the cabin.

All the rest of it is there too, including the excellent Sync 3 connectivity system from Ford, which works as a conduit for ensuring accurate voice control and hands-free co-ordination of apps and features.

Cargo

Because the battery pack is stored under the second row, it doesn't cut into the rear cargo space.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The 13.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is stored under the floor of the second row, which not only keeps the extra weight low and manageable but also does not cut back storage from the conventionally-powered Aviator.

In the very back, there’s 518 litres of space behind the third row and even enough space for a spare tire under the floor. Fold the second and third rows flat, and you’ll have 2,200 litres of room. If you need more than that, buy a Navigator; if you need less, buy a Nautilus or Corsair.

The verdict

Lincoln likes to call its vehicles “sanctuaries” – peaceful and relaxing places to shut out the chaos of whatever’s outside. The Aviator is not cheap, but it succeeds in this, and the Aviator Grand Touring offers extra power and a nod to environmentalists, or at least who have money.

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

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