2022 Lincoln Navigator First Drive Review: Updated With Tons of Tech

The Lincoln Navigator is well established among ginormous three-row luxury SUVs, having initiated the full-size segment some 25 years ago. The latest iteration of the Navigator made its debut for the 2018 model year and has been refreshed for 2022 with updated styling and some new technology. We usually welcome changes like these, but in the case of the 2022 Navigator at least one addition isn’t, er, particularly great.

ActiveGuide Is New but Has Flaws

Let’s dive right into the trouble: The headline technology for the updated Navigator is Lincoln’s ActiveGlide semi-autonomous driving technology, effectively an adaptive cruise control and lane centering system that allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel on certain pre-mapped roads, the ever-expanding database of which will be beamed to Lincolns through over-the-air updates. (ActiveGlide is effectively a rebadged version of the BlueCruise system used in the parent company’s Ford-branded vehicles. Lincoln offers it free for the first three years before owners need to subscribe.)

Like all hands-free systems, in order to let you take your hands off the wheel, ActiveGlide needs to be able to detect that you are watching the road. To do this, the Navigator employs cameras atop the steering column that detect head and eye movements. If the system senses that the driver’s eyes are off the road, it sounds repeated aural warnings before canceling lane guidance.

We are intimately familiar with this sequence of events because we experienced it repeatedly—not because we weren’t watching where we were going, but because we forgot to bring sunglasses to the press preview. Turns out that if you squint, ActiveGlide loses track of your eyes and thinks you aren’t looking at the road. It also turns out that if a short driver doesn’t position the steering column low enough, the steering wheel hub partially blocks the camera, generating more false alarms.

“Watch the Road”? We Are Watching the Road!

We experienced ActiveGlide’s full automation on Phoenix’s 202 loop freeway and found it worked beautifully—right up until the road curved west into the afternoon sun, when it started shouting warnings to our squinting selves. (Interestingly enough, when the Navigator came to a section where it couldn’t steer itself and needed the driver to put hands back on the wheel, the warnings were silent.)

Now, we’d normally dismiss this as not such a big deal if it only affected hands-free driving, but there is a major caveat here: The face-recognition camera is also required for the normal lane centering function. So even when we weren’t letting the Lincoln do the driving—so, when we were on non-ActiveGlide-mapped roads and turned on cruise control and lane guidance, with our hands firmly on the wheel—the Navigator continued to yell at us to watch the road, even though we were.

This annoyance is piled on top of another one: Like most vehicles, when lane centering is engaged, the Navigator sounds a warning if it believes you’ve taken your hands off the wheel. Instead of a capacitive touch sensor, Lincoln uses the cheaper torque sensor, which detects inputs on the steering wheel. The problem—which we’ve experienced on other vehicles as well—is that on long straightaways, which require no steering, the Navigator yells at you to put your hands on the wheel even when they are already there. This is the reason why the Cadillac Escalade, equipped with GM’s competing Super Cruise system, invested in the pricier touch sensors. Lincoln could do better for its top-of-the-line vehicle—after all, it’s not like it’s selling these full-sizers at razor-thin profit margins.

Were these isolated incidents or due to a malfunctioning vehicle? We don’t think so. We drove two different Navigators, and both exhibited the same behavior. Furthermore, other staffers have experienced these issues with the BlueCruise-branded version of the system in Ford vehicles. However, aside from the bedeviled lane-centering system, we found lots to like in the face-lifted Navigator.

The Actual Improvements to the 2022 Lincoln Navigator

There are other changes to the ’22 Navigator, and some are genuine improvements, like the styling. The 2022 model has thinner headlights, a bolder grille, and better taillights, i.e., ones that no longer look like they’ve been installed upside down. There’s a new Central Park Edition available with a dark green interior that looks in person better than it sounds on paper, as well as the blue-upholstered Yacht Club version. (Is this a return to the 1970s, when you could get your car’s interior done up in colors other than black and beige? Gosh, we hope so.)

The newly expanded 13.2-inch center screen, which runs Ford’s Sync 4 system, is intuitive and easy to use, and the optional premium sound system is nothing short of spectacular. We also remain fascinated by Lincoln’s 30-way power front seats, though we’re not convinced they’re a great idea. Automakers pay ergonomic experts to craft seats that are supportive and comfortable, with a few simple adjustments so we can tweak them to our needs. Lincoln’s 30-way seats make, well, the occupants into the experts. Except most people aren’t orthopedic spine physicians, and they will have the same trouble we do molding the seats into a perfect position. Perhaps there is such a thing as too many choices. Lincoln, how about a few ergonomically optimized presets that we can then fine-tune?

The Best Seats Are the Rear Seats

We had a much better time in the back seat (stop giggling, you children). Before our drive, we were chauffeured around in a Navigator equipped with Lincoln’s new-for-’22 rear-seat entertainment system, which now incorporates Amazon Fire TV. Two of us streamed two separate programs from Amazon Prime (the system also does Netflix and Disney Plus), all while enjoying the class-exclusive massaging rear seats. (OK, so maybe there isn’t such a thing as too many choices.) It was a far more enjoyable experience than being yelled at by the lane-centering system.

The 2022 Lincoln Navigator also gets the latest version of Ford’s Pro Trailer Assist system, which lets you steer a trailer in reverse via a knob on the dash. Programming is now easier than ever: No separate transponder is needed (as on the Ford F-150), just a checkerboard sticker on the trailer that Ford devotees will recognize from the system’s first generation. In addition, no measuring is required to set up the system as with the original sticker-based system. Drive a calibration pattern, and the cameras do all the measuring for you. We’re pleased to see this in the Navigator; its ability to tow up to 8,700 pounds—more than half a ton better than the Escalade—is a compelling reason to buy it.

Likable, But Still Needs to Be Better

In all other respects, the 2022 Navigator is basically the gentle giant we’ve come to know and love enough to make it our top-ranked full-size luxury SUV. It has authoritative power from the 440-hp 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6, a smooth-shifting 10-speed transmission, and a somewhat noisier, choppier ride than you might expect from Lincoln’s flagship. And, of course, the Navigator is woefully inefficient—count on fuel economy numbers in the mid-teens. Lincoln tells us it has no plans to add a hybrid powertrain because gas mileage is not high on the priority list of the Navigator’s target buyer.

Hopefully said buyer is willing to deal with the driver-assistance foibles, too. Lincoln could dramatically mitigate the Navigator’s problem by disabling the face cameras for hands-on lane centering, but it would be better still if the brand invested more in the engineering of the system. ActiveGlide’s current functionality is enough to give us major pause, and that’s really a shame—among big SUVs, the Lincoln has a lot to offer. Let’s hope Lincoln sees the wisdom in investing in a rapid update to this update.

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