The 2021 Lincoln Aviator is a three-row midsize luxury SUV based on the Ford Explorer. This new generation debuted just last year and takes its place between the bigger Navigator and the smaller MKC. It’s priced competitively against its European rivals, though alternatives from Acura and Infiniti are more affordable.

The second-generation Aviator comes standard with a strong 400-horsepower turbocharged V6 engine. There’s also a plug-in hybrid model that increases output to 494 hp and delivers an estimated 21 miles of electric-only propulsion. Overall, we like the Aviator, though it has a few flaws that keep it from being our top-ranked midsize luxury SUV.

The Aviator sees only minor changes for 2021, including optional 21- and 22-inch wheel designs, three new colors (Asher Gray, Ocean Drive Blue, and Flight Blue), and an available Monochromatic Reserve appearance package.

The Reserve trim receives a panoramic sunroof, and the top-flight Black Label gains soft-close doors. The Elements package—found on the Reserve and Grand Touring models—now comes with heated and ventilated front seats.

ENGINE AND IMPLEMENTATION

The 2021 Lincoln Aviator‘s 400-hp twin-turbo V-6 is among the most powerful standard engines in the mid-size luxury SUV segment. The refined 3.0-liter V-6 works with a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission to deliver both serene cruising and authoritative acceleration.

In place of a more powerful V-8 engine as an option, Lincoln offers a plug-in hybrid model that’s known as the Aviator Grand Touring. Using the same V-6 and 10-speed transmission as the standard Aviator, the Grand Touring adds a 100-hp electric motor and a 13.6-kWh battery.

The two propulsion sources combine for 494 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque, but the refinement isn’t quite up to snuff, with occasional thunks when the driveline reengages the gas engine.

The battery allows the plug-in 2021 Lincoln Aviator to cover about 18 miles in the Pure EV driving mode without using the gas engine, but the 100-hp motor is slow to accelerate the Aviator’s heft without help from the engine. Most buyers will use one of the alternative drive modes, which relies heavily on the V-6.

ENERGY AND REAL-WORLD MPG

The EPA rates the rear-wheel-drive 2021 Lincoln Aviator at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway; the all-wheel-drive model delivers 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. Those numbers place the Aviator’s fuel economy just slightly behind that of all-wheel-drive competitors such as the X5, the XC90, and the Audi Q7.

A rear-wheel-drive nonhybrid Aviator managed a paltry 22 mpg on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test route; the plug-in-hybrid all-wheel-drive Grand Touring model managed 25 mpg in the same test but managed to deliver only 15 of its estimated 21 miles of electric range before firing up its gasoline engine.

INTERIOR, CONVENIENCE, AND BOOTH

The 2021 Lincoln Aviator is available in six- or seven-seat configurations. Buyers who opt for second-row captain’s chairs will have a choice of two different center consoles between those seats, one of which allows for easier pass-through to the third row.

On trips longer than a few minutes, the back row is suitable only for small children, but that compromise means there’s more room for cargo with all seats in their upright position. The 2021 Lincoln Aviator offers 18 cubic feet of storage space, more than the BMW X5 and Cadillac XT6 provide.

Upfront, the optional Perfect Position seats offer 30-way adjustability and massaging capability. If you’re willing to spend extra for it, a camera behind the windshield scans the road for potholes and other imperfections and sends instructions to the adaptive dampers in order to improve ride quality.

IN-VEHICLE INFOTAINMENT AND INTERCONNECTIONS

A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10.1-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability are all standards on the Lincoln Aviator.

Compared with other manufacturers that use rotary controllers or multiple touchscreens, Lincoln’s single-screen configuration and traditional climate controls are easy to learn and use.

On higher trims, a smartphone’s Bluetooth signal can be used to unlock and start the Aviator in place of the key. The top-end Revel Ultima 3D audio system has 28 speakers (including some in the headliner).

PROTECTION AND DRIVER ASSISTANCE ASPECTS

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2021 Lincoln Aviator a five-star safety rating, but the folks at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) weren’t as impressed.

The mid-size Lincoln aced most of the agency’s testing, but it missed out on the Top Safety Pick award because it scored only Acceptable in the small-overlap front crash test.

The Aviator’s standard Co-Pilot360 system of driver-assistance technologies includes forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, automatic high-beams, and a rearview camera.

The optional Co-Pilot360 Plus adds adaptive cruise control, traffic-sign recognition, and a self-parking system that will steer the vehicle into both parallel and perpendicular spots.

PHOTOS

2021 Lincoln Aviator

2021 Lincoln Aviator

2021 Lincoln Aviator

2021 Lincoln Aviator

2021 Lincoln Aviator

FULL SPECIFICATIONS

2020 Lincoln Aviator Black Label AWD

VEHICLE TYPE
front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 6- or 7-passenger, 4-door hatchback

PRICE AS TESTED
$81,790 (base price $52,195)

ENGINE TYPE
twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6, 400 hp, 415 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION
10-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 119.1 in
Length: 199.3 in
Width: 79.6 in
Height: 69.6 in
Passenger volume: 148-151 cu ft
Cargo volume: 18 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 4900-5700 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
Zero to 60 mph: 6.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.6 sec @ 98 mph
Top speed: 145 mph (C/D est)
Braking, 70–0 mph: 174 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.82*
C/D observed fuel economy: 17 mpg
*stability-control-inhibited

EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/city/highway: 20–22/17–19/24–27 mpg

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