DETROIT — Another year is in the books for the Woodward Dream Cruise, the Motor City’s cavalcade of automotive nostalgia, and it was a glorious indulgence of 1940-1970 muscle cars and land-yacht nostalgia.
For American muscle, the nostalgia is sweet because Detroit continues to lead into the 21st century with updated versions of the Corvette, Camaro, Challenger and Mustang.
But land yachts have always left me wistful because U.S. luxury makers surrendered their crowns decades ago. Cadillac Brougham tail fins no longer slice through downtown traffic. Oldsmobile Ninety-Eights the length of oil tankers are gone. Huge Chrysler New Yorkers have sailed into the sunset. The boulevards today are ruled by sleek, athletic Germans.
But I’m happy to report there is hope.
The Lincoln Aviator SUV is here and is a welcome throwback to the future. Aviator is an unabashed embrace of all that once made American luxury great: design, size, power and comfort, updated for the 21st century.
Aviator leads an army of real names. Gone is the German-like alphabet soup of MKC, MKX. They’ve been replaced by proper names like Navigator, Nautilus and Corsair.
Turbo-4s are for politically correct Euro-utes. The new Aviator swaggers into your rearview mirror with a standard 400-horsepower (best in class) twin-turbo V-6, and a rear-wheel drive based chassis, gaping chrome grille and an interior quieter than a public library and more wooded than an Upper Peninsula forest.
Where 1940s Lincoln Continental Cabriolets lowered a massive 292-cube V-12 into their engine room, the Aviator boasts a range-topping, twin-turbo V-6-powered Grand Touring model mated to an electric motor generating a stump-pulling 630 pound-feet of torque. Post-war luxury owners wanted a big V-8 to drag home the bear strapped to their rooftop. Today’s 21st-century scion is more woke — they want to bag the bear and save the planet.
So Lincoln gives ’em power with a conscience. I got 22.1 mpg in the hybrid versus 18.7 mpg in the standard V-8. Drive like there’s an eggshell on the accelerator and you can do 20 miles on the battery alone. But make no mistake, this hybrid is no pious Prius.
With its massive torque, the Grand Touring model came out of stoplights like a steam locomotive. Indeed, the hybrid’s general character differed little from its standard little brother, except that it sucked the world’s oil reserves through a smaller straw.
Design is just one part of a long journey by Lincoln that has culminated in the Aviator. Like the brand-redefining Acura RDX that was the spawn of the Acura NSX supercar and two design concepts, the Aviator is the most important Lincoln this century. On its back it carries the hopes of a new Lincoln generation.
I like to call it “Baby Navigator” because the similarities to Lincoln’s flagship are unmistakable: bling-tastic grille, tablet infotainment screen, luxurious graphics.
But the significance of Aviator is more than skin deep.
Along with the Ford Explorer, Aviator debuts a state-of-the-art rear-wheel drive based architecture.
The longitudinal engine layout takes Lincoln back to its rear-wheel drive glory days when land yacht sedans ruled Woodward. This being the 21st century, of course, SUVs are the new land yachts. But rear-wheel drive brings luxury cred — just ask European hits like BMW and Rover.
Next to Bentley, Range Rover is Lincoln’s (and just about everybody else’s) favorite Brit with its saucy proportions, short front overhangs and loooooong roofline. The Aviator (and Navigator) has been to Rover school and has the sculpted bod to prove it.
Inside, Aviator brings in the Vanderbilt’s interior designers.
Ditching the old Lincoln’s nice-if-dated vertical dash, Aviator’s horizontal interior has more layers than a wedding cake. Acres of wood laid over stitched leather are set off by delicious color combos like mocha and ebony.
Class-leading 30-way adjustable thrones will massage you to jelly. Second-row seats are hardly second-class with their own climate screen and available console island. Roomy third-row seats are accessed as easily as pulling a tab, and — with the rear rows folded — you can gaze up at the stars through the yawning panoramic roof.
Lincoln has its own personality again.