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With the exception of the supersized Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade SUVs, America’s luxury brands have largely failed to capitalize on US consumers’ love affair with premium crossovers.

Compared to rivals from the top three German brands, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the compact and mid-sized crossovers offered by both Lincoln and Cadillac in recent years are leaving customers unimpressed with their flawed designs, sub-par interiors and mediocre performance.

However, two new, three-row crossovers are coming from the Motown premium players this summer in the forms of the Cadillac XT6 and Lincoln Aviator. Both XT6 and Aviator are based on platforms used by sister mainstream models at GM and Ford. Cadillac began its XT6 reveal at the recent Detroit auto show, but initial media reactions to the vehicle have been lukewarm, questioning whether enough effort has gone into distinguishing it from its Chevy Traverse sibling.

In the sales charts, Lincoln has been trailing Cadillac for years and has its own fair share of uninspiring models, but in the case of the 2020 Aviator, the story appears to be different.

Firstly, the new Aviator shares its underpinnings with the impressive new Ford Explorer platform, but Lincoln has gone further than usual in terms of design and engineering to differentiate its version. The Aviator design borrows some cues from the popular Navigator in terms of a family look, but adds upscale touches such as blacked out side pillars and a Range Rover Velar-like sloping roofline.

The relative sleekness of the design masks the fact that this is still a large vehicle, albeit 10 inches shorter than the Navigator. On the road, the Aviator will look imposing but with less of the ‘in-your-face’ visual impact of its big brother.

For Joy Falotico, Lincoln division chief, the new Aviator will help the brand build on the success of the Navigator, by adopting some of its key elements, notably a truly luxurious interior that feels like a “sanctuary.”

“Our momentum is strong,” says Falotico. “We are top ranked in the J.D. Power APEAL survey (with the Navigator), our transaction prices are up, we know who we are.”

Unlike the previous generation Aviator, the new model targets the hot three-row seat crossover class with much more firepower, not just in its finely crafted six- or seven-seat configuration cabins, but also with its unusually potent engine options. Competing directly with the likes of Audi’s Q7 and BMW’s latest X5 crossovers, the Aviator boasts elaborate multi-adjustable seats (similar to those in the Navigator), easy access to rear seats and a suite of infotainment and safety features that is much more competitive than before. 

Special interior color and trim packages are offered as part of Lincoln’s Black Label series and a high-end Revel sound system caters to audiophiles with 28 speakers. In a unique move, Lincoln had the Detroit Symphony Orchestra record musical sequences to replace the usual bland chimes and warning tones.

Owners should also enjoy the ability to access the Aviator via their cellphones, which can be programmed to emulate (and effectively replace) the traditional key fob.

What comes as a welcome surprise is the extent to which Lincoln has raised the Aviator’s performance game. The standard powertrain will be a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 with a beefy 400-hp and 400 pound-feet of torque. The power goes through a 10-speed automatic transmission, either to the rear-wheels or an optional all-wheel-drive system.

However the Grand Touring model goes a step further with a plug-in hybrid system that boosts power to 450 hp and a whopping 600 pound-feet of torque. That sort of output is well in excess of most of the German and British competition.

Test drives of the Aviator have yet to occur, but if that experience lives up to the promise of its specification, then Lincoln could find itself with a winner on its hands. As such, the newcomer will help the brand make up for years of missteps, and put it on course for growth, not just in the US, but also in China, Lincoln’s key overseas market.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at jmccor@aol.com

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