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65 mpg without hypermiling in the Lincoln Aviator hybrid

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Temptation comes in different forms, especially behind the wheel. With a plug-in hybrid SUV, there are two competing urges. Sometimes, the move is to put it in sport mode and scream down the highway to take full advantage of the hybrid powertrain. In the case of the Lincoln Aviator, the urge was to ignore the engine altogether, instead relying on electrons rather than hydrocarbons for propulsion. To Lincoln’s credit, the Aviator made that an easy choice.

In revamping its SUV lineup, Lincoln has gone hard for big grilles and classic styling, both of which the Aviator has. It sports classic SUV contours, but the slope of the windshield and the tapering top, paired with the Aviator nameplate on the front quarter panels, give it a light art deco vibe. The mid-size, three-row Aviator plugs into Lincoln’s lineup between the full-size Navigator and the compact Nautilus.

Unfortunately the Aviator’s comfortable interior doesn’t show the same level of design elegance. The materials all feel high-quality—there are scads of leather and wood trim—but it’s busy. A massive center console makes what should be a spacious front row feel slightly cramped. But the seats are excellent, and both front row occupants can sink into the Aviator’s 30-way (!) adjustable seats. The second-row captain’s chairs are roomy and comfortable, but the third row is difficult to get into and is best suited for kids.

Lincoln has eschewed the customary gear shift lever or dial in favor of four buttons mounted near the top of the console, just below the 10-inch, tablet-style infotainment display.

That display runs Sync 4 with a Lincoln-specific skin. Sync 4 is a massive upgrade from its predecessors, but the touchscreen is mounted at the top of the console right between the driver and passenger seats, and it faces the back of the car instead of being angled towards the driver. With no dial, there can be a long reach when you can’t accomplish what you want with the steering wheel controls.

Like the Nautilus, the Aviator has a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. It’s elegant looking, but driving the car for a week left me with the impression that Lincoln knows that large, digital instrument clusters are a thing—the company just doesn’t quite understand how to best utilize them. Our test vehicle also came with a fantastic heads-up display that is easily visible even with polarized sunglasses on. You’ll need to add the $7,850 Grand Touring I package to get it, however.

To power the Aviator, Lincoln has paired a 3.0 L twin-turbo V6 with a 100 hp (74.6 kW) electric motor powered by a 13.6 kWh battery. That combination gets you 494 hp (356 kW) and 630 lb-ft (850 Nm) of torque (and a zero to 60 time of 5.0 seconds). On pure electric power, Lincoln claims a range of 21 miles (33.8 km), which is around what we experienced in our daily usage. With five drive modes, you can pick the driving experience you want. Sport mode wasn’t very rewarding—the SUV can get going in a big hurry, but it’s more fast than sporty.

Even though there’s a Pure EV mode, the Aviator does its best work in Conserve mode, which forces the SUV to mainline electricity whenever possible before switching to chugging gasoline. The gas engine will kick in when rapid acceleration is called for; otherwise, the Aviator is happy to cruise along quietly on battery power for as long as it holds out. We also made a habit of plugging the Aviator in whenever we pulled into the garage. The included 120-volt charger that will fully recharge the battery overnight. With a 240 V setup, charging times are slashed by two-thirds. In a nice touch, the Aviator tells you how long it will take to fully charge each time you stop the car (about three hours on a level 2 charger and a bit over nine on 120 V).

With some hybrid SUVs, like the Volvo XC90 Recharge and the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, you need a very gentle right foot, otherwise the engine is going to power up. The Aviator does a better job in this regard—you don’t need a feathery touch on the gas pedal in order to reap the benefit of a hybrid. That’s really where the Aviator shines. EPA estimates for Lincoln come in at 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) for gas-only and 56 mpg (4.2 L/100 km) using the hybrid power. By charging it daily and driving it normally, we got over 65 mpg (3.62 L/100 km) in a week of mixed driving which included interstate, suburban, and urban driving—mostly in Conserve mode.

The Aviator starts at $68,900, but the add-ons brought the price just shy of $85,000, although you can still get a ~$6,500 federal tax credit for buying one. There are not a lot of direct comparisons in the luxury space for three-row hybrid SUVs, but a fully equipped Aviator is a few grand north of the Volvo XC90 Recharge. It would be easier to recommend the Aviator at a lower price point, but if you are set on owning a luxury, three-row SUV that gets excellent gas mileage, options are limited.

Listing image by Eric Bangeman

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