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Looking for third-row seating in a nimble and luxurious SUV from a premium marque? Choices can be limited, since most of the best from BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, and Porsche seat only five. Enter the Lincoln Aviator. But is Lincoln’s “baby” SUV a scaled-down version of its Navigator or just an overpriced Ford Explorer? Actually, it’s a bit of both. If you like the Navigator but can’t handle its size, the Aviator may fit your bill. It’s attractively styled, and filled with plush leathers and natural wood veneers. The stately cabin sports decent seats and a good sound system. But despite these comforts, the Aviator still can’t hide its Ford Explorer roots. On the plus side, the Aviator’s 4.6-liter, 302-horsepower V-8 provides 300 ft-lbs of torque, a towing capacity exceeding 7,000 pounds, and authoritative straight-line acceleration for a 5,000-pound vehicle. But as an upscale version of a truck-based platform, the Aviator’s road handling is not very reassuring. Additionally, outward visibility is extremely poor, and fuel efficiency is a shameful 13 miles per gallon. What’s more, many of the Aviator’s luxury and convenience features are well-intentioned but poorly executed. Steering wheel controls for audio and comfort systems are grouped too closely and don’t offer enough functionality. For example, you can adjust the volume of the sound system, but changing selections or CDs requires a reach to the dashboard controls, which are hidden behind a retracting panel. Seat heating and ventilation features work well, but “memory” settings don’t stick. And the rearview mirror doesn’t dim automatically — a cheesy omission in a nearly $50,000 SUV. The Aviator’s third seating row accommodates only the smallest passengers, and reduces cargo room to virtually nil. The competing Acura MDX and Volvo XC90 have the same problem, but the Volvo offers advanced handling and safety features, and the top-notch Acura checks in at nearly $10,000 less than the Aviator. The verdict: With the Lincoln Aviator, Ford has relied heavily on luxury branding to push its truck-based Explorer. Seven-passenger SUVs from Acura and Volvo — along with similarly equipped wagons from Mercedes and Volvo — offer a better driving experience and better value.
MSR.: $45,865. Price as tested: $47,675. Mileage: 13 city/16 highway Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles

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