Aviator Hybrid comfortable way to make memories

November 3, 2021 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

With a color that matches the threatening grey skies, the 2021 Aviator stands ready.

By John Gilbert

The new Lincoln Aviator returns for 2021 as a favorite luxury SUV of mine, based on its reasonable size and agility, and its striking new-age looks. My whole family agrees. It is smaller than the large Navigator, and for 2021 the new Aviator takes a bold step to keep up with technology by adding that magical marvel of engineering known as hybrid.

Being equipped with the electric motor and battery pack to complement with the power of its turbocharged 3-liter V6 means the Aviator can fly with some economy-minded SUVs while certifying its luxury status. The sticker price on the Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid is up there at the bottom edge of the costly segment of SUVs — a $68,900 base price boosted to $84,325 by some spectacular dips into the option bin.

White leather seats that envelop your upper torso while adding split cushions adjustable under your thighs to offer more support to driver and front passenger. While the level of luxury is obvious, the power is more subtle, until you step on the gas. The combined outlay of the 3.0-liter twin turbocharged V6 with the 13.6 kilowatt-hour battery pack’s electric motors reaches 494 horsepower and a remarkable 630 foot-pounds of torque.

Even so, the new Aviator triggered some flashbacks to 30 years ago in me, as I was admiring the Aviator’s classy appearance when parked   near Lester River on the North Shore of Lake Superior, on the outskirts of Duluth. The subtle grey paint job was enhanced by the sky, which offered a dramatic light and dark grey background in the fading afternoon light.

With hybrid assist, the Aviator has power and AWD to match its luxury.

It was chilly, and windy, and as I was looking forward to watching Game 4 of the World Series that very night, I heard predictions that along with probable rain, we could get what they like to call a “wintry mix” of stuff falling from those grey clouds. All of that, plus our anticipation for getting home in time to watch Game 4 of the World Series brought some reminiscences back to me of 30 years ago Halloween week..

At the Gilbert Compound, we’re heavy into cars of all sorts and sports of all sorts, leaning heavily toward hockey, but with baseball and football following. So as hockey get started and football is in midseason, our world stops its normal spinning for the World Series as October ends with Halloween.

So it was, 30 years ago, as Halloween approached and I was in the same frame of mind, writing about cars and sports at the Minneapolis Tribune. A highlight of my sports writing had included helping cover the 1987 World Series, when the Twins beat St. Louis as Frank Viola pitched into the eighth inning of a deciding 4-2 victory at the Metrodome. Two years later, I was also there, when the Twins returned for the 1991 World Series to face Atlanta. St. Paul native Jack Morris took the ball and stalked out to the mound and pitched the Twins to a 10-inning 1-0 victory.

The luxury of leather and high-tech electronics make the Aviator a pleasant ride.

There were a lot of special things about that, especially now in consideration for the pitch-count metrics and analytics that threaten to turn baseball into robotics. Manager Tom Kelly might have realized he’d better get the bullpen ready as the 1991 Game 7 went into the 10th, 0-0. But as he passed Morris in the dugout, Morris said: “Don’t even think of taking me out. This is my game.” And with that, he finished a 126-pitch shutout and the Twins won their second, and most recent, World Series title. It helped put Morris into the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so.

That game was on October 27, 1991, and the weather was fine for late fall, as I prepared to cover a home-and-home hockey series between Minnesota and St. Cloud State, with the Friday game in St. Cloud. Before that, though, I decided to drive my test car — a 1991 Mitsubishi Diamante — from our home in Shoreview to Duluth to visit my mom and to take care of some banking business for her. I recall sitting in the bank office looking out over the Aerial Bridge, and the grey sky was threatening, just as it was earlier this week, so I decided to hustle and start the drive back to the Twin Cities.

The Diamante was a superb car, a luxury sedan with front- or all-wheel drive, and a smooth performer. Off I went, and, sure enough, the mid afternoon greyness did, indeed, lead to a “Wintry mix,” even though the term hadn’t yet been invented ny meteorologists. I love to drive in foul weather, especially if evaluating a car, and I made it home as the snowstorm was worseningo on that Thursday afternoon. It never stopped. It kept falling that evening and all night. It was among the heaviest snowstorms ever to hit the Twin Cities, accumulating at the airport to 28.4 inches, pretty much burygin all the plans for Halloween night. And it kept going Friday, the next day.

Sleek as well as elegant, the new Aviator Hybrid is at the top of the list of 3-row luxury SUVs.

If you’re over 40 or so, you undoubtedly remember that the famous “Halloween Blizzard” was worse in Duluth, where it simply kept snowing at the rate of about 2 inches per hour until Thursday, Friday, Saturday and much of Sunday left the city buried under a record 36.9 inches from a record sustained snowfall.

Still, I reasoned that by Friday afternoon, the highway department would have made Interstate 94 passable, so I was heading for St. Cloud and that hockey game. My wife, Joan, decided to accompany me on the adventure, driving right home afterthe game. The Gopher team drove by coach bus to St. Cloud. I was notified by the Tribune to not go on the trip, and the paper had cancelled coverage of nearly all events, ordering earlier deadlines. I told them I was going, and not to worry. We never spun a tire as that Diamante hauled us to St. Cloud for the game. Afterward, we learned the Gophers had checked into a hotel to spend the night rather than venturing back out on the freeway. We drove back, again without spinning a tire, and we had almost complete, beautiful solitude as very few other vehicles were on I-94. Mostly snowplows, carving out igloos around stalled vehicles on the shoulders, or off, because you couldn’t discern where the road ended and the ditch began!

It was a tremendous adventure, perhaps a bit reckless on our part, but I was able to write a thorough review of the foul weather attributes of the Diamante.

Careful elements of the grille and its front-end wrapping shows Lincoln’s attention to detail.

The incredible thing to me, as my reminiscences gave way to my current cruising along the North Shore in my test-Aviator, was that all the media is calling for contributions to the many residents who recall living through that Halloween Blizzard of 1991 — exactly 30 years ago this year. And I wondered beyond that how many others recalled that the storm of the century struck only four amazing days after we were enjoying the summertime glory of the World Series.

It was extra special for me, maybe, driving from Shoreview to Duluth and back to Shoreview, and then to St. Cloud and back — all the time seeing more cars buried to their roofs than moving.

The luxury of those days 30 years ago was impressive, but nothing like the luxury built into the 2021 Aviator. The rich, grey paint job contrasted with the white leather on the seats, and the metal and wood trim throughout the interior make it comfortable as well as plush. The ability to tune the driving modes from normal to economy, or to slippery or deep snow-sand-mud, thank you, or to Excite, for a racier firmness, helps the agility, and the smooth and silent precision makes the Aviator a pleasure to drive in all circumstances, for anyone in all three rows of seats.

In its attempt at uniqueness, Lincoln has placed a small panel on the lower edge of the dashboard, where, after only a brief search, you discover their purpose. They are push-button controls for the transmission. Drive, neutral, reverse, and park are all lined up, with the ignition push-button on the top of the dash.

I found all the modes worked well, but I preferred the Excite segment, which stiffens the suspension and adds a dose of extra power to the crisper shift points. A fun aside to the Aviator is its ability to keep track of how much battery-power you’re using along with the potent output of the twin-turbo 3-liter V6. The addition of the electric motors added to the punch available at the tap of your toe.

If you drove hard and used up the available electric power, you can regain some of it by brake regeneration, but this was a plug-in hybrid, and if you are home or at a charging station, you pop the tailgate and under the carpeted floor is a receptacle for storing items. In there is a nice packaged case with an electrical plug at both ends. You pop the small door on the front left flank, similar to a gas filler door, and plug in your cable, then plug the other into the charging unit, and in a reasonable time, you’ve replenished full electric power. You can switch it to run only as an EV — electric vehicle — for a short distance. On the test vehicle, we showed that it would take 3.1 hours to fully charge on a 240-volt high-speed charger, or 11.5 hours on 120-volt household power.

We got down as low as 23 miles per gallon on mostly gas-engine only, while the gauge showed we had a high of 56 miles per gallon with judicious use of combined gas-electric power.

This is where we’re heading, folks. In a couple of years, we’ll probably be testing an all-electric Aviator. But in the meantime, a luxurious but high-performing Aviator Hybrid is an excellent compromise, as you sit there in your grey SUV looking out over the grey churning waves of

As Joan drove, I shot details of the Aviator’s interior.

Lake Superior. The radio guy talks about a wintry mix, and the ominous grey clouds above suggest that it is getting to be that time of year.

But thanks to the ineptitude of the Twins, and the chances of duplicating the dual thrills of a World Series title and a record blizzard, may prevent us from repeating the incredible Halloween Blizzard of 1991. And that’s OK.


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