Lincoln photo As a large-size sport-utility vehicle with fold-down seats, the Lincoln Navigator can handle just about any hauling task a family encounters. The 2018 Navigator is a thoroughly contemporary, next-generation model.
A lot of effort today goes into making big cars use less gasoline. But we don’t hear anything about the traditional and time-honored way to cut gasoline consumption: simply drive smaller cars. Yet that traditional small-car approach remains the best way to reduce gas use.
Look at the last two models we explored in this column; the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Volvo XC60 T8. Both are family-sized crossover wagons — big cars. Both use gasoline-and-electric hybrid drive to help ease gas consumption, with electric motors that provide part of their propulsion power.
When used as an ordinary auto, without plugging it into a wall outlet for hours to boost its electrical charge, the hybrid Outlander carries a government gas-use rating of 25 miles per gallon in combined, city and highway driving. The hybrid Volvo XC60 T8 earns a gas-use rating of 26 mpg.
Now look at the nifty little Honda Fit, a truly small car. Its government fuel-economy rating is 36 mpg when equipped with an automatic transmission. That’s about 40 percent less gasoline than either the Outlander PHEV or the XC60 T8, both with automatic transmissions, use.
How does the Honda Fit do it? Simply by being small. At about 2,500 pounds, it is roughly 1,700 pounds lighter than the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. The Fit also is about two feet shorter than the Outlander, and its roof is more than a half foot lower.
But critically — as you can guess from those dimensions — the Outlander has a lot more room inside. Both models are rated for five riders. But the Honda Fits gives those five people a total passenger volume of 96 cubic feet. The Outlander gives them 102 cubic feet. That additional six cubic feet of passenger volume in the Outlander is a lot, when you consider that the average person takes up about 2.5 cubic feet.
The cargo volume behind the back seat is 30 cubic feet in the Outlander, and only 17 cubic feet in the Fit.
The size advantage for the Volvo XC60 over the Honda Fit is about the same.
I like the Honda Fit so much that I own one. It’s the vehicle I choose to drive when I’m not in an evaluation model that a car maker sends me to review for this column. One of the features I like most about the Fit is its high fuel mileage. After all, we writers don’t make a lot of dough, so we have to be frugal.
But the fact is undeniable that to really reduce the gas you use — to really, really reduce it — you have to sacrifice by driving a small car that can’t carry as much as more popular, larger autos. That remains true even when those larger autos use gas-sparing hybrid drive, as in the Outlander PHEV and XC60 T8.
The large car/small car contrast became crystal clear to me when I spent a recent week driving a Lincoln Navigator, a sport-utility vehicle that’s about as big as a hauler can get.
The Navigator is an eight-passenger luxury SUV that starts at a list price of $73,250, but can easily top $100,000 when you get into the extravagantly equipped higher trim levels and add some options. This year’s model is a new, next-generation version that is re-engineered and redesigned to dramatic effect. When I reviewed the very contemporary, 2018 Navigator for you early in May, I noted the views of Chris Sawyer, the sales manager of Portsmouth Lincoln in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He said that the remade Navigator “demands your attention.”
“When you drive that vehicle, people’s heads turn and they look at it,” Sawyer stated, and I agreed.
Our concern today is the Navigator’s enormous size and the hauling advantages that brings.
The Navigator I drove a couple of weeks ago was set up for seven passengers, with two captain’ chairs and a big, multi-use center console in the second row, instead of a three-passenger bench seat. Still, since the second- and third-row seats fold flat, the big SUV provides a lot of flexible hauling options.
In one instance, a long distance from my home, outside the rear, service entrance of a store that was doing some remodeling, I chanced upon a small stack of lumber with the sign, free wood. The cache included an entire plywood sheet cut longitudinally into three pieces. Three, eight-foot-long sections of plywood were exactly what I needed for a home-improvement project of my own. If I’d been driving my Fit, I would have had to leave them. In the Lincoln Navigator, I folded down the rear seat and one of the middle-row captain’s chairs. The long plywood sections fit in easily and I was able to drive normally.
In another case, I was asked to pick up a family of four arriving at Logan Airport — including two young children with bulky child seats. Before I left for the airport, a family member asked to come along for the ride. In my Fit, I would have had to turn him down. In fact, in my Fit, picking up the family of four alone would have been a challenge. But the Lincoln Navigator effortlessly and comfortably accommodated myself, the last-minute tag-along rider, and the arriving family.
In one more example, my wife wanted a furniture refinishing project. Boy, did she find one. At the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Lawrence she purchased four ladder-back dining chairs and a bureau measuring nearly five feet long. That’s right: the Navigator swallowed them.
You don’t have to go as extreme in size as the Navigator to have a spacious and accommodating vehicle that can flexibly handle unanticipated travel challenges. Family-sized crossover wagons like the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Volvo XC60 could not have absorbed quite the cargo that the Navigator managed, but they would have carried more than my miniature Honda Fit.
But they’ll use more gasoline, even when equipped with gas-saving hybrid-drive power systems. Larger vehicles simply need more fuel.