With latest Navigator, Lincoln shifts the mundane out of this world

On the newest Navigator, "Slippery" mode features gently falling snow.

If you want to know why the Lincoln Navigator has been so well-received out of the gate, just look to the stars -- at least the ones on your instrument panel.

The Navigator, lauded by some as a "luxury yacht," has been one of Ford Motor Co.'s most successful launches in recent memory because of exquisite attention to detail. That may be best represented by the digital cluster, where even a mundane task such as switching drive modes is an experience thanks to a handful of moving graphics with interstellar themes.

The graphic illustrating "normal" mode, for example, appears as if you're hurtling through star clusters in deep space.

Other modes are more terrestrial in nature. "Conserve" mode shows a rotating globe, complete with moving cloud formations. "Slippery" mode features gently falling snow.

"We wanted to make selecting the drive modes an experience you could see, feel and hear," Andrew Kernahan, Navigator's chief engineer, told Automotive News.

Kernahan said the Lincoln team worked on the drive modes through the vehicle's two-year design phase. Team members began by choosing around 15 words for the modes they wanted, then whittled them down and chose a specific image for each.

"We wanted to keep the theme of 'navigating through the stars,' " he said. "We wanted all the words and phrases to play together so you'll immediately know what the vehicle's going to do for you."

The team used photos of nebula, the northern lights and other atmospheric conditions for inspiration.

"We worked with hundreds and hundreds of different globes, studying everything from where each cloud would come in and how it would separate from the atmosphere," said Craig Sandvig, a digital experience design manager. "It's an artistic effect that's been brought into everything."

Once a driver selects a mode, the attention to detail continues with unique instrument cluster displays. Normal mode, for example, only shows a minimalist speedometer with a line that shows the speed limit.

The vehicle has been a home run so far. Auto critics have praised it in a number of reviews, customers are scooping Navigators off dealer lots faster than Ford can build them and after only two months on sale, the Navigator won the 2018 North American Truck of the Year award.

It's unclear whether the drive mode graphics will make their way to other Lincoln vehicles, but it wouldn't be a bad thing.

Elon Musk received a lot of positive press for shooting a Tesla Roadster into space. The Navigator's engineers and designers deserve recognition for bringing the wonder of the cosmos to every customer, even for just a fleeting moment in rush hour.

You can reach Michael Martinez at mdmartinez@crain.com -- Follow Michael on Twitter: @MikeMartinez_AN

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