Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) took the wraps off its all-new 2020 Lincoln Aviator at the Los Angeles International Auto Show on Wednesday. 

The new Aviator has the potential to be a big deal for Ford, particularly in China, where Ford's sales have slumped recently, but also in the U.S. Ford is hoping that the Aviator will build on the success of its big brother, the smash-hit Lincoln Navigator introduced last year.

Here's what we know. 

A dark blue 2019 Lincoln Aviator, a midsize luxury crossover SUV.

The 2019 Lincoln Aviator is an all-new three-row midsize luxury SUV built on a brand-new Ford platform. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

What it is: A luxury SUV with several surprises

The Aviator is a three-row (seven-passenger) luxury crossover SUV, but it's far from just another "me-too" product. For starters, it's a softer-edged, more elegant design than many of its rivals. That's no accident: At a preview earlier this year, Lincoln design chief David Woodhouse said he told the Aviator's design team to draw inspiration from a ballerina: athletic and strong, but not aggressive. 

Lincoln executives say that's an important distinction. While General Motors (NYSE:GM) has put old rival Cadillac on a path to compete directly with the German luxury brands, Lincoln is going its own way. The Aviator, Woodhouse said, is the first Lincoln that fully captures Ford's long-term vision for the brand. 

It's an interesting product technically, as well. The Aviator is built on an all-new platform that will underpin a number of other forthcoming Ford and Lincoln products, including an all-new Ford Explorer that's expected to arrive next year. But in another twist, it's a rear-wheel-drive platform -- something generally associated with vehicles designed from the ground up as luxury models, not Lincolns derived from mass-market Fords. (All-wheel-drive is available, of course.) 

Inside, there are lots of the little touches that Ford has been building into recent Lincolns, including plush seats and an elaborate stereo system. There's also something new: The Aviator's alarm chimes aren't the usual electric beeps and boops -- they're tiny musical recordings made with the help of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 

The dashboard and center console of a 2019 Lincoln Aviator, showing wood-and-leather trim with chrome accents.

The Aviator's interior continues the upscale nautical-inspired themes seen in other recent Lincolns. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Under the hood, there's just one engine offered: a twin-turbocharged 3.0 liter V6 making 400 horsepower with 400 foot-pounds of torque. But there's another drivetrain available: A sporty Grand Touring model will have 450 horsepower and 600 foot-pounds of torque. It uses the same V6 but couples it with a plug-in hybrid system. 

The hybrid Aviator Grand Touring has a few noteworthy features:

  • Drivers can choose a conventional hybrid mode, a "Pure EV" mode that runs exclusively from the battery, and a "Preserve EV" mode that saves the battery's charge to be used later. 
  • There's also an "Excite" mode that maximizes performance. 
  • The hybrid system uses a low-profile battery pack that's tucked under the Aviator's floor, which doesn't compromise cargo space or the size of the gas tank. (Often, hybrid versions of internal-combustion vehicles put the battery pack in the trunk, making the hybrid's trunk smaller than the non-hybrid version.) 

Ford hasn't yet released pricing, fuel economy, or range (for the plug-in hybrid) numbers for the new Aviator. Those will be made available closer to the vehicle's launch next summer.

A close-up of the 2019 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring's charging port. A man is shown holding a charging plug.

The higher-performance Grand Touring version of the Aviator is a plug-in hybrid. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Why it's important: A high-profit growth path for Ford

What makes the Aviator a big deal? Take a look at this chart.

A bar chart showing U.S. sales of the Lincoln Navigator in every month since November of 2016. Sales jumped significantly starting in November 2017, shortly after the all-new 2018 Navigator began arriving at dealers.

Data source: Ford Motor Company. Chart shows U.S. sales of the Lincoln Navigator SUV in every month since November 2016.

Sales of the big Lincoln Navigator SUV have surged since an all-new version arrived last fall. That's significant for a few reasons, starting with this one: The all-new Navigator is priced much higher than its predecessor. In fact, it's the first-ever Lincoln that can be optioned up over $100,000 -- and despite the price tag, Ford is selling a lot of loaded Navigators.

The Aviator builds on the formula that has made the Navigator a hit: a plush interior, lots of thoughtful features, and styling that's strong but not aggressive. The Navigator also is lauded for its great on-road ride and handling and quiet, solid feel. We'll have to wait a little longer to see if the Aviator gets similar praise, but I suspect it will. 

A silver 2019 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, parked in front of an upscale home. Surprisingly for a modern SUV, the softly-curved Aviator does not look large or imposing.

The Aviator is carefully styled to look smaller than it is -- but it's quite roomy inside. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

The takeaway: A potential much-needed hit for the Blue Oval

On paper at least, the Aviator checks all of the right boxes to be another big hit for Ford, following in the Navigator's footsteps. The Aviator has a particularly big opportunity in China. While Ford's sales in China are down 31% this year through October, Lincoln-brand sales are up 3% -- and market-wide demand for luxury SUVs has been strong.

 

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.