Almost 60 miles north of Bangor, up the swiftly traveled interstate, is Exit 244 for Medway and the Gateway to the Maine North Woods. With a shrinking population under 1,400 souls (that could change due to COVID), this river town rests on the shores of the mighty Penobscot River, in the shadow of Mount Katahdin. Formerly an anchor town for what was once the largest paper mill in the world, in Millinocket, as well as several sawmills, Medway now banks on visitors looking to experience the region’s vast outdoor recreational opportunities.
And Medway has something else that few towns in America can claim. Tucked behind the Irving Truck Stop is a bank of six Tesla supercharging stations.
One can surmise how or why Tesla chose this location for its not-inexpensive, brand-specific fast-chargers — perhaps for Canadians heading home from southern New England, or, Tesla tourists from these same cosmopolitan places heading into the woods for some R&R — but it’s hard not to wonder where and how all of the forecast electric vehicles that we are going to see, and drive, are going to recharge themselves.
Will Audi, Mercedes, Volvo, GM, Ford, et al. each have their own charging networks like Tesla’s setup in Medway? Will the battery makers have rectified their fire issues (Ford, GM, BMW and Hyundai all announced EV recalls or production delays due to battery fires during the week of our Lincoln Hybrid’s visit). These questions certainly compound buyers’ apprehensions about buying (pricey) electric cars — despite mandates and bureaucratic edicts.
To be sure, gasoline-fueled cars occasionally have fires. And not all lithium batteries spontaneously ignite.
We have also learned that consumers have not readily embraced electric vehicles to the extent expected. Chevy’s Bolt and Nissan’s Leaf saw sales decline last year, even while Tesla’s latest Model 3 became that brand’s hottest seller.
Why the difference? The Bolt and Leaf cost less than the Model 3 to buy. Yet, the Tesla has more range, has more cache, and it is faster — a lot faster. Automakers have noticed. Tesla’s electric cars frequently offer a performance version, an operating mode called Ludicrous, and consumers are voting with their wallets for these models.
Performance still sells. Performance costs more. Americans like to spend for performance — even in “green” electric cars.
So, Ford (Lincoln) and all of the other hybrid and electric-car makers are producing quicker, stronger, more luxurious versions of their “green” vehicles. The sticker price is higher, for sure (as well as profits), yet buyers are stating that they want substance, not econoboxes.
Expect more of this philosophy as Volvo’s Polestar 1 EV debuts ($155,000) plus countless other premium-priced, premium-equipped status machines to help the automakers create a halo effect over their EV lineups. Few of us will ever buy the top-of-the-line early edition EV models — think Chevy buyers drooling over the new Corvette, but actually buying a Malibu — and you get a clearer sense of the marketing necessary to help coax us into EVs.
That brings us to this week’s Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid — the bridge powerplant before all-electric. Based on the redesigned Ford Explorer, this rear (or AWD) three-row crossover carries luscious styling and a handsome interior in a cruiser-style wagon built for gobbling up highway miles. Power comes from 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 — 400-hp base, 494 spine-tickling hybrid-horsepower — running through a sweet 10-speed automatic. Hushed inside, the Aviator packs more punch than you’ll ever need to get to Grandma’s house.
Along the way, the adaptable chassis exhibits more dive, squat and roll than a German-designed SUV, but the chassis seems better-suited to the Class B and C rural roads that populate our states, rather than the Class A super-slabs the Germans get to drive on.
The seating is excellent, with Lincoln’s massaging action ready for duty. There is a plethora of electronic driving aids, perhaps more than should be available, plus entertainment and audio capabilities that crush most drivers’ at-home systems. The power liftgate is hands-free, the doors can close themselves, and the Vista roof creates an airy cabin.
Throttle tip-in was challenging down low, rewarding thrust thereafter. The sloping roofline sacrifices some cargo space and rearward view, plus only the kids will want to ride in the third row of this 5,100-pound luxo-liner. Some of the steering wheel buttons need better labeling too.
Electric range is a modest 25-27 miles for this plug-in hybrid, creating a 56-MPGe rating. On gas only, the Lincoln ($51,100 base, $83,245 shown) returns EPA estimates of 23 mpg.
Creamy ride, swift as a racehorse and easy on the eyes. Think about what the EV version will be like in a few years and whether you can charge it up in Medway before climbing the Knife-edge.
Next week: Ford Ranger Lariat