BY MARK KEAST
In a word, “luxury” is the freedom to take a drive to another world.
Muskoka is just under three hours by automobile from the bustle of downtown Toronto. Those who have made that drive – up the Highway 400, around Barrie, to the Port Carling cutoff, then winding through show-stopping natural beauty marked by lakes, exposed Canadian Shield, a tapestry of hemlock, spruce, maple, balsam, and willow trees – you know what we are talking about. “Malibu of the North” is what the New York Times called it.
What you might not know is how much an uber luxury vehicle can dramatically augment the experience. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator Reserve accomplishes that on so many different levels.
The SUV seats seven people comfortably. Price as tested for this vehicle was $106,300. It’s no wonder that Cadillac has reduced the price of its Escalade SUV since market response to the Navigator has been so positive.
The beast is below the hood – with the 3.5 litre twin turbocharged engine, ten-speed transmission (450 HP, 510 lb.-ft. of torque), you are never short of muscle. The silky smooth, powerful drivetrain was a pleasure to drive not only on city streets but also on the highway to Muskoka. The four-by-four powertrain helps you traverse hilly roads or off-road paths that mark the cottage country drive experience.
We weren’t towing anything but the truck is certainly more than capable – power is seamlessly transferred to towing performance if we had a camping trailer or speed boat to haul.
Our destination was the JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka, a dose of summertime bliss compared to urban chaos of a major North American metropolis. Pride Weekend brings the energy of thousands into the downtown of the city, and a slow, evening drive down Church St. through the live entertainment – sunroof back, windows down – was a wonderful way to take it in.
But after a few days of that it was time to head north. The Navigator’s handling isn’t prime – you try turning a vehicle this size (over 6,000 pounds, 221 inches long). Get it out on the straightaways and it’s another story. The 10-speed auto responds beautifully when you put the foot on the gas.
A simple twist of a knob in the Navigator selects seven different drive modes – each mode has calculated settings that “tune” the vehicle for better control or perhaps a jolt of exhilaration in a variety of driving conditions. Grey clouds opened up with heavy rain during the highway drive so we selected “Slippery” for a better handle.
Then there is the interior comfort, and this is where the Navigator really scored.
A massive panoramic sunroof came in handy when the skies cleared during our drive north. It was also nice being seated above the highway traffic, while getting a back massage (the seats are heated and ventilated as well), listening to the 20-speaker Revel Ultima stereo system (which packs a punch). The 10-inch touch screen is clear and sharp.
Overall, comfort and refinement plus power, luxury plus performance. That’s what you get. The Navigator is one of the most luxurious family vehicles on the market. The second and third seating rows also provide immense comfort. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot enables up to ten devices to be connected at the same time – ideal if you have a car full of kids.
It’s tricky driving a truck this big and long on the city streets, or in underground parking spots. Just give yourself time to park and let the truck help guide you home. The 360-degree camera system consists of front, side and rear cameras. The Navigator’s active park assist feature has ultrasonic sensors that will help steer the vehicle into the tightest of spaces.
Head up display – the bright windshield-projected display that shows speed, time, outside temperature, and gas tank status is very visible in any lighting condition, and is a necessary guide for those longer drives. The LED headlights adapt to how you are driving – casting a longer, narrower more focused beam at faster speeds but cast a wider beam when driving slower.
Our end destination, JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka, is located atop a 100-foot granite bluff so you can imagine the jaw-dropping views. The resort just underwent a complete re-design of the lobby, living room and public spaces for a look that blends modern sleek with Muskoka rustic.
Often when you read about a resort, even look at some photos, reality is never as you imagined it would be. That doesn’t happen here. I like to feel like I have transported into Muskoka life, and that’s the impression I got walking through the front door.
Dining options at the resort include Muskoka Chophouse, a classic steakhouse that serves Certified Angus Beef (CAB), crab cakes that you have to try, and a curated wine list that has earned a yearly Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since opening. Wood-burning pizza is the calling card at The Deck, a pool-side outdoor bistro, and try the lobster ravioli at Teca restaurant, featuring fine Italian food.
We settled in at Lakes after walking through the new lobby area, and ordered a light Caesar salad. Fancy Taylors of Harrogate green tea with jasmine for my wife. Muskoka Brewery draft beer for me – live a little and order the “Cool as Cuke” draft (tastes like cucumber).
We strategized our steak dinner for later at Chophouse. Yes, I said “strategized”. According to Chef Shawn Crymble, “marbling in the beef provides the consistent taste, quality in a CAB steak.” The 16 oz. bone-in rib eye did not disappoint.
We recommend staying a few nights at The Rosseau Muskoka, like we did. But another option for an urbanite clamoring for a respite is a drive up and back in one day. It’s totally do-able, if you are behind something as immaculate as the Navigator.
But back to that new entrance area.
“It’s all about playing up a sense of arrival,” says Lauren MacDermid, Communications and Marketing Specialist at the resort. “It’s about being stylish while also being authentic to the destination.” The feeling was very open, communal – a family gathered around the mega-size TV behind the renovated bar at Lakes to watch the World Cup, a young couple tucked away, isolated in the lounge area, having a beer, a woman sitting up against the fire, reading a book.
Lake maps within lamp shades, Canadiana pine furniture, birch bark wall paper, and works by local artists also told you where you were. Even the scent around the check-in and concierge areas fills you with relaxation – called Subtle Sophistication Fragrance Oil.
For us, a big feature was the bed in the suite. The resort uses Sealy mattresses that were custom-made for the resort. Guaranteed you will sleep better because of that plus the fresh air and quiet, and there is nothing like walking out onto your deck early in the morning, with a hot coffee, and Lake Rosseau at your feet. You are surrounded by nature – with countless luxury fine points at your fingertips.