Lincoln did the entire world a favor for the 2019 model year, doing away with alphanumerics and rechristening the former MKX as the Nautilus. But in spite of revised styling that took cues from the Continental and Navigator, it soldiered on with a generic interior that looked old and had an infotainment system to match. That’s no longer the case with the 2021 Lincoln Nautilus, which gets a smart new cabin to go along with its handsome face.
Although it was the final Lincoln to get the inset chrome grille of the now-defunct Continental sedan, the Nautilus was one of the first to swap out alphanumeric nomenclature for a real word, preceding the Corsair (whose predecessor was called the MKC) and the discontinued MKZ. Evocative names are back at Lincoln, bringing with them my hope that the company finds its feet as a purveyor of premium cars that offer a serene, peerless driving experience. The newly stylish Nautilus delivers on that front somewhat, though there’s always room for improvement.
Verdict updated following one-week loan in August 2021. A vehicle's verdict is relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
Blue Suede Shoes
Though the body structure dates to 2016 and the nose to 2019, the Nautilus is still a handsome take on the midsize, two-row SUV formula. The top-end Black Label seen here wears 21-inch wheels with a hypnotic design, filling the fender wells very nicely. A sloping rear end and Coke-bottle front and rear fenders recall classic Lincolns of the 1930s and 1940s, and the company’s corporate face looks as premium and elegant here as it does on the imposing Continental Coach Door. Miniscule updates to the front fog light surrounds for 2021 are all but invisible to the casual onlooker, but the Nautilus looks great one way or another.
Inside, the 2021 Nautilus gets a new, rectilinear dash that brings it in line with the more modern Corsair and Aviator crossovers. A thin strip of faux “Silverwood” spans the instrument panel to emphasize width, disappearing behind a new 13.2-inch center infotainment display mounted right in the driver’s line of sight. The massive screen is standard, bringing with it Sync 4 software (a Lincoln first) that’s much easier to use than last year’s tech suite. An intuitive 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster advances things further.
Though the body structure dates to 2016 and the nose to 2019, the Nautilus is still a handsome take on the midsize, two-row SUV formula.
The interior also shows lots of attention to detail. At least on this Black Label tester, soft leather appears on the seats, steering wheel, and armrests, and soft-touch materials extend down to the passengers’ ankles. The nearly vertical passenger-side dash fascia looks a bit like my mom’s old 1993 Caravan, but it’s trimmed in leather-like soft plastic. The fake wood dash trim, piano black plastic accents on the door panels, and faux machined aluminum center button panel are a cheap and confusing combination, but otherwise, the interior punches well above its Ford Edge roots – it might even be a nicer cabin than the larger Aviator.
A very upright seating position left me with some worries about headroom. I’m about 6 feet tall, and my head was only an inch or two away from the roof lining. Otherwise, there’s plenty of space in the front row, the tall seats affording a relaxed, upright driving position and an excellent view of the road ahead. Like the front seats, the rear seats may be slightly pinched on headroom, but there’s nothing else to grouse about, thanks to soft materials, heated rear seats (optional on Reserve and standard on Black Label), and an adjustable seatback angle.
Easy Like Sunday Morning
The flagship Black Label trim comes standard with a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6, eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. With 335 horsepower and 380 pound-feet on tap, there’s a useful shove of grunt in both off-the-line starts and freeway merges, with minimal turbo lag from the EcoBoost engine to get in the way. The front-drive–biased Lincoln has some torque steer when launching from a stoplight, but otherwise, the powertrain fits the crossover’s “quiet flight” marketing mission as a long-distance tourer – speaking of, the engine achieves 22 miles per gallon combined.
Disappointingly, bumpy roads are the Nautilus’ undoing. Whether it’s a function of the large wheels or an aging platform, the overall structure feels slightly flimsy, and there’s lots of steering column and dashboard shake over rough pavement. What’s more, a day’s worth of driving revealed some creaks and groans – most annoyingly, the instrument cluster’s clear plastic cover emitted that distinctive Lexan squeak at any speed above 45 miles per hour.
This Lincoln isn’t sporty in the slightest.
However, in Comfort mode, the adjustable dampers serve up a pillowy-soft initial layer of cush before gently smothering the floaty body motions, hiding some of the platform’s Flexible Flyer tendencies. The piano-key shifter’s “S” button adjusts shift points, sharpens the throttle, and stiffens the shock absorbers to call up sportier handling. In this mode, the Nautilus turns into an absolute slot car, darting from corner to cor-… who am I kidding? This Lincoln isn’t sporty in the slightest.
The stiffer damper setting does erase some body roll – at the expense of impact harshness over bad pavement – but anyone expecting the Nautilus to drive with the same verve of a Porsche Cayenne is delusional. Safe, secure understeer is the order of the day, so it’s best to keep the adaptive cruise control set to the speed limit and enjoy the ride. With that mindset, the Nautilus is a comfortable, stable family hauler with balanced performance and a healthy margin of error. Start to push it and that buffer diminishes.
Every Lincoln Nautilus comes standard with automatic emergency braking, lane departure prevention, blind spot monitoring, and automatic high beams. However, the Black Label adds adaptive cruise control, lane centering, route-specific speed control, an around-view camera, and parking assistance to the standard setup, and it all works very well. The Nautilus responds smoothly to surrounding traffic, with gentle throttle, braking, and steering inputs that keep the crossover a safe distance from lane markers and other vehicles.
Unfortunately, the Nautilus won’t include hands-free Active Drive Assist, leaving Lincoln without a rival to Cadillac’s excellent Super Cruise technology. Appropriately optioned versions of the Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E will get the tech later this year via a software update, and it’ll likely show up on the refreshed Lincoln Navigator (which we expect before 2022).
Every Lincoln Nautilus comes standard with automatic emergency braking, lane departure prevention, blind spot monitoring, and automatic high beams.
Phone-as-key integration comes standard on the Black Label, allowing the driver to lock, unlock, and start the vehicle from an app, as well as sound the panic alarm, open or close the windows, and operate the power rear hatch. Making its Lincoln debut is Ford’s intuitive Sync 4 system, adding Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to all Nautilus models. The native navigation and audio apps work well too, and over-the-air updates should help keep the Lincoln current, adding features and improving software response times as technology advances.
Lincoln reskins Sync 4 with dark blue and orange colors to imitate the appearance of the horizon at sunset, and little speckles of starlight appear under your finger whenever you touch the screen. It imparts a genuinely premium feel to a system that’s otherwise Ford-familiar, combining with the Black Label’s adjustable ambient lighting to give the Nautilus a luxurious, modern bent.
Hey, Big Spender
Lincoln is trying really hard to differentiate its vehicles from the Ford products they’re based on, offering premium styling, lovely interiors, and brand-specific showrooms and Black Label ownership perks. However, that ambition comes at an eyebrow-raising cost. This Flight Blue Lincoln Nautilus Black Label has an as-tested price of $68,295, up from $65,090 for the trim level and $41,940 for the crossover family overall. At nearly 70 large, the Nautilus may be flying a bit too close to the sun.
The same dough gets you into a comprehensively equipped Genesis GV80, which offers a stiffer platform and similar comfort and technology. Owning a Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 or BMW X5 xDrive40i for the same price as the Black Label means sacrificing some niceties like massaging seats and wireless charging, but the Germans do offer a firmer, more sporting driving experience and blue-chip brand recognition. The Lincoln absolutely trounces the fussy Lexus RX in luxury, technology, and performance, but it also costs about $9,000 more when comparably equipped.
However, Lincoln's ambition at an eyebrow-raising cost.
The smart money might actually be a mid-level 2021 Nautilus Reserve model with the turbocharged 2.0-liter base engine. The more efficient mill would likely suit the Nautilus’ mission as a comfortable, long-distance SUV, bringing savings on the window sticker too. Although the Reserve’s interior foregoes the Black Label’s leather armrests and unique trim pieces, it also saves several grand. At less than $60,000, the Lincoln Nautilus feels like a decent buy, and regardless, brand devotees will love the revised SUV’s stylish new interior and marshmallow ride.
Gallery: 2021 Lincoln Nautilus First Drive
2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label