After far too many years of badge engineering, Lincoln finally got serious about building something other than gussied-up Fords with bad grilles. The gulf between the Navigator and Expedition, Aviator and Explorer, and Corsair and Escape is so dramatic (and the characters of these luxury vehicles so distinctive) that for the first time in literal decades we can wholeheartedly recommend Lincoln models.
That sentiment finally extends to the Lincoln Nautilus. Even after its rechristening at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show, which marked the beginning of the end of alphanumerics at Ford's luxury brand, this vehicle was still a Ford Edge. Arguably the most comprehensive interior facelift we've seen in a long time has flipped the script. Unlike the MKX, the Nautilus is finally a compelling offering, despite still carrying some mainstream hardware underneath.
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By and large, the exterior of the Nautilus remains the same now as when this car appeared way back in the halcyon days of 2017. It's an attractive, if vaguely anonymous, design that doesn't readily reveal the shared heritage between the Nautilus and the Ford Edge.
Instead, it was in the cabin where that relationship was most obvious. Even following the 2017 update, the Nautilus featured a god-awful center stack rendered in cheap and untextured plastics and awash in ill-fitting and poorly placed buttons that more or less came straight from the Edge. For 2021, instead of ripping from the Edge, Lincoln pulled straight from the Aviator and Corsair.
This good decision has yielded a competitive cabin filled with attractive shapes and premium-feeling materials. A strip of leather sandwiches the climate vents and separates the new tablet-style touchscreen from the piano key-like gear selectors, while designers placed the climate controls on a kicked-up section of the floating-bridge center console. Behind that 13.2-inch display lives subtle wood trim, which gives the dash some sense of depth. The door panels host metal speaker grilles for the Revel audio system and yet more leather – though they still wear the old design that looks a bit at odds with the modern dash.
Not all is well here, though. The knobs and dials on the center console feel flimsy and the reliance on piano-black trim is only a small step above last year's plastics. Speaking of petroleum-based products, every button comes from the stuff. The Nautilus nails its design, but overall, it lacks the detailing we want in a premium product. And on a more granular level, it's missing the overarching emphasis on material quality we expect of a mid-size luxury CUV.
Unfortunately, Lincoln won’t offer its excellent (and borderline excessive) 30-way chairs on the Nautilus. The consolation prize is a good one, though, with our Nautilus Reserve's optional 22-way chairs still managing a decadent range of adjustability that will suit all body types. A massage function can soothe tired muscles, while all Reserve models offer heated and ventilated front chairs as standard with Bridge of Weir leather in both rows. But, the leather is light on the detailed stitching or piping that makes a cabin feel that much more luxurious.
The second row is a roomy place with a pleasant bench and standard heating. In terms of nitty gritty measurements, second-row passengers will enjoy 39.6 inches of legroom, which is down on the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class' 40.9, despite the German vehicle being 4.3 inches longer with an extra 5.7 inches between the axles. The Lincoln does have more second-row space than the Lexus RX, though, which is also longer overall.
Cargo volume is competitive for the segment, with a minimum of 37.2 cubic feet of space and a maximum with the second row folded of 68.8. The Lincoln bests the Mercedes will all seats in place but is down by about 7 cubic feet with the seats folded.
Lincoln only offers adaptive dampers on the top-end Black Label model. But despite both the fixed dampers and our tester's sizable 21-inch wheels, the Nautilus is a surprisingly comfortable cruiser, soaking up most of Detroit's poor roads with little complaint. The main letdown comes from this vehicle's inability to filter out unpleasant noises, both from the road and from the twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 under the hood. It's just too darn noisy here.
Noise is less of a concern when you crank the Nautilus' available 19-speaker Revel audio system. The Nautilus is the latest Lincoln we've tested to wow us with its optional stereo, delivering strong bass, solid mids, and crisp highs regardless of whether you prefer Beethoven, The Beach Boys, or Billie Eilish.
The 13.2-inch tablet-style display crowns the dash and dazzles with clear graphics and a minimal interface that's easy to learn. The Sync 4 software doesn't always feel like a big change over Sync 3, although the upside means that anyone familiar with the old system will come to grips with the new one quickly.
The Reserve trim includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, but as with all other Lincoln products, the display is too limited in terms of what it shows the driver. There's not enough reconfigurability or even an option to throw a map into the cluster. Managing the display via the steering wheel controls is also a bit of a process.
That's less of a concern when said software includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as competent voice controls. Speaking of phone tech, the Nautilus is also available with Phone As A Key, a technology that allows you to leave your physical keyfob at home provided you've downloaded the right app. While we didn't test the Nautilus with this system, we've had mixed experiences in the Navigator and Mustang Mach-E.
Despite the vastly different interior experience, the Nautilus mirrors the Edge's powertrain lineup. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard, while a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 is optional. Our tester had the latter, shared with the Edge ST – both vehicles produce 335 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. That said, we'd trade at least 100 ponies for an engine that sounded halfway decent.
This is a harsh mill that drones at higher revs. Ask again for the Revel audio system to silence the unpleasant sounds, though, and the V6 shows itself as a suitably powerful and pleasant partner. Low-end shove is impressive, despite peak torque not arriving until 3,250 rpm – if you dig into the throttle at highway speeds, the V6-powered Nautilus comes alive and will set you back in your 22-way chair.
An eight-speed automatic transmission is the lone transmission choice for the Nautilus. Shifts are smooth enough and it won't make you wait when setting off, but if you're looking for shift speeds or intelligence that compares with a Genesis GV80 or Mercedes GLE's transmission, this 8AT will disappoint.
The ride is on the good end of uninspiring – firm enough to avoid feeling spongy or difficult in a bend, but soft enough to never compromise overall comfort. There's a fair amount of body motion, but it's both predictable and manageable. The steering is light, and in general the Nautilus is an uncommunicative car, but we don't see Lincoln’s target customers having too much of an issue with anything related to this car's cornering ability.
Every Nautilus comes standard with Lincoln Co-Pilot 360, a suite that includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams, but our Reserve tester added Co-Pilot 360 Plus. Translated from Lincoln-ese, the optional add-on bundles full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assist in addition to the standard tech.
This Level 2 driving aid is on par with some of the segment's best, even if the Nautilus' suite isn't a hands-free system. Smart about adapting to different traffic situations and competent at keeping the car centered, there's little about Co-Pilot 360 Plus that we don't like. Activation is a snap, provided you haven't tweaked the system’s settings – just tap the lane-centering button and the ACC button, then select your speed and carry on.
The six-cylinder Nautilus' fuel economy is middling at best. It returns an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon city, 25 highway, and 21 combined on 87-octane fuel.
That lags behind the BMW X5 xDrive40i and Mercedes-Benz GLE 450, which both net 21 city and 23 combined mpg – the X5 matches the Lincoln's highway figure, while the GLE exceeds it by a point. On the flipside, the punchy twin-turbocharged Genesis GV80 returns just 18 mpg city, 23 highway, and 20 combined. It's worth noting, though, that all three of those competitors require premium fuel.
In real-world testing, our Nautilus returned 17.4 miles per gallon over our standard 85-mile test route, which mixes highways, suburban boulevards, and country roads. Ford's EcoBoost engines have an established history of underperforming their EPA figures, and the Nautilus is no different.
Prices for the Nautilus start at $44,240, including a $1,095 destination charge and a $645 acquisition fee. If you want to get your hands on a Reserve, you'll have to pony up $51,290 for a four-cylinder, front-drive example. Adding the V6 and all-wheel drive pushes the price tag up to $56,485, while our test model topped out at $66,625 with the $8,445 Reserve II pack, the $695 Pristine White paint, and the $1,500 22-way massaging front seats.
While that's a serious amount of coin, it's still down a lot on an optioned-up mid-range German rival. A similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 jumps from a starting price of $63,595 to nearly $80,000, and a $62,695 BMW X5 xDrive40i requires $72,050 to match wits with the Nautilus. The Genesis GV80 carries a competitive price tag at $49,945 to start and $67,095 when fully loaded. And it is worth noting that all three of these rivals offer better performance.
As for how our ideal Nautilus would look… well it's this. Despite the high price tag, the nature of Lincoln's option packaging means there aren't many possible configurations. We could do without the Reserve II pack's 21-inch wheels but dropping down to 20s means downgrading to the Reserve I pack and giving up Co-Pilot 360 Plus, upgraded LED headlights, and the Revel audio system. With that in mind, fully loaded seems to be the only way to go with the refreshed Nautilus.
Nautilus Competitor Reviews:
- BMW X5: 9.3/10
- Cadillac XT5: Not Rated
- Genesis GV80: 9.5/10
- Infiniti QX60: Not Rated
- Lexus RX: Not Rated
- Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class: Not Rated
- Volvo XC60: Not Rated
Correction: A previous version of this review indicated the Nautilus used Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system. This is incorrect. The 2021 Nautilus features Sync 4. The review has been edited to reflect this correction. We regret the error.
Gallery: 2021 Lincoln Nautilus: Review
2021 Lincoln Nautilus Reserve