Lincoln SUVs are on a roll. The reinvention that began with the Navigator a few years ago has trickled down to the Aviator, Nautilus, and Corsair. But unlike the Aviator and Corsair—which received full makeovers and new platforms—the Nautilus got a midcycle refresh for 2019 that only took care of its exterior styling and a name change from MKX to Nautilus. The 2021 Lincoln Nautilus takes things a step further, as it gets a second midcycle refresh that finally feels new inside, adopting the midcentury modern style and fancy tech that we’ve loved in recent Lincolns. Although the Nautilus doesn’t get a whole new generation, this upgrade feels like going from business to first class.
The Nautilus continues to share its platform with the Ford Edge, competing against other popular two-row luxury midsize crossovers such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5, Lexus RX, and to a certain extent the Cadillac XT5.
We spent a few days with the 2021 Lincoln Nautilus to experience its new interior and see how it stands against its competition.
2021 Lincoln Nautilus: Inside
From the materials to the design and infotainment screen, Lincoln did a thorough job redesigning the experience inside the cabin. What gets the most attention is the new 13.2-inch screen, which is not only the biggest display in any Lincoln but is also the first one equipped with Sync 4, Ford’s latest infotainment system.
Sync 4 feels like going from iOS 10 to 14. It’s not just the graphics that change; virtually everything is new. Perhaps the most important change is the ability to receive over-the-air software updates, making it easier to have the latest maps and features without having to visit a dealer. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are part of the upgrade, and like other recent Lincolns, it adds Phone as a Key, which allows you to lock, unlock, and start your car without having the key fob with you. Like many other systems these days, voice recognition allows you to verbalize commands, but Sync 4 is a bit behind other systems, like Audi’s or Mercedes’, as it doesn’t have the same kind of conversational capability.
The new system is also easier to navigate than the old Sync 3 thanks to simplified menus and a split-screen option, something we complained about in the past.
Taking a page from the Navigator, Aviator, and Corsair, the Nautilus adopts a horizontal interior design, which now incorporates the gear selector in the form of piano keys located under the air vents in the center stack. It looks elegant but puts the Drive and Sport buttons farther away from the driver, making them hard to reach. Under the gear selector, volume and tuning knobs are located just above the dual-zone climate controls. Our Black Label example came equipped with 22-way powered front seats and the Revel Ultima premium audio system with 19 speakers, making drives more comfortable and enjoyable.
The cabin’s mix of materials—soft leather, ritzy chrome, and beautiful wood—deliver a cozy and pleasant feel to all occupants. Lincoln engineers packed the Nautilus with tons of sound-deadening materials; they did such a good job that when having a phone conversation, my friend on the other end of the line couldn’t believe I was driving. Upping the experience inside, the front seats also offer massages, which always felt great whether we were driving short or long distances.
Given its midsize configuration, the Nautilus is quite spacious in both the front and rear seats. Cargo room is ample, with enough space for large suitcases should you go on a road trip.
2021 Lincoln Nautilus: The Drive
Lincoln didn’t make any changes under the Nautilus’ hood, which means the base mill remains a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 with 250 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque with all-wheel drive as an option (front drive is standard). Black Label models continue with the punchier 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 that makes 335 hp and 380 lb-ft, with standard all-wheel drive. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Like you’d expect from those horsepower numbers, the Nautilus Black Label has oomph. Press the throttle to merge on the freeway, and your back pushes against the seatback as the speedometer’s needle quickly moves up. The engine feels zippy for an SUV this size, with virtually no turbo lag. However, the transmission likes to take its time to shift at highway speeds, and it had a few abrupt shifts when driving at parking lot speeds.
Lincoln tuned the suspension to offer a plush ride, with the dampers doing a great job filtering the broken pavement, bumps, or ruts. Even with the 21-inch wheels, the ride is controlled and soft, exactly what you’d expect from a luxury SUV. The body is well controlled through tight turns, but we noted a lack of lateral support from the seats when driving aggressively (something most customers won’t do, anyway). The steering is tuned toward the lighter side, but it still provided a good amount of feedback.
At the track, the Nautilus made it to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, completing the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 95.3 mph. Those numbers put it in line with the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 (5.6 seconds) but slightly below the 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i (5.0 seconds). The Nautilus was also way better than the last Lexus RX 350 F Sport we tested—a 2016 model that reached 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
Like all Lincolns these days, the Nautilus comes standard with Lincoln Co-Pilot 360, a safety-tech package that includes assists designed to reduce driver stress. Our Black Label, however, came with Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 Plus, which adds a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality and lane centering, active park assistance, and front parking sensors.
2021 Lincoln Nautilus: Should I Buy It?
With its updated interior, the 2021 Nautilus finally feels like it’s part of the new Lincoln. Though it’s not a new generation, this second midcycle update is extensive as far as facelifts go, and more than anything it elevates the Nautilus to the same level we’ve seen in the Corsair, Aviator, and Navigator. And while its platform has been only mildly touched since its inception in 2016, it still feels adequate.
Our $68,295 Black Label is expensive any way you look at it, but prices didn’t increase much compared to last year. Buyers who don’t opt for the Black Label still get a well-appointed cabin, though the two-color interior and fancier trims are exclusive to the top trim. However, the 13.2-inch screen with Sync 4 is standard across the lineup.
We don’t know when the next-gen version will arrive, but if the 2021 Lincoln Nautilus is a taste of what we’ll eventually get, we’re excited about what’s coming
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