The verdict: The Lincoln Nautilus offers some compelling features, but its price tag climbs quickly, leaving interior quality behind.
Versus the competition: Luxury competitors are more refined, but the Nautilus offers a large interior and good driving experience with the V-6.
The 2019 Lincoln Nautilus has a brand-new name, but it isn’t a brand-new vehicle; “Nautilus” is a new moniker for the Lincoln MKX mid-size crossover. The new name does come with a few updates, though this is a refresh and not a full-on redesign like you’d see with most name changes. Compare the Nautilus with last year’s MKX here.
The five-seat Nautilus looks similar to the MKX. The easiest way to distinguish it from the previous model is the new horizontal grille, which replaces Lincoln’s older split grille. The Nautilus also looks a lot like the Lincoln MKC, Lincoln’s compact SUV. Even though the latter is smaller, it’s hard to tell them apart even when parked close together. There’s also a new base engine, but the optional engine carries over — and that’s a good thing.
Competition for the Nautilus is varied given its price and image (in some eyes, at least) as a near-luxury as opposed to full-luxury vehicle. The Nautilus starts at $41,335 for base models, then jumps to $45,540 for the Select, $49,870 for the Reserve and $57,890 for the Black Label, which in turn comes in three varieties: Chalet, Gala and Thoroughbred. (All prices include destination charges.) On the lower end, it competes with smaller luxury SUVs like the Audi Q5 and other mid-size two-row SUVs like the Lexus RX 350 and Cadillac XT5. Compare the Nautilus with those vehicles here.
The Nautilus has a dual nature: There are luxurious aspects that justify its price, but also parts that feel less than premium and drag down the experience.
Two Engine Choices, One Good One
This dichotomy starts under the hood. The new base engine is a 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 280 pounds-feet of torque. This replaces last year’s base V-6. For those who want more get-up-and-go, an optional 335-hp, twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 that makes 380 pounds-feet of torque is available. While both engines come mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions, the gearboxes are unique; Lincoln says each has different ratios and other mechanical changes that alter how they behave.
Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional. The all-wheel drive has added a provision that disengages the rear driveshaft when it’s not needed. Translation: It functions like front-wheel drive most of the time, which is more efficient, but sends power to the rear wheels when needed. I found the system to work seamlessly on the road, moving power to the back wheels under heavy acceleration without hesitation, then going right back to FWD when the need was over. Fuel-economy ratings with FWD are 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined for the base engine and 20/27/22 mpg for the V-6. AWD models are close, at 20/25/22 mpg for the base engine and 19/26/21 mpg for the V-6.
Of the two engine options, the V-6 is the way to go. The base engine is plenty powerful, but its transmission seems to get in the way and accelerator inputs are muted — there’s a discernible lag between pressing the pedal and the Nautilus moving forward with any urgency. Once the engine gets going, there’s enough grunt to scoot pretty well, but the delay is off-putting. The Nautilus does offer a more aggressive “S” (Sport) mode on the gear selector, which helps keep the engine a bit higher up in the rev range, but it doesn’t solve the problem completely and makes the engine drone noticeably.
Conversely, the V-6 and its transmission are a potent combination. The pedal feels in sync with the powertrain, power comes immediately, and the transmission shifts crisply and does a good job staying in the right gear. It feels like a luxury powertrain should, with easy acceleration and plenty of go-go for passing on the highway. Even with a suspension and steering definitely tuned for comfort, the Nautilus was good for a few smiles with the V-6 under the hood.
One thing to keep in mind: The Nautilus’ powertrain upgrades are always optional, not standard on any trim level. That means it’s possible to get a Black Label SUV with the base powertrain and FWD. Adding the optional engine adds $2,070 to the base price, and AWD adds another $2,495, meaning it’s always a $4,565 premium to get the Nautilus’ ideal engine setup.
Interior Hits and Misses
Inside, the Nautilus has a mix of materials that simultaneously awe and sadden. Each of the Nautilus models I drove were from the Reserve trim level and up, so they featured one of several shades of open-pore wood trim and soft, supple leather on the seats. I also tested the optional “Ultra Comfort” 22-way powered front seats, and they were just as comfortable as you’d hope seats with such a ridiculous amount of adjustment would be.
When you move your attention to the center console, however, things are less positive. Even on the line-topping Black Label model, the controls are thin plastic and feel like they’re from a Ford Edge. The front storage bin door is especially flimsy, and the climate buttons are plastic rather than metal, which is what you’ll find in most luxury competitors. The touchscreen, though, is great: Resolution is high enough, and it’s powered by Sync 3, one of my favorite multimedia systems thanks to its simplicity, ease of use and standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The backseat is spacious, with 39.6 inches of legroom — more than any of the competitors mentioned above. Headroom is also ample. The Nautilus offers a gigantic panoramic moonroof, which keeps the cabin feeling airy for everyone inside. Behind the rear seats, you’ll find 37.2 cubic feet of cargo room, which (again) blows away the competitors. Handy controls lower the rear seats if you need more cargo space.
The only thing the backseat is missing is charging options; the only two USB ports are located up front. Opting for the Cargo Utility Package adds a household outlet to the backseat, but otherwise, there’s just a 12-volt outlet back there.
Safety for a Price
The Nautilus offers an extensive amount of safety equipment (there’s the good), but it’s expensive (there’s the bad). Forward automatic emergency braking and a blind spot warning system are standard, but after that, things get a bit more complicated. The crown jewel is the Driver Assistance Package ($1,590), which includes full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with lane centering, adaptive steering ratios and — a new feature for 2019 — evasive steering assist. Evasive steering can detect slower-moving or stopped obstacles in the Nautilus’ path, and when the driver initiates a turn to avoid the object, the system is ready to boost the steering to help out. It works at all speeds, thus effective in both city and highway driving.
The Driver Assistance Package is offered only on Reserve and higher trim levels. In a market where safety features are being increasingly democratized, such limited availability is strange. Also available are a 360-degree camera system and an active park assist function.
The price on the Nautilus skyrockets quickly. All the examples I tested — even ones with the base engine — had sticker prices of more than $60,000. That’s a lot to pay for an SUV that doesn’t have full luxury credentials. They were also missing some standard safety equipment I’d like to see at that price, especially considering that the Ford Edge, essentially a sibling to the Nautilus, comes with many of those features standard at a significantly lower price.
Ultimately, this is what gives me pause about the 2019 Nautilus. What you get isn’t bad, but at these prices, “not bad” isn’t good enough. Lincoln has shown it can make true luxury SUVs (the Navigator and forthcoming Aviator), but the Nautilus doesn’t qualify.
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