Had we stepped inside Lincoln’s current Nautilus as recently as 2016, we’d be typing up a review exclaiming how the mid-size SUV marks a return to form for Lincoln, and we’d probably be doing everything in our power to avoid writing a hacky line like “American luxury is back.” However, it’s 2019, and the Lincoln Nautilus’ potential shine is dulled by an unlikely competitor: Lincoln.
If that sounds a bit too Inception-y for you, let us break it down. 2017 saw the debut of the reimagined Lincoln Continental, a full-size luxury sedan that set true benchmarks for design, interior refinement, and ride comfort. It was a car that did signal (ahem) that American luxury was back, and the DNA first seen in this sedan has been passed onto everything from the awesome Navigator to the upcoming Corsair.
The 2019 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label given to us, however, is merely a refreshed MKX. It’s not a bad luxury SUV — far from it — but its design was obviously finalized long before Lincoln settled into its renaissance, leaving the Nautilus as a luxury SUV that’s merely “pretty good.”
Let’s start with what’s good. From the outside, the Nautilus is one attractive SUV, especially when sprayed with Lincoln’s pearlescent White Platinum paint. Our tester is a Black Label version, which in addition to the fancy leather and concierge services comes standard with brilliant, ultra-bright machined 21-inch turbofan-style wheels. It’s a design that shines and sparkles in all the right places, from the Lincoln-badge “honeycomb” grille to the raked, full-sweep taillights.
Once we get inside, though, things start to fall apart. Let’s start with the seats. Yes, they’re trimmed in fine leather, feature a unique perforated design, and are ready to massage your posterior in a variety of ways. But they’re also a bit hard; they’re quite wide and don’t offer much (or anything) in the way of lateral support, and finding that massage feature requires digging through endless menus to even turn them on.
For our money, great interior design needs to enhance the drive – not distract from it. If turning on things like the massage seats — or even more “mundane” things like the heated steering wheel — requires us to take our eyes off the road for long periods of time, do they really make the car better? Compare this to the Lincoln Continental. While we readily admit that its seat adjustment controls blatantly rip off Mercedes, they’re mounted up high on the interior door panels, are tactile, and can be easily adjusted by touch alone. Yes, even the massage feature.
And while we’re on the subject of the interior… It’s fine. Really, it is. Everything is screwed together well, and the full complement of leather-wrapped surfaces looks superb. But we’re missing that “wow” factor found in the other aforementioned Lincolns. Stepping into something like a Navigator feels like stepping into a boutique luxury hotel; getting into a Nautilus feels like stepping into a zhuzhed-up Ford parts bin.
Enough complaining. Let’s move on to something positive: the powertrain. Our Nautilus Black Label is equipped with the top-spec, twin-turbocharged 2.7-litre V6. It’s mated to an advanced 8-speed transmission, and power gets to the ground through all four wheels. As has been the case with modern-day Lincoln, the Nautilus wasn’t tuned to kill at the Nurburgring or dominate off-road trails; it has been tuned to give a quiet, cushy ride.
That “small” V6 is a thing of wonder, pumping out 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. That torque comes on low in the powerband, so acceleration is smooth and quiet, yet forceful enough to make that “go” pedal feel like it’s doing something right. Pressing the button for Sport mode adds an extra level of ferociousness to the straight-line speed, but not so much that it makes this powertrain feel anything less than refined.
But this refinement does come at a cost: the “manual” paddle shifters don’t really offer full control. Just because you want to shift up or down, it doesn’t mean that the SUV agrees with your input. Sometimes you’ll be waiting an extra second or two for the Nautilus to go into the gear you choose. Other times, the Nautilus will simply decide that the gear you want is the wrong one and won’t shift at all. At best, these paddles let you feel like you’re giving suggestions to the Nautilus, which of course the Nautilus is free (and ready) to ignore.
On one hand, we feel bad focusing on the bad parts of the Nautilus because it’s genuinely a good luxury SUV overall. It’s so much better than the Lincolns of just five years ago, and we should be celebrating that the Americans have a luxury vehicle that can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Lexus and Acura. But then there’s the MSRP: $67,630 USD. That’s far from cheap, and those who really want an American luxury car can get something a lot nicer simply by looking at the rest of Lincoln’s own portfolio.