2019 Lincoln Nautilus Review

Christian Wardlaw | Jul 11, 2019

Introduction

Slowly but surely, Lincoln is reinventing itself.

Nearly the entire lineup has been given a restyle or a redesign, as well as an actual name in place of a 3-letter MK-something moniker. The company ranked higher than Lexus in the J.D. Power 2019 Initial Quality Study, and higher than any other luxury brand except for Genesis. And Lincoln continues to expand its ownership benefits package, one of the best among luxury brands.

For 2019, Lincoln’s midsize 5-passenger SUV, the MKX, is a beneficiary of the company’s transformation. Now known as the Nautilus, it is redesigned from the windshield forward, with a nip and a tuck around back. New wheels and paint colors complete the exterior updates.

Under the hood, the previously standard 3.7-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission are dropped in favor of a more efficient turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic. The twin-turbocharged V6 option remains, along with all-wheel drive.

Additionally, the company’s Lincoln Co-Pilot360 suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies is standard, and new lane centering assist and Evasive Steering Assist systems debut. Black Label trim gets a new Gala Theme, and a Coffee-color leather is available.

2019 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label White Front ViewDoes this MKX refresh and rename improve Lincoln’s midsize SUV? For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2019 Nautilus Black Label equipped with the twin-turbo V6, all-wheel drive, a Driver Assistance Package, a Technology Package, and upgraded front seats with massage. The price came to $67,265, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Lincoln Nautilus, it is helpful to understand who bought the Lincoln MKX, and what they liked most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to the midsize premium SUV segment, 44% of MKX owners are women (vs. 37% for the segment). Their median age is 67 years (vs. 58), and their median annual household income is $124,679 (vs. $197,769). 

Remarkably, 85% of all Lincoln MKX owners reported membership in the Baby Boomer or Pre-Boomer generation (vs. 61%). Lincoln MKX owners also prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (86% vs. 36% for the segment).

Otherwise, MKX owner sentiments about vehicles were largely aligned with midsize premium SUV owners as a whole. More Lincoln owners agreed that they prefer to avoid vehicles with high maintenance costs (86% vs. 80% for the segment), while fewer Lincoln owners agreed that they prefer a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (91% vs. 95%). Fewer Lincoln owners also agreed that they need a versatile vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle (80% vs. 84%).

Buyers said their favorite things about the MKX were (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics and interior design (in a tie), seats, and engine/transmission. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the MKX were (in descending order) the visibility and safety, storage and space, infotainment system, climate control system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Lincoln Nautilus measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Equipped with Lincoln’s distinctive new “face,” the Nautilus better fits into the company’s lineup, though I’ll admit that I also liked the previous split-wing grille design. In Black Label trim, Lincoln’s signature 21-inch saw blade-style wheels give the SUV a commanding presence.

Interior

Sitting at the top of the Lincoln Nautilus lineup, a Black Label version of the SUV is dripping in luxury. The high quality materials, however, can draw sharper contrast to some of the comparatively inexpensive looking controls.

Lincoln does use traditional knobs and buttons for the climate and stereo systems, making the SUV easy to understand and use. The push-button transmission controls, stacked to the left of the infotainment system display, leave something to be desired.

Seats

Equipped with heated, ventilated, and massaging front seats featuring power thigh support extensions and wrapped in premium leather, the Nautilus Black Label test vehicle’s front seats are exceptionally comfortable. This SUV proved itself a sanctuary during a couple of 2.5-hour rush-hour commutes from Los Angeles International Airport to Ventura County.

The rear seat offers plenty of room for two adults or three kids. The cushion sits high with good leg support, and the Nautilus provides plenty of space for both legs and feet. Oddly, there are no USB ports for rear seat occupants. Nor does Lincoln provide side window shades.

Climate Control System

Three rows of buttons control the Nautilus’s climate control system. They look simple and elegant, but it can be hard to find what you’re looking for. Knobs would be better for temperature adjustment, with added visual clutter the trade-off.

Even when placed on their highest setting, the ventilated seats lack power. A triple-zone climate control system is notably absent from the Nautilus Black Label, too. Instead, rear seat passengers receive air conditioning vents.

Infotainment System

Lincoln’s Sync 3 infotainment system is easy and intuitive to use, with bright graphics, legible markings, sizable virtual buttons, and reasonably quick response. It is, however, limited to an 8-inch display in the Nautilus, a size that is increasingly considered too small for a luxury vehicle.

Equipped with a 19-speaker Revel high-end audio system, the speakers fill the Nautilus Black Label’s cabin with lush sound.

Storage and Space

Tiered storage exists underneath the Nautilus’s bridge-style center console, and thanks to the electronic transmission controls Lincoln offers a covered bin with a wireless smartphone charger just in front of the cup holders. Other storage areas are adequate at best.

Cargo volume measures 37.2 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat. It’s more accommodating than that measurement sounds, thanks to a long cargo floor. Plus, there is a lip where the floor and tailgate meet, preventing items from tumbling out when you open the trunk. Fold the rear seat down to access 68.8 cu.-ft. of cargo space.

Visibility and Safety

Thick windshield pillars can block a driver’s view, but the shape of the hood makes it easy to place the Nautilus when parking the SUV. The Black Label test vehicle also had front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera with a lens washer system, a forward-view camera, and a 360-degree surround view camera system.

Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 is a collection of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that works with expected levels of refinement and accuracy. Like many adaptive cruise control systems, there are delays in recognition that a car has merged into the gap ahead, and in realizing that it is safe to accelerate. Nevertheless, it quickly identified a motorcycle and matched pace accordingly.

Engine/Transmission

For 2019, the Nautilus has a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 250 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. An optional twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 generates 335 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque.

Both include an 8-speed automatic transmission that powers the front wheels, and all-wheel drive is optional. Available Lincoln Drive Control provides Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings that adjust powertrain response, steering heft, and adaptive suspension characteristics. The transmission also has a separate Sport mode, and the Nautilus comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Equipped with the V6 engine, all-wheel drive, and Lincoln Drive Control, the Nautilus Black Label is downright quick. Acceleration is plentiful, making it easy to merge onto highways and turn onto streets with fast-flowing traffic.

Most of the time, the 8-speed automatic transmission is agreeable. On occasion, however, it shifts harshly between Park and Reverse or Drive. Also, when you place the Nautilus into Park, it can roll a bit before coming to a rest.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, a Nautilus Black Label outfitted like my test vehicle should return 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in combined driving. On my testing loop, the SUV averaged 18.5 mpg. During a week of driving, it returned 18.9 mpg.

Based on the latter average, and given the 18-gallon fuel tank, you should be able to drive more than 300 miles between stops for fuel.

Driving Dynamics

Lincoln delivered my test car in the Comfort driving mode. Predictably, the ride was soft, with too much body motion and excessive ride harshness due to the Black Label’s 21-inch wheels and 265/40 all-season tires.

By switching Lincoln Drive Control to Normal mode, I solved for all of this, the adaptive damping suspension expertly controlling float and wallow while filtering out some of the impacts coming up from the road surface.

Sport mode stiffens the Nautilus further, but the result is an almost brittle ride quality. That’s why my favorite mode was Normal.

Equipped with an Auto Hold brake function, the Nautilus is calming and relaxing to drive in traffic. The brakes are easy to finesse for smooth, drama-free stops, and in Normal mode steering effort levels are perfect. The Nautilus is also surprisingly quiet for an SUV riding on 21-inch tires.

Take a twin-turbo Nautilus Black Label for a rousing run on a favorite back road, and you might be stunned by how capable the SUV is. Fast and fun, it’s easy to cover ground at a rapid pace. And while it might not be as outright capable as its platform-mate, the Edge ST, the Lincoln clearly draws some of its capability from that performance-tuned SUV.

There are a couple of flaws here, though. First, the Continental Cross LX Sport tires howl early when you’re driving with enthusiasm. Second, the brakes on the test vehicle, which had more than 8,000 miles on it, easily heated up and vibrated during mountain driving. Even when simply crossing the Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu and Agoura Hills while traveling at the speed limit, they exhibited this tendency. Fade, however, was not an issue.

Final Impressions

With the 2019 Nautilus, Lincoln is unlikely to siphon sales from the Audi Q5, BMW X3, or Mercedes-Benz GLC, let alone larger models from those automakers.

Instead, this Lincoln’s likely competitors are the Cadillac XT5, Infiniti QX50, and Lexus RX. Based on my experience, there is plenty to like in this Lincoln, not the least of which is the company’s performance in the latest J.D. Power IQS.

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