2021 Lincoln Nautilus first drive review: A unique take on American luxury


The 2021 Lincoln Nautilus is refreshingly honest. At a time when so many luxury vehicles emphasize record-setting lap times, in-your-face styling and overcomplicated tech, this updated SUV charts a different course. Cushy and quiet, the Nautilus is a rolling sanctuary, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

All in the family

This utility vehicle received a not-insubstantial update for 2021, a remodeling that’s made a respectable vehicle even better, though you’d be hard-pressed to tell based on its exterior. The Nautilus’ styling is barely, and I mean barely tweaked. It gains a revised lower grille section with a cross-body chrome strip and reworked fog lights. Three new colors join the palette including Flight Blue, Green Gem and Asher Gray, which is the hue this example is wearing. My tester is also dressed up with the optional Monochromatic package. Among other things, it adds black-finished 20-inch wheels and a body-colored upper grille insert for a sportier look.

Exterior changes are minimal, but the 2021 Nautilus’ most significant updates are reserved for the interior. This SUV now features a cabin that looks almost exactly like what you get in Lincoln’s other SUVs, the Aviator, Corsair and Navigator. The new dashboard is much more horizontal than before, gently curving as it spans from pillar to pillar. The Nautilus also gains Lincoln’s signature piano-key gear selector, which is neatly mounted below the center air vents and, as with the other switches and controls, feels like high-quality stuff.

Intuitive tech

Sprouting from the dashboard is this SUV’s most eye-catching addition for 2021: a gigantic 13.2-inch touchscreen, the largest found in any Lincoln. This display is easy to reach and looks great, with vibrant colors, nice contrast and excellent viewing angles so it doesn’t get all washed-out if you’re not staring at it dead on. This is the perfect canvas for a Sync 4 infotainment system running a visual theme called Constellation, which was inspired by the evening sky and features subtle blue and orange accents. Most of the time this system responds promptly to pokes and swipes, plus the user interface is elegantly simple. I appreciate the little sparkle animation when you touch one of the primary icons on the bottom of the screen. Of course, wireless Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto are supported.

The Nautilus’ infotainment system is super-intuitive, as are many other controls. It’s a snap to reconfigure the digital instrument cluster or search for a point of interest in the navigation system. Everything is simple to operate, something that reduces stress and makes piloting this SUV that much more relaxing.

A new 13.2-inch infotainment screen is the star of this Lincoln’s refreshed interior.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Further enhancing the drive, certain Nautilus models can be fitted with a rockin’ 19-speaker Revel sound system. But even the standard 13-speaker Revel arrangement slays, offering distortion-free bass and crisp highs no matter how far you crank it.

The Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 suite of driver aids is standard across this vehicle’s three trim levels and includes automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and more. Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 Plus is optional on the midrange Reserve trim and standard on top-shelf Black Label models. Among other things, it gets you front parking sensors, evasive steering assist, a 360-degree camera system and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability as well as lane centering. Unfortunately, that camera array is laughably low-res, though the adaptive cruise control system works extremely well, keeping the Nautilus on its intended course and seamlessly matching the speed of surrounding traffic. It handles stop-and-go congestion with ease, smoothly rolling to a standstill and holding the vehicle there until you’re ready to go again. Just press the Reset button when traffic starts moving.

Other tech includes an available wireless charging pad and Lincoln’s handy phone-as-key system. This allows you to leave the fob at home and access your Nautilus from a mobile device; it also allows you to lock and unlock the vehicle, open the hatch or windows and start the engine, among other things.

The Nautilus offers plenty of tech, but some features are missing, things like a rear-camera mirror, night vision and a head-up display. These items are available on other vehicles including the Nautilus’ primary rival, the Cadillac XT5.

The Nautilus’ updated interior is way nicer than before, and this isn’t even a top-shelf Black Label model. 

Craig Cole/Roadshow
The inner sanctum

This Reserve trim’s cabin is nicely done, comfortable and made of premium materials, though I could do with fewer chrome accents. There’s no shortage of soft leather, and the reddish wood trim on the dashboard really pops against the black background. Hands down, I prefer this interior to the XT5’s and Lexus RX’s, though the Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5 still have an edge.

They may not be as over the top as the 30-way Perfect Position seats you can get in other Lincolns, but the Nautilus’ available Ultra Comfort chairs are nearly as nice, adjusting in 22 directions. They feature heat and ventilation, power headrests and extendable thigh supports and can even give your butt and back a massage. Despite the excellent seats, this vehicle’s driving position is a little awkward for taller folks like me. You sit too high in the captain’s chair and the pedals are oddly angled and a bit too close. Shorter people, however, will likely find this setup just about perfect.

Passengers relegated to steerage are sure to enjoy the Nautilus’ spacious and comfortable backseat. When it’s time to haul cargo, this Lincoln offers far more space than an RX 350 and has a distinct advantage over the Q5, XC60 and XT5 with 37.2 cubic feet of room behind the rear backrests and 68.8 with them lowered.

The worst of both worlds

Behind the Nautilus’ reworked front end is one of two engines. A 2.0-liter turbo-four is the base powerplant, which can be paired with front- or all-wheel drive. Delivering far greater performance, however, is the available 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6. An absolute honey, it provides 335 horsepower and a stout 380 pound-feet of torque, all of which gets routed to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive. Incredibly smooth and nearly silent, this engine feels luxurious, pulling with authority throughout the rev range, making this Lincoln feel plenty quick.

An unsettled ride is this SUV’s most-glaring weakness.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Helping deliver that admirable performance, the eight-speed transmission is mostly agreeable, swapping gears quickly, though it can feel uneven. Upshift quality is sometimes irregular, and occasionally it’s a little clunky as you roll to a stop.

With that force-fed V6, expect 19 miles per gallon around town and 25 mpg on the highway. Combined, the Nautilus is rated at 21 mpg, though astonishingly, according to the trip computer, I’ve been beating that by about 2 mpg in real-world driving — and with a heavy foot, I might add.

The Nautilus’ steering is soft and light, but not as imprecise as you might imagine. Yes, road feel is lacking, but the wheel is tuned appropriately for a vehicle that favors refinement over sportiness. Surprisingly, body roll in corners is almost nil.

The 2021 Nautilus delivers excellent performance and remains hushed at speed, but one part of its dynamics leaves much to be desired: the ride. Somehow engineers have delivered the worst of both worlds as, paradoxically, this example is both soft and stiff at the same time. It can feel a little floaty over undulating surfaces, with slightly exaggerated body motions (there’s also a fair amount of squat and dive when accelerating or hitting the brakes), but this softness is tempered by way too much impact harshness from small roadway imperfections like expansion joints and frost heaves, which you feel in high fidelity. I don’t expect Mercedes-AMG levels of control here, but the ride should be both more supple and better buttoned-down than it is. Perhaps the available adaptive suspension, which this example is not fitted with, does a better job ironing things out.

With this update, Lincoln has done a commendable job keeping one of its older models fresh and appealing.

Craig Cole/Roadshow
All for Naut(ilus)

The 2021 Lincoln Nautilus starts at a little less than $44,000 including $995 in delivery fees. The nicely optioned Reserve-trim specimen seen here is a good bit pricier, though it’s by no means outrageous, checking out for $66,890. That figure includes the Reserve I ($3,420) and Monochromatic ($1,695) packages, those 22-way seats ($1,500) and a couple of other items.

Aside from a few complaints about its transmission and ride quality, the Nautilus is an agreeable high-end SUV and a refreshing change of pace. Its focus on actual luxury — having intuitive controls, comfortable accommodations and a quiet interior — is almost a novelty these days as competitors push to deliver the most aggressive design and sharpest handling possible. In contrast, the Lincoln Nautilus knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.


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