The Lincoln brand has been on a definite upswing over the past half decade thanks in part to a strengthened commitment to creating a great user experience to go along with distinct designs that separate the products from their mainstream counterparts at Ford. Case in point is the Nautilus which for 2021 gets the second major refresh of this generation with a focus on the cabin environment.
With the demise of the MXZ and Continental sedans, Lincoln’s lineup is now both smaller and also stronger than it has been in many years. It now consists of just four utility vehicles ranging from the compact Corsair to the massive Navigator and thankfully none of the names begin with the letters MK! The two-row midsize model that began its life as the MKX in 2007 underwent a complete generational change in 2016 and then picked up a new face and the Nautilus name for 2019.
The first generation really was little more than a gussied up Ford Edge while the 2016 got completely unique sheetmetal and interior components. While that post-216 interior was a step up from the original, it was still a bit dull and understated compared to all of the new Lincolns that came after it. Lincoln has finally addressed that this year with a cabin that is fully consistent with its surviving siblings.
Before stepping into the 2021 Nautilus, you might not even realize it has changed. The exterior updates are very subtle, limited mainly to the lower portion of the fascia. The chrome trim in the lower front corners has gone from bolder surrounds of the fog light area to a slim horizontal strip spanning the lower edge. The overall effect is more horizontal, enhancing the impression of width and reducing the visual height. Like I said, subtle, but effective.
The updated utility inherits the phone as a key feature that debuted on the Corsair and Aviator. When an Android or Apple
The interior is where you’ll really notice the difference from the 2020 Nautilus. The same overall design theme seen on the Corsair, Aviator and Navigator is now in this model as well. That means a predominantly horizontal theme that accentuates the appearance of width. Rather than the sloping center console with an embedded touchscreen, the Nautilus now has its new larger 13.2-inch display perched on top of the dashboard closer to the driver’s line of sight.
The new touchscreen is the largest in any current Lincoln and second only to the Mustang Mach-E’s 15.5 inch unit from a Ford Motor Company product. It’s a lovely display with excellent brightness and contrast and even driving on a sunny, late winter day, glare was well controlled.
My tester was a silver Black Label with the Alphine theme that consists of mix of off-white and brown interior that looks great. A light colored segment spans the entire desh and contains the new smaller, horizontal vents. Just below that in the center are the piano key style transmission selector switches like those in other current Lincolns. Below that are volume and tuning knobs and physical climate controls. A storage bin with a sliding cover contains a wireless phone charging pad and both USB-A and USB-C ports. More storage is available below the console. It’s all a very premium look and feel that is consistent with the rest of the brand and completely unique from the Ford’s that share underpinnings.
The 2021 Nautilus is the first Lincoln to get the upgraded SYNC 4 infotainment system that debuted on the Mach-E and F-150. The interface on the landscape display is similar to the F-150 although with the brown Lincoln color theme rather than the Ford blue. Like the F-150, the main display consists of two panes, split roughly 3/4 and 1/4 with a menu bar across the bottom. Swiping the smaller pane left, swaps its contents with the larger one so you can easily switch between navigation, media, phone or other functions. Scroll buttons under the smaller pane let you quickly switch between recently used functions, much like the lower carousel of cards on the Mach-E interface.
The Nautilus supports wireless Android Auto and Apple Carplay so you can just drop your phone on the wireless charging pad without messing with cables. When using the phone projection systems, you can trigger the corresponding digital assistant with a long press on the voice button on the steering wheel or a tap of the touchscreen. There is also a built-in voice assistant that can be triggered by the voice button or simply saying “Hey Lincoln” to input navigation commands, change temperature and several other functions.
One of my favorite aspects of going for extended drives in modern premium vehicles is massaging seats. The front seats in the Nautilus Black Label have 10-way power adjustability which includes the side bolsters to help keep you firmly positioned during brisk drives. On top of that are actuators within the seats that allow you to select from five different massage patterns and low, medium or high intensity. I can drive in these seats all day and get out feeling refreshed.
Under the metal,the 2021 Nautilus remains unchanged from last year’s edition. The standard powerplant is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with either front or all-wheel-drive. A 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 is available on the Reserve and standard on the Black label. With 335-hp and 380-lb-ft, this is essentially the same engine powers hundreds of thousands of F-150s every year and it has more than enough grunt to propel the 4,500-pound Nautilus briskly.
The Nautilus like all modern Lincolns lives up to the brand’s quiet flight ethos. Driving isn’t a completely isolated from the world cocoon, but the noises are nicely suppressed and even under full throttle, neve intrusive. The adaptive damping system works well to provide a comfortable ride while also keeping body motions to a minimum.
One of the best features of the dampers is the pothole detection that Lincoln debuted several years ago. Accelerometers on the suspension detect when a wheel is beginning to fall away as it traverses a crater in the pavement. The damper at that corner is immediately tightened up to minimize the motion of the wheel so that it doesn’t slam into the trailing edge of the hole. This is much appreciated when driving around Michigan in late winter after successive freeze/thaw cycles have displaced large chunks of pavement.
The current generation Nautilus is no longer a newcomer to the marketplace, but regular incremental updates like this keep it relatively fresh. This is particularly true this year with the much upgraded cabin that provides a significantly enhanced user experience in looks, materials and infotainment. This generation probably has no more than 2-3 years left before it is replaced, but it is arguably in its best form to date.
Unfortunately, Lincoln hasn’t yet seen fit to hybridize this model so the fuel economy is EPA rated at 21 mpg combined and I saw about 18 mpg during my brief cold weather drive. The Oakville, Ontario plant where the Nautilus and Ford Edge are built is slated to switch over to electric vehicle production by 2023. Ford and Lincoln haven’t said what product will be built there, but a midsize Lincoln crossover that shares a platform with the Mustang Mach-E would seem to be a likely candidate.
In the meantime, this is still a worthy competitor for other premium two-row utility vehicles. The 2021 Lincoln Nautilus should be arriving in dealers by the end of March 2021 and the loaded Black Label edition I drove was priced at $68,295 including delivery.