With the death of the Continental and MKZ sedans, Lincoln is left to focus solely on SUVs, and of those, it’s the 2021 Nautilus that reminds us most of the brand’s big, soft-riding four-doors from decades past. The Nautilus’s suspension is tuned for comfort, and its over-the-road demeanor is better suited for relaxed Sunday drives than for tearing up the pavement like zestier rivals such as the Audi SQ8, the Porsche Cayenne, and the Maserati Levante. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is standard but buyers can choose to upgrade to a perkier twin-turbo V-6 and either front- or all-wheel drive. The Nautilus has a spacious and upscale cabin that’s in synch with its placid ride, with the top-spec Black Label model offering the most palatial accommodations. Unfortunately, the Black Label’s price has it competing with several SUVs wearing more desirable brand names.
What’s New for 2021?
Lincoln has given the Nautilus a thorough interior redesign for 2021, bringing the mid-size SUV in line with the rest of the company’s lineup. A new dashboard design incorporates a larger 13.2-inch infotainment display running the latest version of Ford’s Sync 4 operating system. Lincoln’s now-pervasive piano-key shifter replaces last year’s push-button setup. Fancy Black Label models can now be ordered with two new interior themes—Chalet and Flight—while Standard and Reserve trims can be had with either Sandstone or Black Ebony. The only discernable exterior styling change is a tweaked lower front bumper.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The entry-level engine in the Nautilus lineup is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that pumps out 250 horsepower. It’s hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission and can be had with front- or all-wheel drive. Our Reserve test vehicle with all-wheel drive managed a 6.8-second zero-to-60-mph time, edging out the V-6–powered Lexus RX350 by 0.1 seconds but falling behind the Cadillac XT5 by 0.2. We also tested the optional 335-hp 2.7-liter turbocharged V-6, and it delivered a brisk 5.9-second zero-to-60-mph time. Neither engine felt underpowered in city driving, but the V-6’s extra power is handy during highway merging and passing maneuvers. In keeping with the Lincoln brand’s luxury ethos, the Nautilus is a soft-shoed crossover that’s the happiest wafting lazily along. Its available adaptive suspension helps smooth impacts from potholes. Reserve and Black Label models, along with the all-wheel-drive Select, come with three driving modes (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) for an extra layer of personalization.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The cabin of the Nautilus is finished in nice materials; layers of more luxurious leathers, metals, and woods become available as you climb up through the lineup. Nearly everything in our Reserve and Black Label test vehicles was wrapped in soft leather, and the headliner of Black Label models is covered in faux suede. Although the Nautilus shares a platform with the Ford Edge, buyers likely wouldn’t guess that. While the vehicles are similarly spacious, the cabin of the Lincoln offers more style and substance in the form of optional massaging seats with 22-way adjustability, a standard digital gauge cluster, and a push-button gear selector. Behind the Nautilus’s rear seat is a vast cargo area that swallowed 12 carry-on suitcases in our testing—two more than the XT5 and three more than the RX350. Dropping the rear seat to its flat position—a process that’s made simple due to handy levers in the cargo area that flop the seatbacks down—creates room for up to 27 suitcases, which matches the larger, three-row Volvo XC90.