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

The Lincoln Nautilus of 2021 is pleasantly honest. At a time when so many luxury vehicles emphasize record lap times, unmistakable style and complicated technology, this updated SUV sets a different course. Comfortable and peaceful, the Nautilus is a rolling sanctuary and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

All in family

This commercial vehicle has received a not inconsiderable update for 2021, a refurb that has made a respectable vehicle even better, although it would be hard to tell based on its exterior. The style of the Nautilus is just, and I mean as soon as optimized. It gets a revised lower grille section with a chrome cross stripe and reworked fog lights. Three new colors join the palette including Flight Blue, Green Gem, and Asher Gray, which is the hue this example wears. My tester is also dressed in the optional monochrome package. Among other things, it adds 20-inch wheels with a black finish and a body-colored upper grille insert for a sportier look.

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

Intuitive technology

Spike from the dashboard is this SUV’s most eye-catching addition for 2021: a giant 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 won’t completely fade if you’re not staring at it. 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 knocks and knocks, plus the user interface is elegantly simple. Appreciate the little sparkling animation when you tap one of the main icons at the bottom of the screen. Obviously wireless Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto are supported.

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

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

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Further enhancing the ride, some Nautilus models can be equipped with a 19-speaker Revel audio system. But the standard 13-speaker Revel arrangement works too, delivering distortion-free bass and crisp highs no matter how far you move it.

The Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 suite of driving aids is standard across three trim levels of this vehicle and includes automatic high beam, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic warning, lane keeping assistance and more. Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 Plus is optional on the mid-range Riserva and standard on the high-end Black Label models. Among other things, it offers you front parking sensors, an evasive steering assistance system, a 360-degree camera system and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality and lane centering. Unfortunately, that series of cameras is ridiculously low-resolution, although the adaptive cruise control works extremely well, keeping the Nautilus on its intended course and adapting perfectly to the speed of surrounding traffic. It handles stop-and-go congestion with ease, rolling smoothly to a stop and keeping the vehicle there until you’re ready to go. Just hit the Reset button when the traffic starts moving.

Other technologies include an available wireless charging pad and the handy phone system like Lincoln’s key. This allows you to leave the remote 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 a lot of technology, but it lacks some features, like a rearview mirror, night vision, and a head-up display. These items are available on other vehicles, including the Nautilus’ main rival, the Cadillac XT5.

The Nautilus’s updated interior is much nicer than before, and this isn’t a top-notch Black Label model either.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The inner sanctuary

The cabin of this Riserva upholstery is well done, comfortable and made of high quality materials, although I could do with fewer chrome accents. There is no shortage of soft leather and the reddish wood trim on the dashboard really stands out against the black background. Hands down, I prefer this interior to the XT5 and Lexus RX’s, although the Volvo XC60 is Audi Q5 they still have an edge.

They might not be over the top like the 30-way Perfect Position seats you can get in other Lincolns, but the Nautilus’s available Ultra Comfort chairs are almost as beautiful, adjustable in 22 directions. They feature heating and ventilation, electric headrests and extendable thigh supports, and can even massage the buttocks and back. Despite the excellent seats, the driving position of this vehicle is a bit awkward for taller people like me. You sit too high in the captain’s chair and the pedals are oddly angled and a little too close together. Shorter folks, however, will likely find this setup almost perfect.

Passengers relegated to the helm are sure to appreciate the Nautilus’ spacious and comfortable rear seat. When it’s time to haul cargo, this Lincoln offers a lot more space than one RX 350 and it has a distinct advantage over the Q5, XC60 and XT5 with 37.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seatbacks and 68.8 with them lowered.

The worst of both worlds

Behind the Nautilus’ reworked front is one of two engines. A 2.0-liter turbo-four is the basic power unit, which can be combined with front or all-wheel drive. However, delivering far superior performance is the available 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6. A real honey, it delivers 335 horsepower and sturdy 380 lb-ft of torque, which is routed to the curb through an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Incredibly smooth and near-silent, this engine feels luxurious, pulling with authority throughout the rev range, making this Lincoln feel very fast.

Unstable travel is the most obvious weakness of this SUV.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Helping deliver that admirable performance, the eight-speed transmission is mostly enjoyable, shifting gears quickly, though it may feel erratic. Shift quality is patchy at times and occasionally a little clunky as you stop.

With that force-fueled V6, expect 19 miles per gallon around town and 25 mpg on the freeway. Combined, the Nautilus is rated at 21mpg, although surprisingly, according to the onboard computer, I beat it by around 2mpg in real-world driving – and with a heavy foot, I might add.

The Nautilus’s steering is soft and light, but not as inaccurate as you might imagine. Yes, it lacks road feel, but the wheel is tuned appropriately for a vehicle that prioritizes refinement over sportiness. Surprisingly, body roll in corners is next to zero.

The Nautilus 2021 offers excellent performance and remains silent at speed, but part of its dynamics leaves a lot to be desired: running. Somehow the engineers came up with the worst of both worlds since, paradoxically, this example is both soft and stiff. It may feel a bit floaty on wavy surfaces, with slightly exaggerated body movements (there’s also a fair amount of squat and dip when accelerating or hitting the brakes), but this softness is mitigated by the excessive hardness of the impact from small imperfections of the roadway such as expansion joints and frosts, which you hear in high fidelity. I don’t expect Mercedes-AMG control levels here, but the ride should be more flexible and better buttoned than it is. Perhaps the available adaptive suspension, which this example lacks, does a better job of smoothing things out.

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

Craig Cole / Roadshow

All for Naut (ilus)

The 2021 Lincoln Nautilus starts at just under $ 44,000, including $ 995 in delivery costs. The well-optional spare trim specimen seen here is a bit more expensive, though not outrageous at all, checking in for $ 66,890. That figure includes the Reserve I ($ 3,420) and Monochrome ($ 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 a pleasant high-end SUV and a refreshing change of pace. Its focus on actual Luxury, with intuitive controls, comfortable accommodations and a quiet interior, is almost a novelty these days as competitors push to deliver the most aggressive design and the sharpest handling possible. Conversely, the Lincoln Nautilus knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

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