2021 Lincoln Nautilus
2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

Consumer Guide Automotive The Lincoln Nautilus midsize 5-passenger crossover debuted for 2019 as a thoroughly revamped version of the Lincoln MKX. In fact, the Nautilus was a key part of Lincoln’s transition away from the alphabetic (and not particularly well received) “MK” naming convention the brand began using around 2007. The 2020 model year saw the debuts of the all-new compact Corsair compact SUV (which took the place of the MKC) and Aviator three-row midsize SUV (which essentially replaced the MKT). These vehicles bookended the Nautilus in Lincoln’s model lineup, and they also introduced new interior/exterior styling themes and a further refinement of the Lincoln brand’s “Quiet Flight” design philosophy—all elements that weren’t fully formed at the time of the Nautilus’s introduction just two model years prior.

 2021 Lincoln Nautilus
The top-line Nautilus Black Label comes standard with all-wheel drive and 21-inch wheels.

So, for the 2021 model year the Nautilus gets an excellent freshening that brings it more in sync with the rest of Lincoln’s model lineup. The exterior gets a mild update via a freshened front fascia, but the big changes happen on the inside. A new interior brings an all-new dashboard design highlighted by a new “Sync 4” infotainment system and a 13.2-inch touchscreen.

Quick Spin: 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

 2021 Lincoln Nautilus
The Nautilus gets an all-new dashboard design highlighted by the new Sync 4 infotainment system and a 13.2-inch touchscreen. Stereo and climate controls are logically arranged on a separate panel below the push-button gear selector, and a cubby bin with a sliding cover houses USB/USB-C ports and the wireless charging pad.

As before, the Nautilus model lineup ascends through Standard (MSRP: $41,940), Reserve ($49,410), and top-line Black Label ($65,090) trim levels. Standard and Reserve are powered by a 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD tacks on another $2500). The Black Label comes standard with AWD and steps up to a 335-hp twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6. Among the Black Label’s other standard features are 21-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, Venetian leather upholstery, synthetic suede headliner, and Revel Ultima 19-speaker audio system. Also standard is the Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus suite of technology features, which includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and lane centering, Evasive Steering Assist, Enhanced Active Park Assist, and a 360-degree surround-view camera display.

Test Drive Gallery: 2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve

2021 Lincoln Nautilus
There are a couple of handy open-sided storage cubbies underneath the console and tucked behind the stereo/climate-control panel.

Our test vehicle was a Black Label finished in Lincoln Flight Blue paint (a new color for ’21, along with Asher Grey and Green Gem) and outfitted with the “Chalet” interior design theme. It was also equipped with the optional Cargo Utility Package ($365), 18-inch mini spare tire ($150), satin-finish roof-rack side rails ($195), and Ultra Comfort 22-way power front seats ($1500; these include power thigh extenders, power headrests, and 11 independent air cushions—seven of which offer an Active Motion rolling-pattern massage function). Add the $995 destination fee, and the bottom-line price was $68,295—plenty steep, but on par with similarly equipped European rivals.

The Nautilus’s new dashboard layout has a strong horizontal emphasis, which brings it more in step with the Corsair, Aviator, and Navigator. The shifter set-up still uses push buttons, but instead of the previous vertical arrangement, the buttons are now laid out in a horizontal “piano-key” fashion in the center of the dash, just below the HVAC vents. We acclimated to this easily enough, but the Drive button might be a slight reach for some drivers.

Test Drive: 2021 Genesis GV80 2.5T Prestige

2021 Lincoln Nautilus
The Nautilus gets Lincoln’s Phone As A Key smartphone capability, for locking/unlocking and starting the vehicle without a traditional key fob.

An angled panel just below the gear-selector buttons is home to audio-system and climate controls. The buttons have clear backlit markings, and there are physical knobs for the HVAC system’s fan speed, and the stereo’s volume and tuning. All of these controls are nicely placed and easy to use while driving. We give similarly high marks to the new Sync 4 infotainment system. The generously sized touchscreen is easy to reach, and its layout is intuitive. The touchscreen is responsive to “light-touch” inputs, and the system’s response times are quick. In keeping with Lincoln’s “Quiet Flight” philosophy, even the on-screen graphics are relaxing. The main background is Lincoln’s new “Constellation” theme—a lovely “twilight turning to night” image with dark blue hues, stars, and an orange tint at the bottom. If you REALLY don’t want to be distracted, there’s even a “calm screen” setting that displays only the time and date against a blue background (scroll to the gallery at the end of this article for a picture).

Other highlights of the new infotainment system are wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, conversational voice recognition, over-the-air software updates (which enables the system to be upgraded with new capabilities in the future), and a digital owner’s manual complete with a search function and how-to/demo videos (though we noted that at least a couple of those videos featured “MK” vehicles that Lincoln no longer makes… maybe those vids will be updated in the future?)

For 2021, the Nautilus also gets Lincoln’s Phone As A Key technology via the Lincoln Way smartphone app, enabling owners to leave the traditional key fob at home. Phone As A Key can lock, unlock, and start the vehicle remotely, and the app also enables opening the liftgate, powering the windows up or down, and activating the horn and lights to help locate the vehicle in a crowded parking lot.

Quick Spin: 2020 Ford Edge ST

 2021 Lincoln Nautilus
In Black Label trim, the Nautilus’s cabin ambiance is especially classy. Our test vehicle was finished in the “Chalet” theme, which is intended to evoke the feel of a ski lodge. The leather upholstery has a rich, supple feel.

One of our favorite Black Label features is the incredible Revel Ultima audio system. It should satisfy the pickiest of audiophiles, but you don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate how fantastic this stereo sounds. We’re fond of pulling up the Sirius XM 60s, 70s, and 80s decade stations on the Ultima system, and discovering all kinds of sonic details and dimensions in old AM/FM pop-music staples—songs that we’ve heard hundreds of times before, but never on a system this good.

Test Drive: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium

2021 Lincoln Nautilus
A panoramic sunroof is standard on Reserve and Black Label models. It provides an open-air feel, but the sunroof’s housing steals a bit of head room for tall occupants, especially in the back seat.

The cabin offers good space for average-sized adults in the front and rear seats, though extra-tall passengers might wish for a bit more legroom when the front seats are adjusted all the way back. The available panoramic sunroof’s housing steals a bit of headroom for tall passengers as well. The leather upholstery and faux-suede headliner look and feel great, however, and the reclining rear seatbacks are another comfort plus.

First Spin: 2020 Lexus RX

There’s 37.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats, which grows to 68.8 cubic feet with the rear seat backs folded… these numbers are a bit better than average for a premium-brand 5-passenger crossover.

Dynamically, the Nautilus drives like its interior and exterior styling suggests—a relaxed demeanor is prioritized over athleticism. The suspension is tuned for comfort and absorbency, not corner carving. The steering is more about delivering a buttery-smooth feel than optimal road feedback, but it’s responsive and accurate. It’s also nicely boosted, for quick, easy low-speed maneuvering in parking lots and the like.

5 Best Looking SUVs

2021 Lincoln Nautilus
The Nautilus receives a mild lower-front-fascia refresh for 2021 that gives it a slightly more subdued look.

The 335-hp turbo V6 supplies ample power for around-town driving, and, after a brief delay for a downshift and/or the turbos to spool up, satisfying passing punch on the highway as well. The engine note can sound a little coarse at idle, but the sound is very well muffled overall. Wind rush and tire noise are very well controlled as well—this is a laudably quiet vehicle.

There are definitely midsize luxury SUVs that have a more dynamic feel and driving character than the Nautilus, but Lincoln’s focus on serenity has merit as well. And after the year that was 2020, an SUV that doubles as a “calming sanctuary” has a lot of appeal.

Test Drive: 2020 Infiniti QX60 Luxe

2021 Lincoln Nautilus
The highlight of the Lincoln Nautilus’s freshening for 2021 is the Sync 4 infotainment system. It brings new levels of functionality and furthers the “calming sanctuary” vibe that is a Lincoln-brand signature.

Follow Damon on Twitter

Listen to the very entertaining Consumer Guide Car Stuff Podcast

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Gallery

(Click below for enlarged images)

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

Test Drive: 2020 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury

Share this: