Renamed, restyled and significantly improved, the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus will offer loads more standard safety equipment and significantly better fuel economy when it replaces the MKX midsize SUV in dealerships this October.
Lincoln has struggled for years to get buyers' attention, due to a small and somewhat forgettable product line. The Nautilus's simple, memorable name and new front styling consistent with the wildly popular Navigator big SUV should help with those problems. In addition to the grille, the Nautilus's hood, headlights and fenders with Continental-style nameplates are new. The rest of the body is unchanged from the MKX.
The Nautilus competes with five-passenger luxury SUVs including the Cadillac XT5 and Lexus RX. Prices start at $40,340, below the XT5 and RX, base-priced at $41,695 and $43,570, respectively.
I spent a day driving Nautiluses on the hills and highways of California's Central Coast. Most of my time was at the wheel of a 335-horsepower V-6 Nautilus AWD Reserve that cost $65,120. All prices exclude destination charges.
Black Label magic
The Nautilus is quiet, smooth and luxurious-particularly in top-of-the-line Black Label trim. Black Label prices start at $56,895 for a front-wheel drive mode with a 2.0-liter engine. Black Label accounted for about 5 percent of MKX sales. Based on my time in a $65,640 Black Label with all-wheel drive, V-6 and the Chalet color scheme, that may rise in the Nautilus. The Chalet interior has white leather seats perforated in a pattern reminiscent of Lincoln's star badge, black leather on the dash and console and striped wood trim. The Nautilus has plenty of passenger room, storage bins and an exceptionally accommodating cargo compartment. Active noise cancellation, acoustic-laminated rear side windows and other insulators keep the interior quiet at highway speed and over rough surfaces. The blue and gray Nautilus Reserve I drove first was roomy and comfortable, but immediately forgettable once I got into the Black Label Chalet.
All Nautiluses have a touch screen that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The infotainment system also uses AppLink to work with Waze navigation, Amazon's Alexa and more.
Latest and greatest safety features
The Nautilus is the first vehicle with Lincoln's CoPilot360 package, which includes effective safety features like pedestrian detection, automatic front emergency braking, automatic high beams and blind spot alert. Other available safety and driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control and lane centering. In combination, they take much of the work out of highway driving. The Nautilus is the first Lincoln with evasive steering assist. It increases the boost to the power steering system when the Nautilus's radar determines a collision is imminent and the driver begins to turn the wheel. The object is to make the car react more quickly, avoiding or reducing the accident's severity. Evasive steering assist works in conjunction with the automatic emergency braking.
Happily, I didn't experience either of those features during my drive, but the ACC and lane centering worked unobtrusively and effectively. Owners will almost certainly appreciate them during long drives.
New drivetrains, higher fuel economy
All Nautiluses have a new eight-speed automatic transmission that's quick, smooth and improves fuel economy substantially.
A new 250-hp 2.0L engine replaces the 303-hp 3.7L V-6 that was the MKX' s base power plant. The 2.0L Nautilus's fuel economy increases 3 mpg in combined city and highway driving with the 2.0L and eight-speed versus the 3.7L V-6 and six-speed transmission.
An optional 335-hp 2.7L V-6 carries over from the MKX, but the eight-speed improves that EPA rating too, adding 2 mpg testing for mpg city, highway and combined driving.
In AWD models with either engine, the engine disconnects from the prop shaft to the rear axle when there's no wheel spin. That reduces friction and helps fuel economy.
The Nautilus isn't intended to be a sporty vehicle, but the AWD 2.7L I drove had plenty of power to climb hills and pass on highways. The steering was linear and well-weighted. I used the sport mode for most of my driving.
2019 Lincoln Nautilus at a glance
Price range: $40,340-$59,390
Nautilus Reserve AWD tested:
Price as tested $65,120 (excluding destination charges)
2.7L twin-turbo V-6
8-speed automatic transmission
Output: 335 hp @ 5,500 rpm; 380 lb-ft of torque @ 3,250 rpm
Estimated fuel economy: 18 mpg city/27 highway/21 combined. Premium gasoline.
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Assembly location: Oakville, Ontario