Let’s play a game: if you had to choose one to magically appear in your driveway right this second, would you rather be the proud owner of a new Lincoln Nautilus or MKX? Time’s up.
We’re guessing most of you chose the Nautilus, a name that conjures images of crashing waves and stout-bellied ships, while MKX conjures images of … I don’t know, some sensible sedan. But I apologize, this was a trick question. You see, the Nautilus is the new version of Lincoln’s best-selling MKX midsize crossover, and if your mind automatically perceives the former to be a better vehicle, well, this name-change gamble is already paying off.
There’s a lot more to the revamped Nautilus than a name change, though, including a churched-up front end, two new transmissions and some verging-on-autonomous tech you really need to read about. But to help you decide whether or not it’s worth a spot in your garage, not to mention a spot in the stacked crossover lineup on the market today, we spoke with Lincoln SUV Marketing Manager Megan McKenzie to get the lowdown.
Then, we packed a fully loaded 2019 Nautilus Black Label (the most luxurious trim of Lincoln’s already luxurious offerings) with a weekend’s worth of groceries and wool socks, channeled our inner McConaughey and took it for a test drive upstate to the quaint Tiny Catskills Cabin. And we came to a verdict.
Nautilus 1 (2 images)
Before we get into who should buy this car, and why, let’s weed out who shouldn’t with some of the basics.
The 2019 Nautilus is a two-row, five-seat luxury crossover that starts at $40,340. The standard engine got an upgrade from the MKX, now a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four which puts out 250 HP and gets a maximum 21 MPG in the city, 26 on the highway. But for $2,070 more you can get a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6, which puts out 335 HP and gets 20 MPG in the city and 27 on the highway. We drove the latter, being in a fully loaded Black Label (the top-tier of the four trims, which also include Standard, Select and Reserve), so be forewarned that our comments pertain to that. Also, this fuel economy is for the standard FWD, but we recommend upgrading to AWD.
“But what does all that gobbledygook actually mean?” all you non-gearheads ask. Well, let’s take a jumping off point from SUV Marketing Manager McKenzie, who said she compares the Nautilus to the Lexus RX, BMW X5 and Cadillac XT5. All right then, let’s compare (the base options, at least).
The 2019 Nautilus bests them all in price. It bests or is equal to all of them in fuel economy. But it loses to all in horsepower, at least at the Standard level. But the Black Label is less expensive than the lowest BMW X5 xDrive40i, but matches it for horsepower. Touché.
So Lincoln may be moving up in the world. But is the Nautilus too bougie to be a rough-and-tumble family car? Is the Black Label trim worth the $57K, or most likely more? Below, we’ve outlined a few reasons you would potentially buy the 2019 Nautilus, and whether or not you actually should.
Nautilus 2 (2 images)
Use Case: Hauling (a Few Kids)
We mentioned offhand that the Nautilus is a crossover, but some might need a five-second explainer. In the most basic sense, a crossover is an SUV based on a car platform where a traditional SUV is based on a truck. Here, it’s Ford’s CD4, which was the same as the MKX. “It's also the same platform that underpins the Lincoln Continental sedan,” writes Autotrader. “So if you like the Continental, but would rather have an SUV, the Nautilus is a great alternative.” In other words, if you need the extra space that is required with a few jittery kids, but are cautious about giving up the ease of a car. Speaking of ease, McKenzie said, “What’s most important for us ... is having a quiet, smooth and comfortable ride.” And that’s what we got with “Ultra Comfort” 22-way adjustable massage front seats, eerily quiet road noise and “enhanced active park assist,” which basically parallel parks for you. If you’ve got kids, you know how life-changing auto-parallel park would be when you're taking the tykes to Marvel Universe LIVE! and trying to find a spot in any downtown.
Nautilus 3 (2 images)
Use Case: Sharing a Car
One of the crucial features of car ownership that McKenzie pointed out is “having a vehicle that feels like its yours.” Ain’t that the truth? But wait a second, how can the Nautilus feel like it’s yours if you’re a one-car household, or more likely have to share a car with your partner while your kids joyride in your second-hand vehicles? Two words: key fob, which can hold your own personal profile. Basically, when you get in the car with your key, the Nautilus will automatically move the driver’s seat to your preferred position, adjust the mirrors and set the radio, among other things. Should that not be enough camaraderie between you and your crossover, one of my favorite things about the Nautilus was the wake-up feature. When you’re walking towards the car, the headlamps awaken like some stirring beast, the door handles ignite and a puddle lamp appears — a spotlight of the Lincoln logo on the ground next to your door. McKenzie likens it to a dog getting excited when you come home, and we have to agree.
Nautilus 4 (2 images)
Use Case: Looking to Swap Your BMW or Mercedes-Benz
We alluded to this earlier, but some of you may have already asked yourself: is Lincoln really in the same category as BMW? The short answer is no. The long answer is that they’re ready to throw their hat in the ring anyway. When I asked McKenzie about this, she said, “As we’ve been evolving with the Navigator, we really believe that Audi and BMW and Mercedes — while we’re not trying to be them — we do believe that … customers should be able to compare what a Lincoln has to offer with what a BMW has to offer, and able to see benefits in our vehicle.” [Insert the most humble of DJ air horns.] Yes, we can validate this newfound audacity after experiencing the advanced tech of the Nautilus, most importantly something called “adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane centering.” It automatically keeps you in the middle of the lane even around turns, as well as slowing down and speeding up with traffic. It was a welcome respite on the Sunday afternoon drive back into Manhattan. But it needs to be said that there have been two recalls so far, one involving the steering assist. So Lincoln is full-steam ahead with minor setbacks, but the Nautilus is a promising step.
Verdict: Hold off for now
All images courtesy of Lincoln Motor Company