If the full-size Navigator pointed Lincoln in the right direction after more than a decade of dithering, the redesigned 2019 Nautilus affirms Lincoln’s place on the luxury map. The quiet crossover with the finest finishes also announces, without doubt, that Lincoln is making better vehicles than Cadillac.
Shots fired. Cadillac will come back. The redesigned Nautilus replaces the forgettable MKX midsize crossover with a renewed focus on comfort and refinement. It’s not only better than the Cadillac XT5, the 2019 Nautilus in top Black Label trim is more impressive than Lexus RX350 and Infiniti QX50, and edges out Acura RDX and Volvo XC60 in the balance of comfort and capability. But it does not have the performance chops of the Jaguar F Pace or BMW X3.
With the redesign, Lincoln stamped its broad and bold grille on the front, and the high beltline and relatively low roofline give it a sporting shape on the outside with crossover proportions on the inside. Nautilus is a tweener in size, slotting between the forthcoming three-row Aviator and the small MKC. The special-order Black Label trim comes with 21-inch wheels designed like its spiraled sea-shelled namesake.
About that Black Label trim: It should come with a bottle of Johnnie Walker to take the sting out of the price jump. At about $12,000 more than a similarly powered base model, the top Black Label trim is meant to impress, even at $60,000. It’s a lot of money for a Lincoln — it’s a lot of money for any crossover — but, as with the flagship Navigator, the ownership experience is being packaged as a service. When the vehicle needs servicing, Lincoln owners get complimentary home pickup service and delivery of a loaner Lincoln. Black Label trim extends the fast access through security at participating airports and arenas.
More relevant to the actual driving experience, Black Label comes with new Gala trim, with rich red leather (Carmine) contrasting black dash and trim panels underscored with brushed aluminum bands. Rear heated seats, a leather steering wheel, fuzzy Alcantara headliner and a 19-speaker Revel audio system come standard. Not sure how effective such a sound system is for the podcast or traffic report, but the pumped-up music will shake you to your core, if that’s your thing. The 360-degree camera and parking assistance systems ($1,720), as well as lane keeping and adaptive cruise control ($1,590), cost extra, which is kind of German. At this price point, everything should be included, even the bottle of scotch. The 22-way power massaging front seats are well worth the $1,500, though.
The handling is not so German, with a wider, larger feel belied by its profile. The standard engine on Black Label is the potent 335-horsepower turbocharged V-6. In sport mode it provided lift that, even in AWD, elicited some squeals from our rear-seat passengers. On the highway ramp, or off the line, the 380 pound-feet of torque didn’t leave us wanting more power. The new standard eight-speed transmission is smooth, except on cold starts, and delivers more power more efficiently. We averaged about 22 mpg at 30 mph, beating the combined estimate of 21 mpg. Even with the huge sunroof, the ride is smooth, quiet and sublimely comfortable.
Lincoln knows it’s the little things in the luxury game. Accent lighting welcomes you on approach, which is a nice subtle touch in the dark season of winter. Remote start is simplified; press the brake and desired gear and off you go, in the industry’s most comfortable seats. No need to hit the starter button again.
Two cargo shelves under the center console provide for safe and convenient storage, and under the center stack is a wireless phone compartment with a cover to minimize temptation. The main interface is the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. It can handle just about everything except map projection in the 8-inch touch screen. It’s small for the luxury class, with narrow menu bars wedged top or bottom, but it’s easier to use than either the Asian or German systems. It’s ideal for those who want to use what they’re paying for without having to be overwhelmed by it. One oddity was the heated steering wheel button accessible only through the touch screen, as if Lincoln ran out of space for a physical button.
Even in the premium and luxury space, crossovers are more similar than different. The Black Label trim helps the Lincoln Nautilus carve out a spot of distinction for a price.
2019 Lincoln Black Label Nautilus at a glance
Vehicle type: Midsize luxury crossover
Base price: $59,390
As tested: $66,635 (excluding $995 destination)
Mpg: 19 city, 26 highway, 21 comb.
Engine: 2.7-liter turbo V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic in AWD
Competitive rank: BMW X3 340i, Jaguar F Pace S, Lincoln Nautilus, Volvo XC60, Acura RDX, Cadillac XT5