Given the popularity and proliferation of sport-utility vehicles these days, it should come as no surprise that the genre will play a critical role in whatever the future holds for Lincoln, one of America's storied luxury-car brands.
Following an impressive redesign of the large and in charge Navigator SUV and awaiting the three-row Aviator for 2020, Lincoln redesigned the midsize MKX crossover for 2019 and, as part of its return to proper vehicle nomenclature, renamed it the Nautilus. Though it still shares platforms and components with the same-size Ford Edge, it looks and feels like a far different — and more sophisticated — vehicle.
The Nautilus comes wrapped in sedate, though elegant-looking styling. Lincoln's current signature front grille is flanked by compound headlamps and deep air intakes, with gentle curves reaching rearward.
Inside the Nautilus' spacious cabin, the dashboard and center console are elegantly cast with sweeping shapes, though it gets points off for some hard-surface plastics. An eight-inch touchscreen display with the latest version of the SYNC multimedia system resides above tactile analog controls, and there's a vertically arranged set of gear-selecting buttons for the automatic transmission.
The electronic instrument panel, however, is a bit bland looking.
Our tester was a top-of-the-line Black Label version, which features the most elegant interiors in the line. It came tastefully trimmed in hand-stitched Carmine and Onyx leather, with Nouveau Armor aluminum accents. We found the available 22-way adjustable heated, cooled and massaging front seats to be insanely comfortable. There's plenty of seat travel up front for taller riders to stretch out, with ample rear leg-, head and shoulder room to accommodate three adults.
Power comes from a choice of two turbocharged engines. A 2.0-liter turbo-four-cylinder with 250 horsepower is standard, while our tester packed the more-enjoyable optional 2.7-liter turbo V-6 with an authoritative 335 horsepower. A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic is standard, with all-wheel-drive optional across the line.
Fuel economy is improved over the former MKX, at an estimated 21/25-mpg city/ highway with the turbo four engine and 18/27 with the V-6.
While the Nautilus is all easygoing smoothness in its standard or comfort-oriented driving modes, engaging the vehicle's sport option enlivens things nicely. This setting stiffens up the steering and suspension for more responsive handling and ticks up the throttle response and shift mapping for quicker acceleration.
Standard accident avoidance features include forward auto-braking, and a blind spot warning system. Optional on higher trims are systems like stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and an evasive steer assist system that helps the driver avoid a collision with a slow or stopped vehicle in the Nautilus' path. A self-parking function is also available.
The vehicle's infotainment system includes a full assortment of connectivity features, including Bluetooth, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, a wireless charging pad, and both the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces. The base audio system comes with 12 speakers, while the Revel premium array in our tester featured 19 drivers and delivered top-notch sound. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is optional.
The 2019 Lincoln Nautilus starts at $41,335, including the mandatory destination charge, and reaches upward to nearly $70,000 for a fully loaded Black Label version. That's quite a spread, but it's competitive with the Lexus RX and undercuts European luxury competitors like the BMW X5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE by a considerable amount.
Brand cachet means a great deal in the luxury segment, and while Lincoln has lost much of its former glory in recent decades, the Nautilus looks to be a solid step in raising the brand's visibility among upscale SUV shoppers.
2019 LINCOLN NAUTILUS
Base price:$41,335 (including destination)
Engines:2,0-liter, 1-4 (250 hp); 2.7-liter, V-6 (335 hp)
EPA rating (city/highway):21/25 (2.0)