First Drive: All-New 2019 Nautilus Puts Lincoln Back on Course

September 26, 2018 by Jaclyn Trop, @jaclyntrop

Seeking to duplicate the glamour of its mid-20th century heyday, Lincoln Motor Co. spent the last two years overhauling most of its cars and utility vehicles, improving performance and introducing luxury features.

Now the brand’s longtime best-seller is getting a makeover and a new name.

Previously known as the MKX, the midsize SUV is now the Lincoln Nautilus. It also gets new styling, powertrains and safety features for the 2019 model year.

The rebranded and revamped Nautilus completes a product renaissance designed to revive Ford Motor Co.’s ailing luxury division. It started with the 2017 rebirth of the Continental full-size sedan and a facelift for the MKZ compact sedan.

Aiming to pump global sales to 300,000 by the end of 2019, Lincoln restyled its six-vehicle lineup. Last year, the brand launched the fourth-generation full-size Navigator SUV and debuted a mid-cycle refresh for its MKC compact crossover. (The remaining nameplate, the MKT full-size SUV, is primarily used for fleets.)

A September weekend spent driving the five-passenger Nautilus through California’s Central Coast suggests that Lincoln has a chance of meeting that goal.

The Nautilus, on sale this fall, starts at $40,340 and shows sleeker styling than its predecessor. It sports the new Lincoln signature grille with a star mesh design found on the MKC and Navigator.

Under the Nautilus’ hood, a new engine portfolio delivers ample power for highway merging and overtaking cars while snaking through the verdant valleys of Santa Barbara. The base model, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, delivers 245 horsepower. The top-of-the-range, 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost engine makes 335 horsepower. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Built on the Ford Edge platform, the Nautilus will compete in the crowded luxury midsize utility vehicle landscape against Acura RDX, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5 and Audi Q5.

Inside, the cabin feels as upscale as any of its rivals, beginning with acoustic and engineering advances that dull wind and road noise. A leather-wrapped, hand-stitched steering wheel is mounted in front of a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Buyers can upgrade to 22-way power-adjustable, massaging seats in the front row with heating and cooling functions.

Lincoln’s SYNC 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4G LTE connectivity is standard. A wireless charging pad and 13-speaker or 19-speaker Revel audio system is optional.

For the Nautilus, Lincoln has made its Co-Pilot 360 suite of advanced driver-assistance features standard. It comes with lane centering paired with adaptive cruise control and evasive steer assist to help prevent rear-end collisions.

Last year, Lincoln sold 111,159 vehicles in the U.S., far fewer than Cadillac’s 170,006; Acura’s 154,602; and Infiniti’s 153,415, according to Autodata Corp. But Lincoln is making significant inroads in China, which it calls “an extremely important market.”

As part of its plan to move upscale, the automaker introduced Lincoln Black Label designer themes for its top-of-the-line models.

The ski-themed Chalet treatment features espresso and alpine Venetian leather and deep silver wood trim, and is meant to evoke a fireplace-lighted lodge. The Thoroughbred trim uses Venetian leather, Chilean maple wood and Alcantara accents that represent all things equestrian.

To further position itself as a contender in the fast-growing luxury SUV market, Lincoln executives say the brand must focus on the experience of owning a car.

The company is experimenting with a host of services geared toward improving the process, beginning with at-home test drives. Shoppers can keep the keys for up to 48 hours and make their purchase online instead of at the showroom.

Lincoln Personal Driver, a pilot program in Miami, San Diego and Dallas, is a service that provides chauffeurs for owners in their own vehicle. “Some people don’t want to go in someone else’s car to go to the airport,” said Marcia Salzberg, a senior designer for Lincoln.

Lincoln also is partnering with Clear, a service that scans biometrics, to let registered users bypass security lines at airports and sports arenas. Lincoln customers receive the service free of charge for six months. Black Label owners can use it for a year. “It’s part of that effortless lifestyle that we think is so important to our customers,” said Megan McKenzie, Lincoln marketing manager for SUVs.

Such moves may help Lincoln capture the attention of younger car shoppers.

“Lincoln simply needs to bring down the age of its customers,” said Ed Kim, an industry analyst with consulting firm AutoPacific, noting that the brand has some of the oldest customers in the industry.

The median age of a Lincoln buyer is 69, according to AutoPacific’s 2018 New Vehicle Satisfaction Study. Only Cadillac and Buick owners are older, averaging 70 and 71, respectively.

Having good SUV products will be a “crucial tool” for Lincoln to accomplish this, Kim said.

Editor’s note: photos by Jaclyn Trop for To facilitate this report, attended an event where Lincoln Motor Co. hosted travel and lodging.

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