Review update: 2021 Lincoln Nautilus crossover SUV comes around to luxury

The 2021 Lincoln Nautilus has finally come around. The refreshed interior finally shed the vestiges of its MKX skin with an interior befitting Lincoln’s upward class mobility. This poses a problem for me.

My dad likes Lincolns. Even since the Town Cars of our youth, my brother and I have mocked his fondness for Lincolns, especially when one appears every 18 months or so in his quarterly rotation. 

But in the past five years or so, since the short-lived return of the Continental sedan and the redesigned Navigator, the joke’s been on us. Lincoln makes good cars. That now includes the Nautilus. 

When I showed him the refreshed 2021 Lincoln Nautilus, he sighed into the seats, “‘Bout time they updated this.”

“Big screen,” he said, referring to the 13.2-inch touchscreen protruding like the wall of a shoebox from the dashboard. 

Then, “Black Label?”

I nodded.

“Shi,” he said, emphasizing the untyped “t.” Then, when I told him the $68,000 price, he petitioned god and other things that end in “it.”  

The Black Label price is a sore spot, the digital cluster could be better optimized, and there’s no performance model, but a week spent schlepping around the suburbs proved there doesn’t need to be. The luxury crossover SUV with a quiet cabin, road-soaking suspension, and the best seats in the luxury class hit the right spots in affirming its high TCC Rating of 7.2 out of 10. 

Hit: Updated interior

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

The two-tiered dash features a band of wood on the upper riser and a row of thin rectangular vents on the stepped lower part. The touchscreen protruding from that lower section throws off any sense of symmetry or balance in the name of pixelated touchability, as is the modern way. But the piano-key shifter below it flows nicely into the console that’s well-organized and easy to use. Add sumptuous seats shod in white Venetian leather and metal-plated Revel speakers, and the balance of natural and metallic materials ensures the Nautilus will never be derided as a reskinned Ford Edge. 

Hit: Interior space

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

Luxury is about the details, and the best people movers make the best use of space. The center console armrest opens up to a tray for wallets or phones or other items so you don’t have to dig into the deeper compartment. That tray is locked in, not flimsy and removable, so it can be raised in lockstep with the armrest cover. 

Another tray hides in the bridge console below the center stack. This too hides valuables and a car thief would have to know it’s there to look for it. 

The clever spaces are supplemented by generous cargo dimensions throughout. The five-seat Nautilus leans to the largest side of the mid-size crossover spectrum, enabling good leg room (39.6 inches) for rear passengers and excellent cargo capacity of 37.2 cubic feet behind the seats. Lay ‘em flat for 68.8 cubic feet, which exceeds the next roomiest competitors, the Volvo XC60 and Cadillac XT5, by at least five feet. 

Miss: Digital display

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

Steering wheel controls reflect the limitations of the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which has quickly become the most valuable real estate in new cars. One button selects audio or display settings; another button offers vehicle settings or navigation; another switch decides between hanging up or calling. The opposite side has the driver-assist settings. It’s symmetrical but adds to the congestion prevalent on too many steering wheels. It would be easier to select the different functions once inside the instrument cluster menu, as in German models. The digital cluster lacks the level of customization of rivals as well. 

Hit: Seats

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

It shouldn’t be news that Lincoln makes the best car seats. But comfort costs you. The Ultra Comfort Seats add $1,500 to an already steep $66,000 Black Label price. The plush, contoured 22-way power seats offer power adjustments to the head rests, thigh position, bolsters, three positions in the back and as many more in the seats bottoms to mold your hind to your throne. In total, there are 11 independent air cushions, with massagers on seven of them. Press the buttons on the side of the seat bottom, and the touchscreen displays the seat and all the different adjustment settings so you’re not blindly feeling the seat side. It’s redundant but nice. You probably wouldn’t miss those upgraded seats if you didn’t know they existed, but try them once and the $1,500 extra is a certainty. 

Hit: Acceleration

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label

The 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 in the tester was too much engine for my dad, at least with me behind the wheel. New car, old story. If he were footing the bill and the throttle, I doubt he’d settle for the 250-hp turbo-4 base engine. Also used on the Ford Edge ST, the V-6 makes 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque to launch the heavy SUV (4,305 pounds) to 60 mph in about six seconds, with the gear selector button pushed to “S.” It springs forward and pulls you down into those comfy seats, as if it were rear-wheel biased like its Explorer/Aviator bigger brother. It’s not; the Nautilus is front-wheel drive, but the Black Label comes standard with all-wheel drive.  

Miss: Performance otherwise

The potent engine is mismatched with the overall essence of comfort in the Nautilus. The ride quality is soft and quiet even though it rides on gorgeous 21-inch wheels. Adaptive damping can be toggled in three modes, but there isn’t much of a difference. Sport mode keeps it a tad more composed on turns, but regardless, the Nautilus prefers you rather not navigate winding frontage roads or undulating country curves at high speeds—there’s just too much weight bounding around. Sport mode also adds a bit of weight to the steering, but the road feel remains distant. 

For better performance, even without a designated performance model, look to the Germans. On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s a turnoff for many luxury crossover buyers to have potent acceleration with a soft ride.  

Miss: Price

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

At $68,295, the Nautilus Black Label with all-wheel drive might provoke even ardent admirers to look astray. A Mercedes-AMG GLC43 would save you $9,000 or you could get a bona fide performance crossover with the BMW X3 M. Of course, avoiding a German options list might be worth the upcharge in itself. 

Even the Volvo XC60 plug-in hybrid models are cheaper. And they have good seats, too. At least the $995 mandatory destination fee is lower than imports. 

If I were in the market, I’d follow my dad’s lead and wait a year or two to get the best value for the Nautilus Black Label—as a used car. The upgraded interior matches the luxury SUV’s personality, even if the suspension can’t support more pressing demands from the twin-turbo V-6. 

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2021 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label AWD

Base price: $ 43,395, including $995 destination

Price as tested: $68,295

Drivetrain: 335-hp 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA fuel economy: 19/21/25 mpg

The hits: Seat comfort, space, interior design, acceleration

The misses: Steep price, numb handling, limited cluster 

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