I knew the Lincoln Nautilus got an interior overhaul for the 2021 model year, but I didn't realize how dramatic it was until one of my TikTok followers requested a side-by-side comparison.
I mean, it literally doesn't look like the same vehicle. Cheap plastic and the bubble-like design on the center stack are replaced with up-level materials and handsome horizontal lines. This is punctuated by an all-new 13.2-inch touchscreen display that pops up over the dash. The overall effect is minimalist, elegant and much more on par with the rest of the Lincoln lineup.
For those who aren't familiar with Lincoln, let me back up a hot minute. Nautilus was "all new" for 2019, and I really liked it. But at the end of the day, it was mostly just a rebadged MKX, which was just 3 years into its second generation when it got replaced. While the exterior got an overhaul, the interior remained nearly identical. So, this mid-cycle refresh pushes this two-row, midsize SUV further away from its predecessor, becoming more of its own vehicle.
As if the interior styling wasn't enough of a change, Lincoln also added some new technology - the biggest of which is Sync 4, which makes its Lincoln debut on Nautilus. So, you'll see more natural verbal commands and an easy-to-swipe touch screen. The processor is faster, and switching between the native system and something like Apple CarPlay is easy and seamless.
Speaking of CarPlay, with the addition of Sync 4, CarPlay and Android auto both go wireless. So, along with wireless charging, this means you can cut the cord if you want to.
Nautilus will also get the Phone As A Key technology. I've experienced this on Corsair previously, and I love the idea and execution. Since Lincoln included a phone paired to the vehicle with the loan, I was able to play around with it a bit and really like how it works. I misplace keys and forget my wallet at home on a regular basis, but I rarely (read: NEVER) forget my phone. I love this capability - and the fact that it lets me declutter my pockets.
What's more, if you do lose your phone - or it runs out of battery - you can still access and drive your vehicle with the code-access on the B-pillar and a pre-selected code in the infotainment system.
So, um, maybe make that the first thing you set up after buying the vehicle.
What's not new
The exterior of the Nautilus is largely untouched for the refresh. But, since it got a gorgeous redesign with the launch, I'm not missing any changes. In fact, I'm not sure how they could make the exterior styling much better. I was obsessed with the grille in 2019, and I'm just obsessed in 2021.
The other biggie that remains unchanged is the powertrain options. The 2021 Nautilus has two engines, a base 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that delivers 250 horsepower and an up-level 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 that delivers 335 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is standard on Standard and Reserve trims, with all-wheel drive available. AWD is standard on the Black Label.
Another thing that remains unchanged is the Enhanced Active Park Assist, which is a part of the Co-Pilot360 Plus available safety package. Newer systems from Ford Motor Co. allow the driver to take hands of the wheel and foot of the pedals while the system parallel parks. But in Nautilus, the driver can take hands off the wheel but still needs to control speed as well as shift gears. For those who can't parallel park, this is a lifesaver regardless of how it operates. Just be aware, it's not the latest and greatest system.
Lincoln made a big deal about the different types of chimes recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with the launch of the Aviator. Well, the 2021 Nautilus doesn't get that. I don't particularly care, but if my TikTok is anything to go by, some people do.
Nautilus was one of three midsize SUVs I drove in back-to-back succession, and there was one thing that was so obviously missing, I was actually surprised by it. That's the lack of rear HVAC controls. While there are heated seats and air vents, there's no temperature or fan control. To me, that was a bit of a miss for 2021. But I think this really goes back to the fact this is essentially a vehicle created in 2016, not 2021.
With the upgraded Sync 4 system, I was disappointed to see the camera resolution didn't get a similar upgrade. Yes there's an around-view camera, and yes it's super helpful to navigate through the trash bin maze in my alley. However, I couldn't believe the level of pixilation and waver in the on-screen image. It seemed off with the high-end nature of the rest of the vehicle.
And finally, with the redesigned interior, there was one thing Lincoln did that I hate. They removed the hard button to disengage the auto stop/start engine. Anyone who has ever read anything I've written knows I'm not a fan of these systems, and I always turn them off. The old interior had a hard button next to the screen to disengage the system. Now, you have to press a button to get to a screen to tap a toggle to turn it off. I know, boo-hoo, first world problem, but this is a trigger point for me, and it mars the otherwise warm fuzzies I feel for the 2021 Nautilus.
But on to a more positive subject. From the minute you take your seat behind the wheel of the 2021 Nautilus, you feel enveloped. As I mentioned, this was the third of three luxury midsize SUVs I've driven recently, and there was something so inherently satisfying about the solid thwap of the door and the subsequent settle into the seat that I didn't experience with the other two vehicles.
It was kind of like the 2021 Nautilus was giving me a hug. The available 22-way comfort seats might have had something to do with it. But the soft leather and firm-but-squishy padding had a more direct effect - so did the thick and luxurious materials throughout the cabin.
Everything about the Nautilus felt solid and planted. From the comfortable ride over the rough-hewn Chicago streets to the incredible interior quietness, everything about this SUV screams luxury. If you're looking for a stiff suspension with a gruff exhaust note and sporty track modes, this isn't it. But if you're looking for smooth, seamless power, Nautilus is going to be your jam.
I had the up-level V-6 in the test vehicle, and I found it to be exactly what this car needed. It wasn't jack-rabbit quick, but it did really well in off-the-line starts (assuming I had that pesky stop/start disengaged) and passing maneuvers.
The bottom line on the 2021 Nautilus
I strongly believe Lincoln is one of the more underrated brands out there. There is so much good stuff going on here - from the available massaging seats to the incredible amount of luxury and technology you get for less than $70K - that you have to add Nautilus to your must-test list if you're looking at midsize luxury.
While there is still room for improvement, the 2021 Nautilus leap frogs over 2020.