2021 Lincoln Nautilus Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Mar 15, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Lincoln deals!

Lincoln is now an SUV company. It eliminated its two sedans, the Continental and MKZ, from the lineup, leaving it with four SUVs in sizes ranging from compact to full-size. The Nautilus is a 5-passenger midsize model, slotting between the smaller Corsair and the bigger 7-passenger midsize Aviator.

Introduced for 2019, the Nautilus is the SUV formerly known as the MKX. When it debuted as an updated version of the MKX, the Nautilus kept the old MKX's interior design and layout, one that by 2020 did not match any of Lincoln's other SUVs. For 2021, the company rectifies this while adding a new infotainment system.

Here is the complete list of 2021 Nautilus changes:

  • Subtle refresh of the exterior styling
  • New dashboard design emphasizing horizontal lines
  • New Sync 4 infotainment system with a 13.2-inch touchscreen display and Constellation lighting
  • New Phone as a Key technology

Lincoln offers the 2021 Nautilus in Standard, Reserve, and Black Label trim levels. Reserve trim offers the most selection in terms of powertrains and equipment, while Black Label trim comes with a personalized shopping experience, curated design themes, and enhanced ownership privileges.

A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard with Standard and Reserve trim, powering the front or all four wheels. A twin-turbocharged V6 engine is optional for the Nautilus Reserve and standard with Black Label trim. Nautiluses (Nautili?) equipped with the twin-turbo V6 have standard all-wheel drive.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label. This review focuses on the Nautilus's updates for 2021 and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Lincoln Nautilus - Find the best Lincoln deals!

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Reserve Ceramic Pearl Front Quarter Left

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 58% of Lincoln Nautilus owners are male (vs. 57% for the segment), and the median age of a Nautilus owner is 67 years (vs. 61).

Owners say their favorite things about the Nautilus are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Driving comfort
  • Interior design

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Nautilus are (in descending order) the: 

  • Getting in and out
  • Powertrain, in a tie with setting up and starting
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Nautilus ranked number three out of seven midsize premium SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Lincoln Nautilus - Find the best Lincoln deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a Nautilus Reserve equipped with the following options:

  • 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine
  • All-wheel drive
  • Ceramic Pearl paint
  • Satin roof-rack side rails
  • Reserve II option package
    • Reserve I option package
    • Ultimate option package
    • Cargo Utility option package
    • Class II Trailer Tow option package
  • Ultra Comfort Active Motion front seats
  • 18-inch mini-spare wheel with tire

The price of the test vehicle came to $66,385, including the $995 destination charge.

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Interior Gets a Significant Overhaul

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

The most transformative improvement to the 2021 Lincoln Nautilus is its new dashboard design, which adopts the horizontally oriented look and layout you'll find in other Lincoln SUVs. The company characterizes the cabin as a calming environment with a "coast-to-coast" view forward. 

Outward visibility is excellent, thanks to relatively thin windshield pillars, large side mirrors mounted on the SUV's doors, and front quarter windows that make the Nautilus feel open and airy. The new dashboard adds a sense of width to the cabin while also making the Nautilus feel a little lower to the ground.

New for 2021, the 13.2-inch infotainment touchscreen is the largest one in the Lincoln arsenal. It sits on the shelf bisecting the upper and lower parts of the dashboard and does not impede visibility unless you prefer to sit very low behind the steering wheel.

Piano-key transmission controls line up in a row under the center air vents and above the lightly modified center console. Traditional knobs and buttons control the stereo and climate systems, and a covered cubby contains the wireless smartphone charger. The console also offers pass-through storage underneath and a decently-sized bin under the center armrest.

Quality materials and robust construction without creaks, squeaks, buzzes, or rattles are also hallmarks of the new Nautilus. But some of the chrome can cheapen the appearance of the switchgear.

Does Phone as a Key Technology Simplify Your Life?

Of course, to enjoy the Nautilus's new interior, you must first unlock the door and open it. For this task, you can use the standard passive-entry keyfob or, if you'd rather not carry the fob around with you, the new Phone as a Key technology.

Once you set the feature up using the Lincoln Way smartphone app, Phone as a Key connects your device to the Nautilus's Bluetooth as you approach the SUV. It unlocks the driver's door (or all four, depending on your chosen setting) and, after you slide into the vehicle, it lets you start the engine. When you exit the Nautilus, push the engine stop button, leave the vehicle, and lock the door using a touch-sensitive spot on the door handle.

There is no need to take your smartphone out to use the Phone as a Key. Also, note that the Nautilus offers a keyless security code access method using the numbers that illuminate on the doorpost. As long as you have a code set up, if your smartphone battery dies, you can still access the vehicle and then use the code again to start the engine.

Because you won't want to hand your phone over to a total stranger, you'll also use the door post keycode method when handing the SUV off for valet parking. Request a temporary access code, and the valet can use it to start, stop, lock, and unlock the vehicle. The code does expire, however, so for multi-day hotel stays, you might want to bring the keyfob.

What happens if your smartphone is lost or stolen? Through your online account, you can delete Phone as a Key until you find your device or get a new one.

Phone as a Key is just one of many features available through the Lincoln Way smartphone app. Additional highlights include remote engine start, remote door lock and unlock, and a find-my-car feature that helps you remember where you parked the Nautilus.

To test Phone as a Key, Lincoln provided an Android smartphone with an active Lincoln Way account and app. It worked as advertised, though unlocking and re-locking the doors by simply touching the handle did not always go as planned.

After sampling Phone as a Key for reporting purposes, I quit using it instead of carrying the rather bulky key fob. Perhaps Lincoln can work some of its technological magic to shrink that down to a more manageable size. 

Sophisticated Sync 4 Infotainment System 

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Sync 4 Infotainment System

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

If you ultimately decide the Phone as a Key technology complicates rather than simplifies your life – and you might – know that the new Sync 4 infotainment system does not fall into the same category. From its over-the-air update capabilities and wide 13.2-inch touchscreen display, to its delightful Constellation background lighting scheme, Sync 4 is an excellent example of this kind of technology.

Here are the highlights of Sync 4:

  • Twice the computing power of the previous Sync 3 system for faster load and response times
  • Information on Demand split-screen display capability
  • Lincoln Connect services, including Wi-Fi
  • Cloud-based connected services, including navigation with real-time traffic, weather, and parking availability
  • Natural voice recognition (that actually works)
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • SiriusXM 360L satellite radio
  • Access to apps including Cityseekr, Hear Me Out, what3words, Waze, Pandora, and Tidal
  • Digital owner's manual with how-to videos

Thanks to the large Sync 4 touchscreen and the intuitive driver information display nestled into the Nautilus's 12.3-inch digital instrumentation, I found it easy to program and access various vehicle settings. And there are many to adjust, ranging from the Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) to the Active Motion massage function that is a part of the optional 22-way Ultra Comfort front seats.

Using the technology is easy, too. Whether you're adjusting the stereo volume or radio station tuning, using the touchscreen's functions, or issuing naturally spoken voice commands, it legitimately makes your life simpler.

As a bonus, the new Lincoln Constellation background illumination theme is fantastic. The soothing colors mimic the sky during fading twilight, from a faint orange on the lower horizon to the deepening black at the screen's top. You can even see emerging starlight twinkling on the display. I loved it.

Additionally, the 19-speaker Revel Ultima high-end audio system is terrific and offers a choice between stereo, Audience, and On Stage listening profiles.

Revised Styling, Colors for 2021

You need to look closely to spot the visual differences between last year's Nautilus and the updated 2021 model. New signature lighting adds character, and Lincoln restyles the lower front bumper for a cleaner appearance. A new standard wheel design debuts for the Standard trim, and a new optional wheel design is available for the Reserve trim. That summarizes the extent of the changes.

New paint colors include Asher Gray, Green Gem, and Flight Blue. Sandstone is a new interior color theme for the 2021 Nautilus, and an Ebony (black) color with new Roast (brown) accents is available. You can also get a full Ebony interior or select Slate (gray), which the test vehicle had.

With Black Label trim, last year's Chalet interior theme continues, supplying a mix of Alpine (white) leather over an Espresso (dark brown) base with deep Silverwood trim. It is supposed to make you feel like you're ensconced in a cozy ski lodge, preferably in the Swiss Alps.

Lincoln discontinues the Black Label Gala and Thoroughbred themes for 2021, replacing them with a new Flight theme that arrives later in the model year. Flight, Lincoln says, will "give the sensation of taking to the skies," preferably not in seat 38D across from the aft restroom.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Lincoln deals!

2021 Lincoln Nautilus Reserve Ceramic Pearl Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Behind the revised styling, updated interior, and new technology, the 2021 Lincoln Nautilus's underlying engineering dates to 2016. In other words, in automotive years, this SUV is getting old.

However, the vehicle has received two substantial updates over its lifetime to keep it fresh well beyond the regular expiration date. The first came with a restyle and a name change to Nautilus for 2019. Now the second arrives with a new interior and technology for 2021.

Overall, the Lincoln Nautilus is a likable SUV, and when equipped with the twin-turbo V6 engine, big wheels and tires, and AWD, it's an unexpectedly athletic SUV. 

Owners appear to agree. In last year's J.D. Power APEAL Study, the Nautilus ranked third behind the top-ranked Land Rover Range Rover Velar and second-place Cadillac XT5 in terms of its overall appeal. All three SUVs bested the perennial favorite in the segment, the Lexus RX.

All Lincoln needs to do is convince more midsize premium SUV shoppers that its Quiet Flight approach to luxury is the most soothing, calming, and life-simplifying one.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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