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Lincoln’s midsized SUV gets a glow-up and new tech, but it’s not enough to break it out of its shell

Good stuff

Fresh new look, impressive panoramic screen, smooth ride and handling

Bad stuff

Pricey packages, strange UI choices, still just kind of… fine?

Overview

What is it?

It’s the second generation Lincoln Nautilus, or third generation MKX, for those befuddled by the fact the internet is inside their telephones. This is the latest version of the company’s midsized SUV that ran under the nautical moniker after a refresh halfway through the second-gen MKX’s life cycle.

What’s Lincoln been up to?

Right. To bring you up to speed, Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, has been trying to be more than just nicer Fords, with limited success. There was even a big brand overhaul where the company officially changed its name to 'The Lincoln Motor Company' to make it sound more like an artisanal cafe. Some Matthew McConaughey-related stuff happened. Then, it brought back the Continental as a flagship luxury sedan that went out of production in 2020. Currently, it has trimmed down its lineup to four SUVs named after roles on vessels like Navigator, Aviator and so on.

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I think the last time we saw a Lincoln was at…

… a funeral? Yeah, the last gen MKX had a pretty prolific hearse conversion. It’s probably why they went with the Nautilus name as 'Charon' would’ve been a bit on the nose. Still, the luxury SUV is popular amongst livery drivers and a more, let’s say, seasoned demographic of drivers. The Lincoln brand itself is also popular overseas, particularly in China, which we guess we should talk about.

The 'Made In China' thing?

Indeed. The new Nautilus hails from the Ford plant that services the Chinese market where the SUV had been already in production. The Ontario, Canada plant that made the previous version is currently being retooled for EV production, so the call was made to simply import the ones from there over to here. What does that mean? Different things to different people, so it’s worth just mentioning up front.

What’s new in the latest version?

Tons, for sure. Built on an all-new platform, the Nautilus is a clean-sheet redesign from front to back with a tighter, modern exterior and a spacious interior loaded with tech. The main centerpiece is the massive 48in panoramic display that wraps around the dash from pillar to pillar. This houses the gauge cluster and presents other data like navigation along side it, with room left over for customizable widgets for more info at a glance.

There’s also some fun relaxation programs that combine many of the comfort features like the massage seats with the big screen to make the Nautilus an energizing chill-out space. Lastly, the new Nautilus comes with two powertrains, one of them being a hybrid, and is set up with BlueCruise, the hands-free driving assist.

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Let’s hear about this hybrid.

You got it. Both hybrid and sans-hybrid versions are fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4 engine that cooks up 250hp and 280 lb ft of torque. With the hybrid, the power is increased to around 300-310hp and 295 lb ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox or through a CVT on the hybrid. With a full battery and conservative driving, the hybrid Nautilus is capable of scoring (combined) 30mpg.

What's the verdict?

Yacht rock? Not with that hip of yours, pops

The luxury SUV segment can be a tricky one to navigate but the Nautilus holds a true course. It drives smooth and quietly, particularly in its new hybrid iteration and is surprisingly responsive in terms of acceleration and steering for something with very little call for dynamic performance.

In terms of style, the look is a good direction away from the stuffier, aging look of the previous cars while retaining the identifiable family features. A good move to make when your goal is to bring your average customer demographic down to 55 years old.

The technology presented is interesting, though some of it is more for surface-level wows more than for actually making anyone’s life easier. For instance, the wrap-around screen is a neat rethink of a car’s interior space and the screens that are now fairly standard, though it’s one not fully formed in terms of how to actually use all the surface area in an effective way. There’s also the big focus on the relaxation programs that, while new to Lincoln, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, and is still a more showroom showcase than something demanded of by customers. BlueCruise, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for Lincoln and the Nautilus, and works as advertised.

Even still, with a number of notable changes, it’s difficult to muster up more than a passing interest in the Lincoln. We applaud its moves to shake things up in a busy segment, but competitors like the Genesis GV80 do a better job at disruption, though its efforts at being unique do put it higher in our esteem than the Cadillac XT5. All told, it’s the right direction for the brand and while there isn’t anything about the Nautilus that puts us off, there isn’t much to recommend here, either. Not yet anyway.

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