I have driven a $65,000 Lincoln Nautilus Reserve crossover and it’s better than advertised and certainly much, much more than I expected.
The Nautilus is not a completely new model, however; instead, we’re looking at something of a mid-cycle makeover with an available new four-cylinder engine, an assortment of styling updates and a new name. The Nautilus was the former MKX, which itself is made in Canada and shares a platform with the Ford Edge.
With that housekeeping out of the way, you might ask, what do I mean by “advertised?” I mean Lincoln is a brand with little creditability and less advertising savvy.
You see, in recent years, Lincoln has used actor Matthew McConaughey in a series of oddball spots that have created buzz, but done little to juice sales because they say so little about Lincoln’s vehicles and the brand, not to mention its excellent history – once the car of presidents.
Lincoln has also experimented with print ads shot by the outstanding portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz. Lovely and who really cares? If the pictures do not explain and reinforce the brand by zeroing in on Lincoln’s cars, crossovers and SUVs (sport-utility vehicles), they are a delightful waste of time and space.
Then we have Lincoln’s partnership with tennis ace Serena Williams. Something about selling Navigators. While Serena Williams is almost without question the greatest female tennis player of all time, it’s not clear how the Lincoln-Williams mixed doubles team moves the metal.
And so, Lincoln sales have remained a sluggish embarrassment. According to carsalesbase.com, Lincoln sold 111,159 vehicles last year; 111,724 the year before; and 101,227 the year before that. BMW and Mercedes-Benz sell three times as many vehicles in the United States, year after year. In Canada, the story is even worse for Lincoln. BMW, Mercedes and Audi all sell about six times the volume as Lincoln.
So, Lincoln isn’t even a freckle on the face of the global luxury vehicle marketplace. If Lincoln were to become irrelevant, that would be an improvement. There’s no good excuse for this.
Let me take you back six years to make a point. Then, Jim Farley, Ford’s executive vice-president of global marketing, sales and service and the head of Lincoln, sat me down and emphasized Ford Motor’s absolute and undying commitment to the Lincoln brand. He did so in response to a recent and very critical column I had written.
“You’re smart to look at the reinvention of a brand like Lincoln with skepticism and respect,” Farley told me back then. “I understand exactly what you’re saying. Trust me. The real proof point of Lincoln will be the execution of the product.”
In a nutshell, he added, Ford is going to do whatever it takes to fix Lincoln and he – as head of the project – had the resources to do it.
I like Farley and he’s clever, resilient, creative and committed. But he has been promoted out of his day-to-day Lincoln responsibilities. Meantime, the Lincoln brand has continued to drift in the doldrums. I think he told the truth as he knew it six years ago, but his promises have proven empty. Sad.
Here’s some happier news to perk up anyone who has a soft spot for Lincoln, however. The 2019 Nautilus will NOT fix all that ails Lincoln, but it is a very good crossover and a good start in yet another attempt to reinvent Lincoln – starting with the steady switch away from names with only letters and numbers (e.g., MKX) to real names like Nautilus and Aviator and Navigator.
Yes, yes, the price tag of my as-tested rig took me aback. Some $65,000 for a beautifully dressed Ford Edge? Really?
But damned if I wasn’t impressed by the quiet and composed ride, the generally easy-to-use Sync3 infotainment system, the superbly padded front buckets and an exterior design that was eye-catching in its understatement. I absolutely love the mesh grille and all the rest of the new front-end styling (adapted from the new Navigator) which is framed by cat’s eye LED headlamps. Handsome.
Okay, some details. The base Nautilus starts at $50,450 and all versions come with all-wheel drive that can send up to 100 per cent of torque to the rears wheels if needed, under the right conditions. Regardless of price, the Nautilus is a handsome rig, from the mesh grille nose to the smooth, gently-sculpted flanks, to the tidy rear end with its horizontal lights.
The base model has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine (250 horsepower/280 lb-ft of torque, combined 10.7 litres/100 km), 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, LED foglamps, voice-activated navigation, and leather seating. The roster of standard upmarket features is quite lengthy, as you would expect.
The jump to $58,350 gets you a twin-turbocharged V-6 (2.7-litres, 335 hp/380 lb-ft torque, combined 11.0 litre/100 km), heated and ventilated front seats, a huge power-operated sunroof with sunshade, 20-inched painted and very bright machined aluminum alloy wheels, and a 13-speaker Revel audio system. Add in a few options and you can easily push the price into the mid-$60,000s. Both engines are mated to Ford’s new eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The Nautilus drives beautifully, composed and quiet, with quite responsive steering, predictable responses, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox that shifts seamlessly, up and down. No complaints about road manners, whatsoever. The adaptive suspension is well done, indeed.
Even the most basic model has things like blind spot monitoring, wireless charging and navigation. As you head up in price, you add rain-sensing wipers and a heated steering wheel. At the top, the Nautilus includes rear entertainment, self parking and a suite of semi-autonomous driving features.
The cabin is almost luxurious. The touchscreen is decently sized, though not in Tesla’s or Volvo’s league. The Synch3 system is quick to respond and generally easy to operate. A vertical strip of buttons operates the start/stop function and gear selection – much like my dad’s ’62 Rambler station wagon. Seats are fine, not spectacular and the cabin is reasonably spacious.
The Nautilus, then, is a credible alternative to the Lexus RX, Jaguar’s F-Pace, Infiniti’s QX70 and Acura’s MDX, without the sterling reputation for reliability of the RX. BMW’s X5 is a better driving machine, as are Land Rover’s Range Rove Sport and Velar, and Porsche’s Cayenne. Volvo’s XC90 is more technologically advanced and has the best infotainment interface short of Tesla.
I would recommend head-to-head tests of at least four contenders here. That’s if you have a whit of interest in the Lincoln brand at all. Because we can’t be sure Ford cares. Let’s be honest, Lincoln’s messaging is muddled and spasmodic and Ford’s cavalier commitment to Lincoln is both a travesty and a tragedy.
But that’s been the Lincoln story for too many years.
2019 Lincoln Nautilus Reserve
Base price: $50,450. As tested: $65,600.
Engine: 2.7-litre V-6, turbocharged (335 horsepower/380 lb.-ft. of torque).
Transmission: eight-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.6 city/9.2 hwy.
Comparables: Lexus RX, Jaguar’s F-Pace, Infiniti’s QX70 and Acura’s MDX, BMW’s X5, Land Rover’s Range Rove Sport and Velar, and Porsche’s Cayenne and Volvo’s XC90.