Joe Lorio • The latest Lincoln to shed its ill-considered MK-Whatever nomenclature for an actual model name is the MKX mid-size crossover, which is rechristened the Nautilus for 2019. Beyond the name change, the model also gets a new look and a new base engine.
The Continental and the Navigator may grab the headlines, but the MKX is the brand's best-selling model, which means the Nautilus will be a key player in the lineup. It hopes to bask in some of the reflected glamour of its higher-wattage siblings with a new front end that adopts the latest Lincoln grille design.
The entire fascia has been redone with new headlamps (and available full-LED adaptive lighting), a new hood, and restyled front fenders. The rear lighting treatment and lower bumper also have been tweaked, and turbine-style wheels similar to those seen on the Navigator are newly available.
EDITOR'S NOTE: You're reading a story by American title Car and Driver. We're bringing you a handful of C/D stories each month, focused on vehicles we've either not yet driven, or models not offered in Australia. Where appropriate, we'll add metric measurements for reference, but grammar and terminology will otherwise remain unchanged.
The substantive changes are chiefly under the hood. The previous base engine, a 3.7-liter V6, has been broomed in favor of a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. Horsepower drops from 303 (226kW) to 250 (186kW), but torque nudges up from 278 lb-ft to 280 (380Nm), the full complement arriving at 3000 rpm rather than 4000.
The saving grace, however, is probably the new eight-speed automatic, which offers a wider ratio spread than the previous six-speed. Despite the horsepower reduction, the powertrain proves to be perfectly adequate and well mannered.
The turbo four's throttle response is linear, the gearbox is perfectly willing to downshift, and the engine is barely audible in most circumstances.
The EPA's fuel-economy estimates climb by 4 mpg in the city to 21 mpg (11.2L/100km) (with front-wheel drive); the highway rating remains 25 mpg (9.4L/100km). With all-wheel drive, the 2.0T's estimates are 20 mpg city and 25 highway (11.7, 9.4), up from 16/23 mpg (14.7, 10.2) with the V6.
The step-up engine is again a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6, which still spins out a hearty 335 horsepower (250kW) and 380 lb-ft (515Nm); it adds $2070 (AU$2951) to the bottom line and is available on all but the base models. It, too, now pairs with an eight-speed automatic, and it's a happy combination. This engine is strong although not particularly characterful—it's a mostly silent runner capable of serious shove when asked.
The 2.7-liter does see an uptick in fuel economy, with the EPA now predicting 18 mpg city and 27 on the highway (13, 8.7) with front-wheel drive (an increase of 2 mpg on the highway), and 18/25 with four driven wheels (each a 1-mpg increase).
Both the 2.0-liter and the 2.7-liter examples we drove had all-wheel drive, which is a $2495 ($3557) upcharge with either engine. Even if you don't live in the Snowbelt, we'd recommend it for the 2.7-liter, as our previous experience in the MKX with that engine is that it suffers serious torque steer when powering only the front wheels.
New bushings and adaptive dampers on all Nautilus models aim to improve ride comfort. Reserve and Black Label trim levels also get selectable driving modes—Comfort, Normal, and Sport—which alter the damping and the steering weight.
Somewhat strangely, those settings are tied to the gear selection—D or S, chosen via Lincoln's vertically stacked buttons—but at least you don't have to re-select them each time you turn the car on.
Comfort mode doesn't offer the body control, roll or otherwise, that we'd prefer. Most buyers probably won't venture out of Normal mode, which we found taut enough to keep us from getting queasy on winding mountain roads yet able to provide a blissful ride on the freeway.
Sport seemed to firm up the suspension only slightly, but it does benefit the steering. The default setting isn't overboosted—surprising, perhaps, for a luxury crossover with zero sporting pretensions—but the added bit of effort in Sport mode provides an extra measure of confidence in a commendably precise system.
For those who'd rather let the computers take the wheel, lane-centering assist is a new option. This system allows brief intervals of hands-free driving, and it can be used when the standard adaptive cruise control is engaged.
It does a fairly good job on well-marked freeways but still is not as good as an alert human driver. Other new driver aids are evasive steering assist and post-collision braking. Meanwhile, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and automated emergency braking are all standard fare.
The roomy interior environs are mostly carryover from those of the MKX. The chief difference is the move to a digital gauge cluster, a 12.3-inch unit that is standard across the lineup. The second display, the touchscreen in the center of the dash, is only an 8.0-inch unit. That's small in this class, although its ease of use is commendable (typical of most current Fords), as is that of the knobs and switches below.
While the design didn't push the envelope even when it was new back in 2016, Lincoln is offering some interesting color-and-trim selections that go beyond the usual gray and beige.
Most are part of the Black Label series, which returns with three design themes: Chalet (off-white leather with dark-brown accents and silver wood trim), Gala (deep maroon leather with black accents and aluminum trim), and Thoroughbred (black leather with brown accents and Chilean Maple wood trim).
More than just a trim level, Black Label models include a range of perks, including free car washes, annual detailing, and memberships in a restaurant club (called the Culinary Collection) and the Avis Presidents Club. Black Label models, however, are not available at all dealers; only about a quarter of Lincoln's nearly 800 outlets carry them.
Meanwhile, all Lincoln buyers get free pickup and delivery for service plus six months membership in Clear (12 months for Black Label buyers), which allows access to expedited security lanes at airports and elsewhere.
In Lincoln's view of luxury, customer coddling augments a cosseting driving experience. While the Nautilus is not as grandiose as the Continental or the Navigator, this mainstream model burnishes its credentials as a quiet, comfy crossover.
Editor's note: Although omitted from the original story, Nautilus pricing begins at US$41,335 (AU$58,934) and tops out at US$57,890 (AU$82,538).