Its name is new, but the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus is really a rebranded, restyled and updated version of the second-generation Lincoln MKX, which has been on sale since 2016. Renaming your bestselling vehicle is risky, but Lincoln has been struggling, and it feels the names of its vehicles are partly to blame.
Recall that since 2007, Ford’s luxury brand has used letters to name some models, including MKZ and MKX, and traditional names on others like Navigator and Continental. Well, now it’s ditching the letters and renaming those vehicles. The MKX is now the Nautilus. The smaller MKC is rumored to become the Corsair, which was a name used by Edsel back in the 1950s. The seven-passenger Aviator will go on sale in 2019, and the MKZ’s new name is anybody’s guess. Zephyr again, maybe? NordicTrack is already taken.
Lincoln has also been rolling out a new grille design, which debuted on the Continental in 2017 and replaces the unloved winged look that was supposed to remind luxury buyers of the elegance of the 1939 Lincoln Continental — but didn’t. Fitting the new grille to the 2019 Nautilus completes that rollout, and the five-passenger SUV is certainly more handsome than before. Its mesh is a repetition of the Lincoln Star logo, and it works. The SUV’s front fascia, headlamps and hood are new as well, and the hood has grown a sizable and attractive center peak.
Both engines are offered in all trim levels with standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive, which is a new system to Lincoln that disconnects the rear driveshaft to improve highway fuel economy. All-wheel drive adds 163 pounds to the SUV.
We drove two Nautiluses (Nautili?) around Santa Barbara in Southern California, both with all-wheel drive and 21-inch Continental rubber. The first was a 2.0-liter-powered Nautilus Reserve, and the other was a top-of-the-line Black Label with the 2.7-liter V6. Both were quick and quiet. The 2.0-liter is smooth and refined. Power delivery is linear, and the new eight-speed is a huge improvement, with tightly spaced ratios, no reluctance to downshift and firm 6,000 rpm upshifts at wide open throttle.
With the 2.0-liter and FWD, pricing starts at $41,335, and jumps to $45,540 for the Nautilus Select and $49,870 for the Reserve. That’s one or two grand more than the 2018 MKX, but it’s competitive with the class-leading Lexus RX. Lincoln says less than 10 percent of MKX buyers went for the Black Label trim, but it expects more Nautilus customers to step up. Lincoln limits Black Label sales to only its best dealers and standalone stores, which is about 25 percent of its 800 retailers nationwide. Black Label prices start just under $58,000, a nearly $3,000 increase from last year.
But the executives running Lincoln would be smart to realize that nobody really cares what the car is called. Letters, numbers or nouns, none of it makes any difference. It’s the car that matters. Just make it good.