Island Vibes: Exploring Tofino in Lincoln’s New Nautilus SUV

Where good energy meets refined luxury

Tofino, British Columbia – Huntington Beach, Oahu, the Sunshine State. When you think of surfing in North America these popular places likely come to mind. But up north — way north — off the Vancouver coast resides the sleepy town of Tofino, dubbed Canada’s surfing capital where shorts are replaced by wetsuits and sun-drenched palm trees by massive, ancient forests over 1000 years old.

The 3-hour drive heading west from Nanaimo to Tofino on Victoria Island is arguably one the best in the country, with the most scenic portion along the Pacific Rim Highway, stretching 78-miles or 130 km overlooking the open ocean from Port Alberni to Tofino.

This was the perfect place to spend a few days with Lincoln’s new Nautilus — where relaxed island vibes meet refined luxury and gnarly, winding roads. Oh, and my wife came along which made the excursion that much better. 

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Surfer’s paradise on the Canadian west coast. Pic: Amee Reehal

New Name: MKX to Nautilus

The MKX is now changing over to the Nautilus for 2019 (here’s our first look 2017 LA Auto Show). Lincoln is doing away with the 3-letter nomenclature often associated with luxury brands (think Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, BMW), replaced with good old fashioned names inline with its larger Navigator sibling.

The luxury brand feels their consumers associate better with these names and we couldn’t agree more, especially when mixing sport utilities with sedans (MKZ). It gets confusing, and frankly, you shouldn’t have to think that hard about what you’re driving or plan to purchase.

So, the mid-size MKT is now the Aviator, MKX is Nautilus, and the compact MKC gets rebadged next. 

On the Road with Lincoln’s New SUV: Cruising the Pacific Rim Highway

Once you hit the Pacific Rim Highway enroute to Tofino is precisely the moment the permagrin appears, opening up to a world of winding mountain roads with sharp, blind curves and hairpin switchbacks all dotted with stunning views of dense forests, snow capped peaks, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. And surfers, of course.

The perfect road to test out the new Nautilus’ driving dynamics – one I took earlier this year behind the wheel of a new sportback sedan.

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The Nautilus still sports that bold yet sophisticated look, whereas the old front grille gets a new mesh design that’s more upscale; along with some new wheels options. Other changes, to my eye, are the usual nip and tuck adjustments with bolder lines and overall sharper silhouette. Pic: Amee Reehal

What I loved about the outgoing MKX was its smooth sport sedan-like driving dynamics, especially when popped into the Sport mode — the new Nautilus is no exception. In fact, it’s better for 2019 as you’d expect with some significant updates to turbocharging, direct injection, and twin independent variable camshaft timing.

I talked more about this in my MKX comparison review a couple years ago – you can read that here at Globe&Mail. 

This all-wheel drive mid-size hauler glides on the highway and dives into the twisty, narrow roads like a champ. And the those 3 drive modes are still there, accessed via the instrument cluster: Normal, Comfort, and Sport.

You can tell the adaptive suspension is also improved alongside better steering feel and evasive steer assist – a debut in the Nautilus – essentially helping avoid collisions with a slow or stopped vehicle via intuitive steering support.

No Noise in the Cabin

New vehicles are becoming increasingly quieter in the cabin these days with premium automakers leading the way. The Nautilus reduces any road noise inside with acoustic side glass and other engineering solutions keeping passengers happy.

Advanced driver assist features won’t cost extra

End of the day, the Nautilus just drives well and steering response feels great. And it gets all the latest driving tech like lane departure assist, pre-collision assist, and a new adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability.

Co-Pilot360 bundle

This entire suite of driver assist and safety features is dubbed Lincoln Co-Pilot360, which enters the Nautilus as a standard, opposed to all separate options as before.

So additional things like blind spot monitoring, rear view camera, lane centring, and auto high-beam headlights won’t cost extra in the 2019 Nautilus.

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New front grille includes a mesh design. Notice the little Lincoln-shaped cut outs? Pic: Amee Reehal

2 Turbo Engine Choices

Another big change under the hood is Lincoln’s move to a new turbocharged engine lineup: the 250-hp, 2.0L turbo inline-4 powerplant paired to an 8-speed auto transmission comes standard. The brawnier 2.7L turbo making 335-hp and 380 lb.ft of torque is optional. Both get the Start/Stop push button and the same transmission.

2019 Nautilus Design

Exterior design-wise, this is a MKX redesign entering its 3rd-generation, but despite the name change, it’s not a huge departure. In other words, this isn’t a completely new Lincoln model as is the case with the mid-size MKT to 2019 Aviator replacement.

The Nautilus still sports that bold yet sophisticated look, whereas the old front grille gets a new mesh design that’s more upscale; along with some new wheel options.

Other changes, to my eye, are the usual nip and tuck adjustments with bolder lines and overall sharper silhouette.

Nautilus Interior and Tech

Inside, the front cabin feels roomy and comfortable for those long drives. And gone a couple years ago now are the finger swiping controls replaced by buttons and dials — something I still keep mentioning in all my Lincoln reviews because I really disliked that entire setup.

The centre stack now is clean and functional, with the touch screen and vents in the middle surrounded all around by buttons and push-button gear selectors replacing the conventional shifter (Lincoln products have had this for years now).

2019 lincoln nautilus interior
Inside the Nautilus, the driver gets a 12.3-inch display instrument cluster and leather-wrapped steering wheel; and gone are the finger swiping controls, replaced by proper buttons and controls. Pic: Ford

New tech

We know Lincolns are luxurious and have crazy-comfortable seats with 22-way controls, but it’s the new cabin tech that might be the game changer for most these days.

Sound duties include either a 13-speaker or 19-speaker Revel system while driver front-and-centre is an impressive 12.3-inch fully configurable digital instrument cluster, along with leather-wrapped steering wheel. Lincoln put extra love into their audio system to reproduce, as they say “a live-music experience right in the comfort of your vehicle.” That’s pretty descriptive, but yeah, the audio system sounds stellar.

Ford and Lincoln’s new SYNC3 (replacing the old MySync) is standard and works alongside Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new SYNC3 interface Ford introduced a few years ago is super-fast with a clean, easy-to-navigate setup. MySync’s 4-quadrant function grew on me personally, but was quickly becoming outdated.

This all-wheel drive mid-size hauler glides on the highway and dives into the twisty, narrow roads like a champ… 3 drive modes are still There, accessed via the instrument cluster: Normal, Comfort, and Sport.

The panoramic roof above is nice and opens up the interior, but it’s optional. The foot-activated liftgate is both standard and actually pretty convenient, while the welcome lights turn on as you approach the SUV and continues into the cabin. I used to think this was more a novelty, cool-to-have thing you find with some luxury vehicles (like with new Range Rovers); when really, it serves as a great safety feature at night. Makes sense.

Takeaway

The outgoing MKX joined the thriving sport utility and crossover party fairly early back in 2007. It’s the right size SUV for smaller families like my brother-in-law who has two young (growing) daughters who will eventually outgrow their current MKX; the Nautilus simply carries this torch forward.

The compact MKC is a sharp little hauler but tight on space; perfect for say empty nesters. And the 7-passenger Navigator (reviewed here) is both massive and expensive and difficult to get your hands-on at the moment due to high demand and short supply.

But between the mid-size 2019 Nautilus, and all-new 2019 Aviator (think Ford Explorer) with its 3rd-row and bigger frame, families have two great choices in this segment.

If you’re shopping for a new SUV, check out our 2019 SUV and Crossover Reviews.

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Good-looking mid-size SUV, the 2019 Nautilus is bigger than the MKC but if you need more size, the new 2019 Aviator might be a better option with its 3rd-row. Pic: Amee Reehal
Shooting motors professionally since film was a thing, Amee's work has been published in various outlets including NBC Sports, Chicago Tribune, SuperStreet, GlobeDrive, MotorTrend, and others. He's a writer, editor at TractionLife.com, AJAC member, and full-time digital marketer at Traction Media working with national brands. Find him traveling, spending time with his kids and family. Or golfing, badly.