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The difference between the new Lincoln Nautilus and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe SUVs is as vast as the American cities where I tested them: Santa Barbara, California and Watkins Glen, New York, home of Watkins Glen International Raceway.

If you just got back from an extended stay on Mars, the sport ute has taken over autodom in the 21st century. Nautilus and AMG represent bookends of a luxury class that has rapidly expanded to offer Americans a choice of everything from all-wheel drive family utility to high-horsepower performance weapons. Just as the sedan segment has done for decades.

Every fall I take my wee Lola sports racer to the Glen’s SCCA Regional event in western New York. At lunch-hour, the track offers car clubs and spectators pace car-led laps around the epic 3.4-mile road course for $30. I usually participate — not just to take a carload of my teammates around the track to discuss the line, shift points and so on, but also to feel the driving dynamics of the production tester I’ve scheduled that week.

This year I met my racing crew at Watkins Glen in the 503-horsepower 2018 Mercedes. That’s right, a 500-horse sport utility coupe.

The track lap line in front of us contained an assortment of vehicles: Mazda Miata, Subaru Crosstrek, Ferrari Portofino. “We’re just a couple of slow ladies in our Ferrari,” said the kindly gray-haired owner, walking up to me. “Why don’t you boys go on ahead of us. I don’t think we can keep up.”

Yes, the auto world has gone mad.

Over the last year I’ve track-tested a 505-horse Alfa Stelvio SUV at Austin’s Formula One track and a 707-horse Jeep SUV at Club Motorsports in Maine. And here I was at the Glen with the driver of one of the most coveted sports cars on the planet deferring to me in a 4,500-pound ute as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

The luxury SUV has come a long way from its humble Lincoln Navigator roots of 20 years ago. I was impressed that our new Ferrari friends had so much respect for an SUV, but the AMG is not your average grocery hauler.

Carrying a racy front grille right off the beastly Mercedes-AMG GT coupe and lower air intakes so big they could ingest a flock of geese, the compact GLC enters the room with authority. Aft of the facia, things get weird.

The AMG (or is that OMG?) GLA 63 S is based on the standard GLC compact ute. Just add steroids. Merc drops a twin-turbo V-8 behind in the engine bay — the same 4.0-liter mill that motivates the two-door S560 coupe I recently tested. Determined to continue the family resemblance, the AMG coupe tapers the roofline, complete with carbon-fiber tail spoiler.

With its high stance and turtle shape, the Merc effectively looks like an atom bomb — with about the same explosive power. It can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, more than a half-second faster than a BMW M3. Near Cleveland on my way back home from the Glen, an M3 sidled up to me spoiling for a fight. I stomped the pedal. See ya.

The Lincoln, too, is based on another vehicle: its cousin, the Ford Edge.

Rather than take on formidable German performance brands like Mercedes and their endless waves of alphanumeric infantry — GLC, AMG GLC 45, AMG GLC 63, AMG GLC 63 S Coupe and so on — Lincoln has focused on a more-affordable pampered experience. From its signature Jaguar-like grille to its sleek flanks to its elegant wrap-around tail lights, this is a transcontinental train.

No performance mutants here. No GTs. Heck, Lincoln doesn’t even have an alphanumeric equivalent to Ford’s GT or ST performance badges. Nautilus fits the brand’s lineup of travel names: Navigator, Aviator, Continental and the forthcoming Corsair.

The names are serene, not sporty. It's like a Mozart concerto versus Merc’s rumbling AC/DC.

Turn on the Mercedes and you’ll scatter wildlife like a shotgun blast. BRAAAP. The center console looks like a Porsche with a sleeve of buttons wearing graphics that illustrate exhaust tips or shock absorbers to encourage you to explore the vehicle’s capabilities.

At Watkins Glen, I toggled the exhaust button for maximum sonic experience — then selected Race mode. Yes, Race mode (in addition to Sport and Sport-Plus). I disappeared from the Ferrari, clicking off lightning-quick shifts with steering-wheel mounted paddles that control the 9-speed dual-clutch tranny. BAP BAP BAP.

In the New York Finger Lakes region around the Glen, the AMG Coupe didn’t carve rural roads so much as obliterate them. Traffic kneeled to its power. Cornfields burned in its wake. The V-8’s low end torque is ferocious, propelling the all-wheel drive, 4,500-pound bomb forward with claw-like 20-inch tires.

My Nautilus tester also featured 20-inch rims, but they are sculpted dishes meant to be admired as the Lincoln saunters through the tight streets of Santa Barbara. Or Detroit. Or Chicago.

The top-of-the-line Black Label trim offers a signature pinwheel-style wheel. Plying the roads and streets of north LA I was never tempted to blow anyone’s doors off. The Nautilus is a magic carpet. Push-button shifter. Front, 22-way, massaging thrones.

It features a more livable interior than the German beast with best-in-segment rear seat room, deep console cubby space and a crafted, button-controlled console that may not match Merc’s black, high-gloss finish — but better integrates its touchscreen in the long dash.

Extensive sound-proofing makes it difficult to tell the difference between the 245-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 and 335-horsepower, 2.7-liter turbo-6 under the hood.

The turbo-4 will do just fine, its quiet torque effortlessly pushing the train along. That will keep your cost to about $45,000 for an all-new Nautilus, nearly half the price of the Mercedes OMG. And if you don’t feel like driving, Lincoln offers a chauffeur service. For your own car. So you and your mate can cuddle in the back seat on the way to dinner listening to Mozart on the 19-speaker Revel stereo system.

It's a different audio experience than a V-8, no doubt.

The Lincoln may not have the cachet of a Mercedes-AMG. Or a Ferrari Portofino. But it will effortlessly get you where you want to go in the same time ... unless you plan on buying a lot of lunch laps at Watkins Glen.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Lincoln Nautilus

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $41,335 base includes $995 destination fee ($58,865 AWD turbo-4 and $64,400 AWD Reserve V-6 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo inline 4-cylinder, 2.7-liter turbo V-6

Power: 250 horsepower, 280 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic 

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.9 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity: 3,500 pounds (with tow package on V-6)

Weight: 4,305 pounds (AWD as tested)

EPA fuel economy: 20 city/25 highway/22 combined (AWD turbo-4); 19 city/26 highway/21 combined (AWD V-6)

Report card

Highs: Improved British styling; comfortable interior

Lows: Can get pricey with options; head-up display, please? 

Overall: 3 stars

2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $81,745 base includes $995 destination fee ($96,895 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbo 8-cylinder

Power: 503 horsepower, 516 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic 

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 174 mph

Weight: 4,511 pounds (mfr. est.)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Atomic speed; intimidating grille

Lows: Atomic price; bulbous shape 

Overall: 3 stars

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