Facing a consumer market that has lately been spoiled with luxury equipment creeping into more accessible mainstream models, Lincoln has some work to do in proving it can still offer a truly premium product. The small luxury crossover market has grown a whopping 200 percent in the last five years as many customers have opted to fully load smaller vehicles, and Lincoln is hoping that it isn't too late to get a slice of that pie. The brand is in serious need of improved sales and cannot afford to stumble as it did with the launch of the MKZ.
Enter the 2015 Lincoln MKC, which will debut at a special event Wednesday in New York City. With the all-new MKC, which is based on the Ford Escape platform, Lincoln looks to attract young families that want a luxury brand without sacrificing exciting driving dynamics. It also aims to keep these customers around as part the brand's larger "new Lincoln" strategy, striving for an ambitious 60 percent lease retention rate compared to last year's dismal 23 percent.
As expected, the 2015 Lincoln MKC is very similar to the concept that premiered at the Detroit auto show last January. The MKC is set to go on sale early next spring. After all that time, it makes one wonder what the hold-up has been about, since so little has ostensibly changed.
Although Lincoln has modified the roofline to less resemble that of the Range Rover Evoque, there is no doubt that the MKC's designers spent a lot of time studying the Audi Q5 -- a major competitive benchmark in this segment. Particularly in profile, the MKC dimensions unmistakably echo the squat athleticism and clean lines on the Q5, right down to the wraparound rear liftgate.
Lincoln engineers seem set on communicating a sense of horizontality, and do well at achieving a low and sporty appearance on the new MKC. The crossover's muscled shoulders, defined by a continuous line below the windows from the hood straight to the rear, combine with a bulldog-like stance to help achieve the lowered effect.
Up front the MKC's sculpted hood descends into the now familiar split-winged grille, which looks much more natural here than it does on the MKZ. Lincoln's full-width LED tail lamps are surprisingly well adapted to the small crossover -- another horizontal element that helps the luxury CUV look more sporty and car-like. The integrated wraparound liftgate manages to fit nicely with the overall design scheme, while also addressing utility needs with handsfree activation. The MKC surely looks the part, but it does not do anything particularly innovative so much it falls in line with the rest of the pack.
On the inside however, the Lincoln MKC positively challenges its German rivals. Space is aplenty. We have no problem ignoring the fussy MyLincoln Touch infotainment system, because the climate control has by a glorious stroke of reason returned to knob-and-button-based functionality. The center stack layout is neat and cohesive, using the MKZ's gearshift buttons that have been intelligently lowered toward the steering wheel for easy reach. These mounted design elements also help free up lots of space where a traditional shifter is absent, leaving room for a useful cubby that offers decent storage and smart-phone integration via USB ports.
The cabin is decked out in plush and supportive "Lincoln luxury leather," which Lincoln says will be available on all MKC trims except for the base model. Polished wood trim feels top-notch and is used sparingly enough that it adds a truly elegant refinement without overwhelming or falling prey to garishness. Lincoln expressed that there will be a concerted effort to include most upgrades into conveniently bundled packages, which will help buyers better understand pricing compared to the overwhelming list of pricey options typical from premium European brands. Specific features such as the massive panoramic sunroof will remain stand-alone options.
Lincoln engineers have also come up with a swanky approach detection system, which activates when the fob-wielding driver comes within about nine feet of the vehicle. Headlamps and door-handle pockets light up, and the vehicle projects small illuminated "welcome mats" of the brand logo on the ground next to each front door.
New Engine Lineup
The 2015 Lincoln MKC will be available with two engines, with the familiar turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 240 hp and 270 lb-ft. of torque powering the base model. Front-wheel drive and 18-inch wheels are standard on the base model, but all-wheel drive and bold 19-inch wheels are optional. An optional 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is all-new, and makes an impressive 275 hp and 300 lb-ft. of torque and comes standard with all-wheel drive.
The 2.3-liter engine produces substantially more heat than the base 2.0-liter, and Lincoln engineers have made considerable upgrades to accommodate both the additional power and all-wheel drive system. The 2.3-liter 2015 Lincoln MKC boasts improved brake rotors and calipers, wider track, three-port integrated exhaust manifold, Macpherson struts in front and trailing blade suspension in the rear, and active noise cancellation. Standard on all-wheel-drive models, continuously controlled damping (CCD) allows drivers to select from sport, comfort, or normal driving modes. CCD is also available as an upgrade to front-wheel drive MKC models.
Lincoln faces significant obstacles, notably within its own ranks. Ford profits have surged amidst improved sales and increasing popularity of the Titanium premium trim level, and Lincoln knows that this legitimately challenges its own raison d'etre. Most U.S. consumers can perceive that Lincoln lacks its own brand cachet, and see no reason to pony up the extra cash when the Ford division offers what amounts to the same product at a better value.
"As a challenger luxury brand, entering this segment is a natural next step for us. MKC will do more than just compete -- it will change the way people think about Lincoln," says Jim Farley, executive vice president of Ford and Lincoln global marketing, sales and service.
Lincoln expects the MKC to be the major sales mover in their new model lineup, which it hopes will generate enough momentum and revenue so it can offer a legitimate future flagship sedan. We're skeptical about this reasoning, because historically companies have solved this problem the other way around, investing in a flagship vehicle to restore brand prestige and letting that be the seed sown for the future. For the object lesson here, look at how the R8 helped turn Audi into a legitimate premium nameplate in the mid-2000s. Pricing for the 2015 Lincoln MKC is not yet available, but we'll be sure to report back once more information arises.