Luxury brands face a Catch-22: they thrive on exclusivity but want to sell as many cars as possible. This challenge is especially acute at Lincoln, which has neither cachet nor lots of sales. The brand perceives its best and only option to be an all-out attack on high-volume segments with more exclusive-looking products. We saw the first fruit of this effort last year with the new and dramatically styled MKZ mid-size sedan. Phase two is a small crossover, a vehicle segment that, by Lincoln’s estimation, accounts for some 25 percent of luxury sales. The MKC concept you see here is Lincoln’s attempt to feast on this large slice of the luxury-sales pie.
Like the MKZ, the MKC shares its underpinnings with a Ford product — in this case the Escape — but wears completely different sheetmetal. Different, but perhaps not unique. The prominent beltline, which bulges at the fenders, reminds us a lot of the Audi Q5. The rake of the roof captures some of the coupe flavor of the Range Rover Evoque but is much gentler, so as not to intrude on rear-passenger headroom. We worried that the front and rear treatments introduced on the MKZ sedan would look garish on a crossover, but they in fact have been adapted nicely here. Exterior designer Murat Gueler resisted the temptation to make the grille larger or more SUV-like. Instead, the horizontal slats are thicker and feature more detail, growing thinner as they spread toward the LED headlamps. The full-width, one-piece taillamp wraps around the body side, a detail that required a clamshell rear hatch. Overall, the design is crisp and rather simple. The only messy part, in our opinion, is the hood. As on many modern cars, it has too many folds and lines as part of an effort to hide its height (which is largely a consequence of pedestrian safety requirements).
The MKC’s interior likewise shares practically nothing with the Escape. The push-button automatic shifter introduced on the MKZ carries over, as does MyLincoln touch, but interior designer Soo Kang, who also worked on the MKZ, was more careful here to conserve space. The dash is relatively shallow and doesn’t wrap around the occupants, and the center console sits lower than it does in the sedan. The result is a refreshingly airy and open cabin, a credit also to the transparent roof and cream-color interior. Our only gripe is with the thick C-pillars, which not only hurt visibility but also intrude into the rear hold more than is optimal. We hope the high-grade materials presented in this concept make it to customers, even if only as an optional package. The suede headliner, butter-soft seat leather, and rich wood trim are exactly what Lincoln needs to steal sales from the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Another nice touch, which may be difficult to spot in photos, is the subtle Lincoln-badge pattern scattered throughout the cabin.
In keeping with the fact that this concept is but a thinly disguised production car, there aren’t many fanciful elements beyond the usual shaved door handles and miniaturized side-view mirrors. Even most of the interior switchgear looks real. We presume that the production car will have a rear bench rather than bucket seats. A bigger mystery is what engines Lincoln will offer in the MKC. The Escape’s top-of-the-line turbo four-cylinder won’t cut it against the 300-hp six-cylinder engines many competitors offer, but it’s not clear that a bigger engine will fit.
Judging purely by looks, Lincoln appears, for better or for worse, to have made a safe bet. The MKC doesn’t do much to advance the design language of its brand or of its segment, but it is handsome and does not come off at all like an Escape. Luxury crossover buyers have proven to be particularly fickle. A few radical designs like the Evoque and the Infiniti FX have done well. Others, like the Acura ZDX, have fallen flat on their faces. Lincoln absolutely cannot afford to fall flat on its face. We don’t think it will with the MKC.