SANTA BARBARA, California – In the automobile business, some decisions are as easy as pouring yourself a beer for cocktail hour. Expanding your luxury car line to chase the hottest segment in the business is one. So, too, is entering the Chinese market, where you can potentially double your sales. Lincoln is doing both of these—it has just entered the compact premium crossover/utility segment and is about to open its first eight dealerships in China this fall. This combo easily will re-boost the brand’s waning sales numbers and its viability.
The 2015 Lincoln MKC is not simply a rebodied Ford Escape Titanium, as we had feared. Lincoln apparently has studied the Volkswagen-Audi relationship well. The MKC is about the same length as the Escape and has the same wheelbase, though the front and rear tracks are each 0.9-inch wider. The only relevant differences in the chassis are shock tuning and the MKC’s continuously controlled dampers. Assembled in the same Louisville, Kentucky, plant as the Escape, the MKC has its own inspection line and standards. Tolerances will be “nominal” instead of “to spec.”
The MKC’s interior features “Deepsoft” naturally milled leather from Scottish supplier Bridge of Weir, and the front seats are supple, comfortable, heated and cooled in the top-spec Reserve model. The front passenger seat and driver’s seat are ten-way power thrones with power lumbar. The optional new Lincoln steering wheel design has well executed controls, and the Woolsdorf leather-covered rim feels just the right thickness. The center console is nicely laid out, with a covered bin forward of the cupholders so you don’t have to place your keys in the cupholder, where your Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend belongs—designers hate that.
There’s no traditional shifter to take up space in the console. Like the MKZ and all Lincolns to come, there’s a pushbutton shifter just left of the navigation screen. It’s a modern electronic interpretation of the mechanical pushbuttons Ford and other automakers tried in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with the ignition button just below S, which changes the six-speed automatic’s mapping to speed up the shifts whether or not you use the paddle shifters.
However, much of what we like about the new 2015 Lincoln MKC is optional. The only models offered up for the first drive were Reserves, with the new 285-hp 2.3-liter EcoBoost four. The engine is optional on all trim levels, and comes with all-wheel-drive only. The base Premiere trim level doesn’t include the Bridge of Weir leather. While the middle Select does, the seats are not cooled unless you add the climate package. The Reserve (yes, there’s a wine motif here) also includes voice-activated navigation and a panoramic vista roof that cuts into the otherwise roomy second row’s headroom.
Base price for a FWD 2015 Lincoln MKC Premiere is $33,995, a figure that the Ford Escape Titanium can easily eclipse. The mid-level Select will start around $40k, depending on whether you choose the 2.0-liter with FWD or AWD, or the AWD 2.3. The FWD 2.0-liter Reserve starts at $40,930. Our tester’s Monroney was $50,065 all-in, however.
One of the options independent of trim levels is the new active park assist, which finds an appropriately large parallel space and steers into it as you operate the pedals. What’s new about it is that it also steers you out of the space, which perhaps is important given the way a tallish CUV’s body can make it hard to find the corners.
Apart from this further step toward autonomy, the 2015 Lincoln MKC steers, rides and handles better than you might expect from this segment. It’s not an anodyne, pampered-people mover like the larger Lexus RX or the Lincoln MKX (which will be replaced next year). With the suspension in Comfort mode and the transmission in D instead of S, the handling is cushy enough to be near the edge of wallowy, something we didn’t notice in the Normal suspension mode.
With the suspension in Sport, it’s not too stiff over California’s highways and two-lanes. The steering is quick and precise without being too twitchy for a tall-ish vehicle. Turn-in is fabulous, and pairs nicely with the 285-hp EcoBoost’s quick tip-in. Lag is only noticeable when you suddenly call for more power while trolling at 2500 rpm or so. This all bodes well for the 2015 Ford Mustang with the same 2.3-liter EcoBoost four, which should weigh about 600-700 pounds less than the AWD MKC.
The most striking thing about the 2015 Lincoln MKC is that thing you notice by its absence—noise. With its active noise cancellation, the compact Lincoln CUV is library quiet, which makes the intrusiveness of the twenty-inch Michelins that much more noticeable.
Other criticisms? On our return trip to our base, flogging the 2015 Lincoln MKC while manically clicking the paddle shifters through twisty mountain roads southeast of Santa Barbara, we went through an indicated half-tank of fuel in roughly eighty miles. We’ll reserve judgment until we can drive one back home, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the 2.3-liter turbo four is like other EcoBoost engines in that you never get Eco and Boost at the same time. Nevertheless, the Lincoln MKC is a credible competitor for the Acura RDX, the larger Cadillac SRX, and quite possibly even the Audi Q5. Lincoln enters the hottest global automotive segment with an effort that ought to provide a few more rounds of beer for Lincoln designer and engineers.
2015 Lincoln MKC
|Base Price:||$33,995 (including destination)|
|Price As Tested:||$50,065|
|Engine:||2.0L turbo I-4; 2.3L turbo I-4|
|Power:||240 hp; 285 hp|
|Torque:||270 lb-ft; 305 lb-ft|
|Drive:||Front- or all-wheel|
|Steering:||Electronically assisted rack-and-pinion|
|Front suspension:||MacPherson struts, gas-pressurized shocks, anti-roll bar. Continuously controlled damping (AWD).|
|Rear suspension:||Independent multi-link, progressive-rate springs, monotube gas-pressurized shocks. Continuously controlled damping (AWD).|
|Brakes (front/rear):||Ventilated discs front, solid discs rear, ABS|
|Tires:||Michelin P235/50R-18, P235/45R-19, P245/45R-19, P255/40R-20|
|L x W x H:||179.2 x 73.4 x 65.2 in|
|Cargo Volume:||25.2/53.1 cu ft (behind second/first row)|
|EPA Mileage:||20/29 mpg (2.0L FWD), 19/26 mpg (2.0L AWD), 18/26 mpg (2.3L AWD)|