Lincoln MKC — Getting it right

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

A couple of years ago the new Lincoln MKZ mid-sized sedan was touted by parent company Ford as the new face of Lincoln, the first of a series of products that would put the fading luxury brand back into the forefront. We agree the MKZ is a decent entry-level luxury vehicle. But we were disappointed at how many corners Lincoln cut particularly in interior quality, craftsmanship and fit and finish. It was clear to us that the MKZ did not effectively escape the badge engineering of the past.

But not all is lost for Lincoln. We discovered that the all-new compact crossover MKC comes much closer to hitting the true luxury mark than the MKZ. Perhaps it’s the MKC that really represents the new face of Lincoln. It certainly doesn't hurt the new vehicle that it's on the same platform as the very good Ford Escape, but more like Volkswagen's Audi vehicles and Toyota's Lexus products, it escapes — no pun intended — the feeling of being an upscale version of the car on which it is based.

The MKC delivers the goods in styling, interior comfort and driving dynamics we have come to expect in an entry-level luxury crossover. It very effectively stands on its own.

People will be attracted to the MKC's handsome exterior styling, which employs Lincoln's new design language highlighted by the new signature bow-wake grille cribbed from the classic 1940 Continental. The exterior styling is highlighted by a sleek roofline, well-defined shoulders, full-width taillamps and a wrap-around rear hatch that allows for cleaner lines and a wider opening.

But the real luxury treatment resides inside the cabin. It’s swathed in Bridge of Weir Scottish Leather together with real wood, a step up from the MKZ. The materials give the crossover a true upscale feel, although we think it still a step below the European competition. Lincoln is heading in the right direction, but needs to continually elevate its efforts to compete.

The dash has an agreeable flow and the instrument panel gauges are classy. Touch points are soft.  We really like the large knobs for tuning the radio and setting the volume. This is a rare car where the redundant audio controls on the steering wheel are really redundant. Climate controls are not so intuitive with small look-alike buttons and the need for deep diving into the center screen. The navigation readout is large and a big storage bin under the center stack is useful.

However, we are still not fans of the push button transmission controls arranged along the left side of the stack although it does have a better feel than the cheap plastic buttons in the MKZ. On the plus side, the absence of a traditional gear shift frees up storage space. Cargo capacity is sufficient with 25.3 cubic feet behind the seats and 53.1 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded down.

We think the everyday driving experience will sell the new Lincoln based on its performance, handling and overall big-car character. We liked the substantial feel the Lincoln displayed and it’s smooth ride and quiet interior. We were impressed with the performance from the optional 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder "EcoBoost" engine that puts out 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque (the base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque).

We believe the 2.3 will meet the demands of most people seeking a compact luxury ride. Its effortless performance measured at 6.6 seconds from 0-to-60 is satisfying though there are competitors with more spirited engines. The 2.3-liter is rated at 18-city, 26-highway in all-wheel drive, which is the only way it can be purchased.

On our usual winding, back-road tests we found the MKC steering well weighted and body roll minimal. The Lincoln was composed on fast turns, equipped with torque-vectoring technology that is designed to enhance handling precision by sending more power to the outside wheels in corners.

The selling price may also persuade would-be buyers that the Lincoln is the way to go although upper trim packages and technology groups can escalate the price well into the mid-$40,000 range. The base (Premiere) price of $33,995 brings such standard equipment as 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats with leatherette upholstery, keyless ignition, and standard safety features such as traction and stability control, antilock brakes and numerous airbags. Select and Reserve trim levels bring a higher level of standard equipment and more option choices.

Our loaded test vehicle with the 2.3-liter engine, all-wheel drive and the Reserve equipment group carried a bottom line of $45,660.

Base price: $33,995; as driven, $45,660
Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 285 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 305 pound-feet @ 2,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 179.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,066 pounds
Turning circle: 38 feet
Luggage capacity: 25.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 53.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 26 highway, 18 city
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW X3, Acura RDX, Volvo XC60

The Good
• Stylish inside and out
• Energetic 2.3-liter engine
• Generous standard equipment
• Attractive starting price

The Bad
• Expensive option packages

The Ugly
• Small cargo area