Lincoln suffered more than most from the brand-engineering era, when most of its cars bore too close a resemblance to the Ford models on which they were based, but the 2015 MKC may finally break Lincoln free from that stigma. Although based on the same platform as the Ford Escape, the MKC does a credible job standing on its own through an attractive design, fine cabin appointments, and an impressively powerful Ecoboost engine.
The MKC is an all-new model for Lincoln, a small, premium SUV offered with two engine choices, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and three trim levels: Premiere, Select, and Reserve. The base model goes for $33,995, but I was testing a fully loaded Select trim, lacking only the panoramic sunroof of the top trim, with a price tag running to $46,660.
Although Ford is a global brand, UK and Australian readers won't find a local Lincoln dealer, as the brand has very limited regional distribution.
Looking at the silvery wingspread of the MKC's grille, I half-expected I would be taking passengers to the airport, as most Lincolns I see are in the livery business. Frosted LED parking strips in the headlight casings give the MKC a slick nighttime appearance. Looking around the body for traces of the Ford Escape, I was pleased to see unique and attractive styling from hood to tailgate. Front fenders follow the high hood line, giving the MKC a strong presence, while the roofline trails back to raked rear-end, adding elegance to the design.
Matte-finish wood trim nicely accented the cabin styling, and soft-touch materials over dash and doors lent a cozy feeling. The leather seats proved very comfortable in the way they cocooned my sides. This car benefited from a smart-key system, so I could unlock the doors by touching their handles and start the engine with the push of a button. In fact, Lincoln seems particularly keen on buttons, using them for the transmission and so eliminating the need for a traditional shifter.
The base MKC comes with a direct-injection turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine, but this one had an optional 2.3-liter engine, featuring the same technologies as the base engine, with output at 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. That engine was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission offering sport and manual modes and, in this example, putting power to all four wheels. Also present was Lincoln's adaptive suspension system, offering modes for Comfort, Normal, and Sport.
284 horsepower from a four-cylinder engine is an impressive number, but better yet, the MKC truly delivered on the acceleration. I was blown away by the throttle response, delighting in how quickly I could get this car up to speed, and felt no turbo lag. The all-wheel-drive system and traction control worked to prevent engine torque from tearing up the rubber wrapped around the 19-inch wheels, but didn't lessen the feeling of power. I assume the 240 horsepower from the base 2-liter engine would move the MKC well, but the 2.3-liter felt exceptional.
The six-speed transmission was, at times, intrusive, shifting a little too abruptly for a premium-segment car, but most of the time it operated smoothly in the background. At freeway speeds, its overdrive gears let the engine speed hold below 2,000rpm.
Fuel economy with the 2.3-liter engine and all-wheel drive comes in at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, while the 2-liter engine boosts the city figure by only 1 mpg. My average came in at 20.8 mpg. These aren't great numbers for a new model, and I would like to see Lincoln adopt an idle-stop feature as a means of saving some fuel, or even offer a hybrid version of the MKC, possibly using a similar drivetrain to the Ford C-Max.
The seating and cabin appointments added to the perception of comfort in the MKC, but I wasn't taken with the ride quality. Here Lincoln needs to do some work to compete in the premium segment. In Normal mode, the adaptive suspension conveys too many bumps and too much body movement to the cabin. Putting it in Comfort mode through a somewhat hidden setting on the instrument panel, the ride became noticeably smoother, riding over the bumps more cleanly. However, the dampers had a tendency to oscillate, making the MKC bounce up and down.
I think Lincoln is on the right track with this technology, which uses sensors to monitor road conditions and continually adjust the damper response, but needs to soften the tuning further.
On the flip side, pushing the S button on the dashboard not only engaged the transmission's sport program, but also made the throttle more responsive and tightened the suspension. I don't think anyone would expect a Lincoln driver to need a sport mode, but the brand might be trying to change its reputation. Giving it a whirl, I enjoyed the feeling of more power on tap, which increased my appreciation of this engine. However, the transmission's sport program isn't terribly aggressive. Using the paddle shifters mounted on the wheel, shifts showed typical torque converter lag.
The suspension didn't feel very different from its Normal mode, and the MKC didn't suddenly turn into a hunkered down turn-straightener. Understeer and the high center of gravity never gave me much confidence for hard cornering.
The MKC felt most at home on the highway, and there I could take advantage of its many driver assistance features. Most of these features came in the $2,235 Technology package, a very worthwhile addition. Adaptive cruise control was easy to engage, and handled all braking and acceleration as it held the car at my set speed and automatically slowed for traffic ahead. This system let me cruise for many miles without having to touch a pedal.
Adding to that, the lane-keeping assist uses the car's electric power steering to keep it between the lane lines. I intentionally let the MKC drift a couple of times, and delighted as I felt the steering wheel move under my hands to prevent it from going over a lane line. That feature could be a life-saver for a drowsy driver.