2015 Lincoln MKC review: Lincoln explores new territory with MKC SUV

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
Review Date:

The Good The 2015 Lincoln MKC offers more driver assistance features at a better price than the competition, and its optional 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine performs exceptionally well. A THX audio system delivers detailed music reproduction in the cabin and voice commands are comprehensive.

The Bad The MKC's ride quality falls short of a luxury experience and its fuel economy is only average. The lack of online destination search with navigation and the slowly rendering maps are troubling.

The Bottom Line The all-new Lincoln MKC shows interior and exterior styling competitive in the luxury set, along with a stellar range of driver assistance features, but it should go further in insulating passengers from the rigors of the road.

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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.

Unique styling

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.

2015 Lincoln MKC
Although built on the same platform as Ford Escape, the MKC stakes out its own ground.. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

2015 Lincoln MKC
The MKC's available 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine delivers an extraordinary amount of power with excellent response. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

Ride modes

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.

2015 Lincoln MKC
Lincoln favors buttons for drive modes instead of a traditional shifter. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

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