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

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Starting at $48,700
  • Available Engine Gas
  • Body style SUV

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.8 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 6
  • Design 8
  • Media 6

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.

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.

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.

2015 Lincoln MKC
The MKC's LCD instrument cluster shows adaptive cruise control information and whether lane keeping assist is active. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Automatic parallel parking is yet another self-driving feature, and something proven to work extremely well in Ford and Lincoln vehicles. Pushing a button on the dashboard, I could make the MKC look for parking. It alerted me when it spotted a space at the curb large enough, advising me to stop and put the car into reverse. Controlling the throttle while going backward, the MKC turned its own wheel, perfectly maneuvering into the spot. This feature might seem frivolous, but once you've tried it, you will use it regularly.

Rounding out the driver assistance features was a blind-spot monitor, a collision warning system that flashed an alert if I was heading toward stopped traffic too quickly, and a rearview camera with trajectory lines.

LCD instruments

I had previously tested these driver assistance features in a Ford Fusion. Similarly, what Lincoln calls the MyLincoln infotainment system, showing up on the MKC's 8-inch center touchscreen, is the same as the MyFord Touch system seen in Ford vehicles. This system combines navigation, hands-free phone, stereo, and a few connected features courtesy of Sirius Travel Link.

The system varies from MyFord Touch with its instrument cluster, which uses a long LCD for its speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, and other informational displays. Oddly, Lincoln uses printed number dials for speedometer and tachometer, but virtual needles. Within the instrument display, I could monitor fuel economy and trip information from a screen on the left, infotainment features on a center screen, and driver assistance on a right-hand screen.

2015 Lincoln MKC
The navigation system maps in the MKC render slowly, but look good with street labels and traffic information. Josh Miller/CNET

The MKC also featured a comprehensive voice command system, which I really grew to appreciate when I needed to find an ATM. Hitting the voice command button, I asked it to initiate a point-of-interest search by name, then said the name of my bank. Soon I had an accurate list of nearby locations from which I chose an entry and set my destination, all while keeping my focus on the road. Similarly, I could enter a street address as an entire string, saving me from the tedious step-by-step entry of older systems, or ask for music from an onboard source by name.

The navigation system, running off an SD card, suffers from the same problems as those in Ford vehicles. The maps tend to load slowly, so you can see them render on the screen. Turn-by-turn directions also lack lane guidance, which can be helpful on wide surface streets. Otherwise, the maps look good and show clearly labeled street signs. It's easy to go between perspective and plan views, or switch from vehicle direction to North up. Many drivers will also appreciate how you can quickly turn voice prompts off with a top-level onscreen button.

Traffic coverage is good, showing flow information for many freeways, highways, and surface streets. Route guidance takes into account traffic, and can also be set to optimize the route for minimal fuel usage. Integrated with navigation are the Sirius Travel Link feeds, which include gasoline prices at nearby stations, weather, and even ski conditions.

Missing from navigation is an online destination search function. And as with Ford vehicles, the many apps integrated through Sync AppLink are not available with the MyLincoln system. Most importantly, that means no music apps integrated with the stereo. However, you can certainly play your favorite online music service on your phone and stream it to the stereo through Bluetooth. Lincoln includes two USB ports, one of which I used for a thumbdrive loaded with music. The car can also become a Wi-Fi hotspot if you plug a data dongle into one of the USB ports.

Music played through a THX-specified audio system, the second generation of this system designed for Lincoln vehicles. For the MKC, that meant a 700-watt amp coupled to 14 speakers. Tweeters around the cabin allowed equal distribution of high frequencies and a center channel on the dashboard helped with the staging. Large midrange speakers bookend the dashboard.

I was very impressed with the initial implementation of the THX-designed audio system for Lincoln when it first became available in 2006. This new generation sounded equally as good, reproducing my music selections with accuracy and detail across the frequency range. Bass and highs were distributed evenly around the cabin, and I heard no distortion or panel rattle at high volumes. The THX audio system in the Lincoln MKC is the best you can get without going over the $50,000 mark.

2015 Lincoln MKC
The THX audio system in the MKC produces excellent quality sound, especially for this price range. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Luxury competition

The luxury small SUV segment has been slowly heating up, so the 2015 Lincoln MKC comes along at a good time. It faces competition from the Buick Encore, Cadillac SRX , Acura RDX , Infiniti QX50, upcoming Lexus NX, and even Audi Q5 and BMW X3 to some extent.

I was particularly taken with the 2.3-liter engine in the MKC, but would expect the 2-liter to be almost as good. All-wheel drive is a nice option for some areas of the country, but the MKC does not include a locking differential. Although I appreciate the adaptive suspension, I was not thrilled with the ride quality, which needs to meet a high standard for the segment.

The driver assistance features are top-notch, and more extensive than the competition's. Better yet, you can get all these features at a lower price than in similar SUVs. Blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control are fairly common in the industry at this point, but automatic parallel parking and lane-keeping assist are harder to come by.

The MyLincoln infotainment interface in the MKC looks good and is well-organized, although it is not always as responsive as it could be. The navigation system's maps render too slowly, and Lincoln is behind the curve on adopting online destination search. However, voice command is comprehensive and works very well. I also appreciated the wide range of audio sources and, in particular, the THX audio system.

Tech specs
Model 2015 Lincoln MKC
Trim Select
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 20.8 mpg
Navigation Optional with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources iOS integration, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system THX 14-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, automated parking, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, collision warning, rearview camera
Base price $33,995
Price as tested $46,660

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