As the latest entry into the hot small luxury SUV segment, the 2015 Lincoln MKC stands to add some much-needed exposure for the brand. Going heads-up with the class leaders in this highly competitive segment is a tall order, but after our initial drive it appears the new Lincoln has the hardware to hold its own.
What Is It?
The 2015 Lincoln MKC is a five-passenger compact luxury SUV. Though it shares its basic structure (and its wheelbase) with the Ford Escape, the MKC is 1 inch wider and 1.1 inches longer than the Ford. However, its biggest competitors, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, both offer a wheelbase almost 5 inches longer: vital space in a segment where space is critically important.
Two engines are available: a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder EcoBoost good for 240 horsepower and a 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 285 hp. Both are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual controls. All-wheel drive is standard with the larger engine and optional on the base 2.0-liter.
We drove the top-trim Reserve model, which is one of three trim levels: Premiere, Select and Reserve. The front-drive Premiere trim MKC powered by the 2.0-liter engine starts just below $35,000. Fully loaded versions like our tester will top out beyond $50,000.
How Does It Drive?
That the MKC handles well is hardly surprising given the benchmark vehicles it was developed against. Lincoln engineers utilized Audi's Q5, BMW's X3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK throughout the MKC's development. The result is a well-damped chassis with more speed and control on hand than most drivers will ever use. Throw it into a corner and there are quick responses as well as meaningful feedback. Balance is quite good, and placing the small SUV on the road is easy.
Variable front and rear torque split from the all-wheel-drive system in combination with adjustable shocks allow the MKC to be both comfortable and capable. Active torque vectoring, which sends more power to the outside wheel for quicker cornering, is another reason the MKC has impressive balance.
Shift paddles on the steering wheel allow manual control of the gearbox, while basic Park, Drive and Reverse functions are handled by buttons along the main dashboard screen. There's also Lincoln's Drive Control system that changes the MKC's character from well-damped cruiser to sporty SUV. A Sport button on the dash toggles the steering weight, throttle calibration, transmission programming, dampers and even the active noise-cancellation system into modes appropriate for aggressive driving.
And it works. The MKC isn't ever soft but it's also never stiff. This is a solid example of tuning appropriate to the way small SUVs get used: well-damped comfort most of the time, coupled with solid response and control when you need it. Power from the 2.3 is more than adequate; there's a large wave of torque relatively early in the rev range, which makes taking the engine to redline unnecessary.
Forget about the Lincoln you think you know, because this isn't it.
How Safe Is It?
The MKC has boron in its front-most roof supports. That's the short way of saying those components of the SUV's body are among the strongest in its structure. It's the kind of engineering that Lincoln thinks will earn the MKC a five-star rating across the board from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration as well as a "Good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: the highest available.
Seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag) are standard, as is a rearview camera. Available features include a lane-keeping system, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert as well as a collision warning system that alerts the driver of a potential accident ahead. A driver-alert system monitors driver attentiveness and issues an audible warning if it senses reduced alertness.
Adaptive cruise control, which maintains distance to the car in front up to the driver's preset speed, is also available.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Deliver?
The EPA estimates the 2.3-liter all-wheel-drive MKC will yield 21 mpg combined (18 city/26 highway), which is identical to the combined fuel economy of the six-cylinder-powered all-wheel-drive Audi Q5 and BMW X3.
Efficiency improves with the smaller engine. Front-drive MKCs powered by the 2.0-liter engine earn an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined (20 city/29 highway), while all-wheel-drive versions earn 22 mpg combined (19 city/26 highway).
How Comfortable Is It?
Stitched leather and wood inlays give the MKC character and quality in places where recent Lincolns had neither. New seat leather from Scottish supplier Bridge of Weir and a new thick-rimmed steering wheel give the cabin a modern feel and design. Polished accent trim on the dash adds flourish but will occasionally create distracting reflections.
The front seats initially feel awfully soft, but we found them amply comfortable after several multi-hour stints. Their covering (called, appropriately enough, Deepsoft leather) is sourced from northern European cattle according to Lincoln. Why is that better? We're not sure, but it does sound exotic, doesn't it?
Rear-seat comfort is tied directly to the position of the front seats. Rear-seat legroom is significantly compromised when seated behind a passenger taller than 6 feet. This is probably the MKC's biggest downside relative to its roomier competitors, which have more room between their wheels for passengers and cargo.
Heated front seats are standard across the line. Heated rear seats are available with the Climate package, and the Reserve trim level adds cooled front seats.
Though the MKC's rear seats don't fold completely flat, they're close enough to not inhibit hauling large cargo. Cargo space behind the second row is 25.2 cubic feet: a few cubic feet less than the BMW X3 and Acura RDX.
What Tech Does It Offer?
Lincoln is far from the first carmaker to create an app with which owners can communicate with their car, but it is the first to offer scheduled start times using an app. Additionally, the MyLincoln Touch app allows remote locking and unlocking, engine starting and help finding the MKC via GPS.
The Active Park Assist feature is available to handle steering duties during parallel parking. It's a feature also available on the Escape. On the MKC, however, it adds Park Out Assist, which oversees steering when exiting a tight parallel parking space. We used both and found them practical and intuitive. Though these features will be lost on those who possess the skills, their presence is invaluable for others.
Voice-activated control of phone, audio, ventilation and the navigation system (optional) is standard via Sync. MyLincoln Touch isn't our favorite infotainment interface, but it is significantly improved over the original version.
An optional 14-speaker THX audio system is available to replace the standard nine-speaker system. Also standard on every MKC are two USB ports, an SD card reader, an auxiliary jack and RCA input jacks.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
It is Lincoln's intent to win buyers from the big players in the compact luxury SUV segment. That means it will need to face down BMW's X3 and its smaller X1 counterpart — both of which are primary contenders.
Perhaps an even bigger challenger is the Audi Q5, which offers a well-rounded list of assets including what's probably the best-finished cabin in the class, good fuel economy and strong driving dynamics.
Acura's RDX, though fairly Spartan, also offers a large cargo area and a solid powertrain.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
In addition to offering a long list of standard and available features, optional all-wheel drive and two engine choices, the MKC's starting price is the lowest in the segment. Dynamically, it plays in the same arena as the class leaders and its interior gives up very little, if anything, to those SUVs in terms of finish. The biggest battle Lincoln is fighting with the MKC isn't quality or driving experience. It's image.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Having 5 fewer inches between its wheels than the class leaders hurts the MKC's rear legroom and, to a lesser extent, its cargo space. If you regularly need to carry four large adults there are better choices, many of which are midsize SUVs.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.