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2015 Lincoln MKC Test Drive Review
The MKC debuts as a new entry-level luxury crossover, with Lincoln hoping it’ll help focus a mostly muddled brand image.
If you’re looking to impress potential new customers with your luxury crossover, tossing a Mustang engine under the hood is a good start. Never mind that it’s not the V8—a turbo 4-cylinder doesn’t mean what it once did. The last time a Mustang had a turbo four was back in the mid-'80s with the SVO, a car my father actually owned. Also a 2.3-liter engine, the SVO managed just 175 hp and still impressed for the time. This time around we're looking at nearly 300, and with the torque to match. Add some sexy interior materials, an optional adaptive suspension, and a panoramic sunroof, and you’ve got a crossover that’s hard to ignore.
Look and Feel
It’s been 60 years since Charlie Ryan immortalized the performance chops of the Lincoln Motor Company with the quintessential American car song “Hot Rod Lincoln” (and 45 since Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen did an even better cover), but Lincoln hasn’t managed to maintain that image. Through the decades, it’s wavered between coming off as a geriatric’s land yacht and an overpriced Ford. Now it's trying to attract young urban professionals with a fresh batch of offerings.
For the MKC, Lincoln has taken the venerable Escape and done everything it can to make sure you don’t know the two are even remotely related. The bulk of the work has gone into the profile and windows, with some clever lines to disguise its more common lineage, but the base 2.0-liter engine is right from the Escape, and a close look at some stalks and switchgear scream Escape and even Focus for those who are familiar. But putting those gripes aside, the MKC has a fun and slightly sophisticated feel that blends each quite complimentarily, if not wholly gracefully. By way of example, I had more than one passenger comment that the front evoked a definite Chrysler feel, especially the grille, with one even completely mistaking the two.
This particular example was bloated with nearly $13K in options, including the 2.3-liter Mustang engine ($1,140). For some extra luxury, the Reserve Equipment Group ($6,935) added dual power-folding heated mirrors, the panoramic sunroof, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, navigation with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, and a hands-free liftgate. Tinted glass ($495) and a THX sound system ($995) combined with HD Radio for your own personal listening booth, and a Technology Package ($2,235) added additional safety features, like adaptive cruise with forward sensors and lane-keeping assist. A Climate package offers automatic high-beam control, automatic wipers, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel ($580), which may be the best deal in automotive options I’ve seen, and 19-inch alloys ($395) finished off the package. With the $895 destination and delivery charge, the $35,595 base price climbed all the way to $49,265.
While the 2.3-liter engine is getting all the press thanks to its pony-car connections, that doesn’t mean you should automatically ignore the base 2.0. Still turbocharged, the 2.0-liter manages 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to move the MKC to 60 in about 8 seconds and still return 20 mpg city/29 highway in a front-wheel-drive (FWD) configuration. Power all 4 wheels and you’ll see 19/26, just shy of the 2.3-liter’s 18/26 rating. That’s an impressive figure considering the 2.3 offers 45 extra horses and 35 more lb-ft of torque, but the 0-60 time drops only to the low 7-second range with the bigger engine. I spent time only with the 2.3—which comes only in the AWD layout—but those who have driven both have commented that the extra power isn’t nearly as noticeable as you’d expect. I’d love to try both and see if I agree. What I can tell you is that I had a bit of fun and was rather aggressive with the throttle at times. Consequently my average fuel economy floated much closer to 20 mpg over the week.
The 6-speed automatic is controlled by push buttons and paddle shifters, which should be the default arrangement for any drive-by-wire system going forward. It’s not the most responsive setup I’ve tested, but there’s no room wasted on the console, and the paddle shifters are all you need in a vehicle that's going to handle mostly commuting and highway duties. Plus, they add a bit of sport to a slightly sluggish situation and can be wholly ignored if you choose. Hit the “S” button on the console and the shifts will speed up as well as the throttle and steering input, but I found the throttle a bit too sensitive in Sport mode, especially from a stop. My only complaint was that this particular example didn’t come with the adaptive suspension. While the MKC never felt sloppy, I wouldn’t have scoffed at a little less roll in turns, especially when hauling 3 passengers along twisty California roads.
Form and Function
No matter what, there will be some who take issue with paying extra for what's essentially an upmarket Escape, and they’re not wrong. But you also have to accept that that’s simply part of the modern auto industry, and the only way to avoid such trivialities would be going for a Mercedes or BMW or something much, much more expensive.
But if you can get beyond such things, there’s a lot to love in the MKC. I had my father and his wife in town for my week with the little Lincoln, and while there have been multiple complaints regarding the cramped rear seats, I heard no such gripes from my 6-foot, 2-inch father as we toured San Francisco and the coastal roads. However, both felt they were a bit too hard. Perhaps they just needed to be broken in.
The panoramic sunroof was perfect for sightseeing, and the interior was impressive enough that there was even talk by his wife about buying one when they got home. However, there were some noticeable rattles in the dash, and some of the plastic door trim had started to come loose. That’s not the way to make people forget you’re driving an upgraded Ford.
From the driver’s perspective, I found the MKC very pleasurable both in traffic and on the highway. While competitors offer 6-cylinder engines with more power, I never found the 2.3 lacking for my needs. Switchgear and controls were all very accessible and looked good besides, and the seats were all-day comfortable. Equipment that was stolen from Ford’s lower-rung parts bin did put me off a bit, but unless you’ve been driving a lot of Fords lately (as I have), I wonder if you’d even notice.
The MKC is packed full of technology, and for the price I’d expect no less. The THX sound system was a particular treat, as were puddle lamps that projected the Lincoln logo on either side of the vehicle. Necessary? No, but very fun. Cars are getting crammed with technology at every step, and a lot of it does nothing to amplify the actual experience of driving. The puddle lamps are a perfect example of the opposite effect—a small, subtle change that has stuck with me weeks after driving it. And the THX sound worked perfectly, able to pair easily with multiple phones with little hassle. More than that, even with the windows down and four adults chattering, we were able to hold conversations without shouting and still hear the music clearly as well as the GPS directions. Now THAT's impressive. With windows and mouths closed, it was even better. And yes, Commander Cody was used to test the levels. The Lost Planet Airmen would certainly approve.
The full suite of nanny safety systems work without being annoying, unlike less finely calibrated examples that leave you with a frustrating beep endlessly going off as pedestrians cross in front of you at a stop light. The navigation system had the typical quirks shared by all Fords, but the real complaint was thanks to the panoramic sunroof I love so much. With the sun behind you, it poured through that glass and completely washed out the screens. That’s a big oversight and an even bigger shame, as the sunroof makes the little crossover feel much roomier and brighter inside.
The Climate Package seemed a bit of a waste in NorCal, but it’s an incredible deal, and with the AWD configuration and remote start, it'll make you ready for any weather.
The MKC comes with a long list of standard safety features and options to add more. Stability and traction control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, a rear-view camera, and a full set of airbags including driver's knee and full-length side curtains are all included, but you can purchase blind-spot monitoring, frontal-collision prevention with pre-brake, and lane-keeping and rear cross-traffic alerts. Independent testing has shown a nearly 10-foot swing between AWD and FWD versions of the MKC, with an AWD setup stopping from 60 mph in around 120 feet, while the FWD version took nearly 130. That varies between "pretty good" and "not so hot" in comparison to competitors.
This all adds up to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarding the MKC its top rating of Good. Similarly, the MKC was got a 4-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with a 4-star frontal and 5-star side impact rating, although they noted that the MKC's left-side passenger door opened during the side-impact test. Not great.
A unique standard feature here is the MyKey system, which allows you to limit the maximum speed and stereo volume for a particular set of keys. They market it to parents who let their less-disciplined children borrow the car on occasion, but I think it'd work just as well for a particularly speed-happy spouse as well. That's one way to keep shared insurance down!
At $35,000 the MKC is a great value, but that’s a very different vehicle than the $50,000-example I had for a week. The problem is, in order to really match the competition, you've got to add at least a few of the relatively expensive options the MKC offers.
The Reserve Equipment package is hard to turn down, especially considering it’s the only way to get the Panoramic Sunroof, but at $7,000 it’s a big leap, especially considering you also have to upgrade to the 2.3-liter engine in order to make it available. That’s going to add another $1,140, as well as AWD and the small penalty to gas mileage as well. At this point, you're already well past $40K.
If you want all the safety tech, a good idea for a car designed to haul around families, that’s another $2,235 to tack onto the price. At that point, it gets harder to justify the cost and even harder to swallow the Escape heritage that seems to be the real sticking point for most consumers. After all, for the $50K this MKC costs, you could drive off in a V6 Audi Q5, or for less than that you can have a Mercedes GLK-Class with either the V6 or the turbodiesel - better performance and more efficiency. That makes the Lincoln an especially hard sell, even with Commander Cody coming through the THX speakers ($995).
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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