Lincoln is seeking some mojo to kick the brand into high gear. With a 2012 sales total of just 82,150 vehicles, Ford’s luxury brand trails all of its rivals by a considerable amount. Mercedes-Benz sold 274,134 vehicles in 2012, BMW sold 281,460 vehicles not including Mini, Lexus moved 244,166 units, and cross-town rival Cadillac sold 149,782 vehicles. The Blue Oval itself may be doing fine, but it's clear its luxury division needs help to avoid being relegated to Dearborn's historical archives. The latest effort is the MKC Concept, an Escape-based compact crossover packing plenty of luxury into a compact package.

Why the MKC Matters

Lincoln hopes its smallest model yet will start ringing the brand's registers in the near future. How do we know this? Lincoln's own release for the model started out by saying the small luxury utility segment was the fastest-growing niche of the luxury market, with 60 percent growth in 2012 and more than 200 percent over the last four years. Achieving critical mass in terms of sales volume isn't just an idle wish over Friday happy hour cocktails for the Lincoln brass, it's a make-it-or-break-it proposition. So by aiming at the sweet spot of the luxury market, Ford hopes that the MKC will become its best-selling model, much like the Escape has become the Ford brand's best-selling model besides the F-Series trucks.

Upscale Differentiation

Since the MKC is still a "concept," determining which features of the show car will make the cut to production is a tricky proposition. The main feature we think least likely to survive the transition to production are the frameless windows, seeing as the new MKZ -- as well as the rest of the Lincoln lineup -- features full-frame windows and doors.

The MKC's face is immediately recognizable as a Lincoln thanks to the brand's trademark split-wing grille. Around back, the MKC showcases Lincoln's signature horizontal taillight motif with a one-piece, uninterrupted rear light facilitated by a unique liftgate design that wraps around the sides of the vehicle, making the tail devoid of vertical cutlines. In addition to giving the MKC an "athletic" appearance, Lincoln claims the liftgate design also adds greater cargo loading versatility by creating a larger opening. Still, the MKC Concept sacrifices some function for fashion. Instead of the Escape's five-passenger capacity, the MKC concept is a four-seater and though that configuration could be offered as an option on the production model, we expect five-passenger seating to come standard.

One interior feature on the concept that will almost certainly make it to the showroom is the push-button shifter that was first seen on the 2013 MKZ. With many modern transmissions only having an electronic connection to the gear selector anyway, a physical shift lever is becoming more and more vestigial, so there's a strong likelihood we'll see this feature on other future Lincolns.

Otherwise, the interior materials show Lincoln's upscale ambitions, with leather lining the door trim uppers, armrests, bolsters, console side rails, instrument panel and cargo area. We're thinking the cargo bay of the production version may not be leather-lined in a concession to everyday practicality. In a nod to conscientious consumption, the wood trim on the concept is made from reconstructed natural wood, with a metallic flake finish for a glistening effect.

Unique and Diverse Powertrains

Solid details on specifications for the MKC were scarce, so we're left guessing in terms of dimensions and powertrains. We're going to wager there will be at least one four-cylinder available under the hood of the production model, most likely the 2.0-liter EcoBoost. But if it follows the pattern of the MKZ, it may depart from the Escape by offering an optional V-6. When it finally reaches the showroom, the MKC may pack a version of Ford's new "Nano" family of downsized V-6s, rumored to be a 2.7-liter turbocharged and 2.9-liter naturally-aspirated version. The Escape also no longer offers a hybrid option, that role being taken over by the Focus-based C-Max tall wagon, but the MKC could also offer a hybrid option like the MKZ. The only allusion to motive force in the MKC's release was a mention of "unique and diverse powertrains." Let the speculation begin.

The Beginning of the Lincoln Renaissance?

The MKC will be the first truly new Lincoln not replacing or supplanting another model since the launch of the slow-selling MKT thee-row crossover for the 2010 model year. Clearly, by the statement prefaced in the MKC release, Lincoln is aiming for significant sales volumes -- and not just in the U.S. market. Sales of the brand will commence in China in the second-half of 2014, where the MKC could play a critical role in attracting new customers to the brand. And while we're still waiting for the long-rumored but seldom-affirmed rear-drive flagship, the MKC could be the volume model that could fund the revival of the entire future Lincoln lineup.