The 2015 Lincoln MKC is not merely a little luxury crossover -- it is the future of a luxury brand that has withered for decades.

Now, like the automotive Lester Burnham, Lincoln hopes to regain some of its swagger and prove that it’s never too late to become an “American Beauty” once again.

Overall, the MKC accomplishes its first objective, proving to the world that it is not a fancy Ford Escape, the platform on which the MKC was built. This was easier said than done. The MKZ, a Ford Fusion outfitted as a luxury midsize car, does not separate itself as well, instead feeling like a Fusion Panzer without a main gun. It’s bulky, with the same powertrains, and the only thing truly different is a hybrid model. (The MKZ is not to be confused with that awful naming scheme of other Lincolns including the MKS, MKT, MKX, and MKEYMOUSE.)

The differences between the MKC and the Escape are noticeable and welcome. A unique powertrain, a cow’s worth of Scottish leather, and a long list of high-tech features help create a compact crossover worthy of a luxurious brand that appears to be moving in the right direction. That might be overly optimistic, but I will readily admit that I’m rooting for the brand to earn some respectability again. It is going to take time.

Optimism, however, won’t sway my critical thinking, and only a Lincoln marketing specialist would think the MKC would be cross-shopped with a BMW X3, Audi Q5, or Lexus RX350. Anyone buying those vehicles is never going to take a moment and say, “Hmmm, I’m wonder what Lincoln has to offer.”

If they did, however, they’d be pleasantly surprised with this new and complete crossover that can cost thousands of dollars less than the foreign competition and comes with more features than an iPhone.

The MKC, with a starting price of $33,995, arrives this fall with an all-wheel-drive platform and choice of two EcoBoost engines. This crossover will debut Ford’s 2.3L EcoBoost direct-injection I-4 twin-turbo engine that creates 285 hp and provides 305 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine that will power the Mustang later this year.

That engine does a great job. The power is quickly accessible and the MKC shoots off the line and does just as well passing on the freeway. During 200 miles of driving the AWD 2.3L MKC, I never wanted for power. During a short drive in the 2.0L MKC, its 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque were nearly as quick, though it lacked the all-wheel-drive state of mind. Lincoln estimates that roughly 45 percent of the new MKCs sold will be all-wheel-drive models. The other 55 percent will be equally pleased.

Mated to either engine is a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. For most luxury drivers, paddle shifters are more of a novelty than a driving tool, but the shifts are quick and powerful. There were a few times, such as on a slight uphill climb with constant acceleration, that the transmission tended to hesitate, unsure whether to go up or down for its next gear.

Lincoln also offers a selectable Sport mode, known as Lincoln Drive Control, that will adjust dampening, throttle, steering, and transmission shift points to Sport, Comfort, or Normal. I found the Sport mode too sensitive at the accelerator, making my driving less smooth, but the other changes were at least noticeable, as the MKC felt more aggressive on the twisty roads outside Santa Barbara, California, in Sport mode. This machine rode best in Comfort mode, where the suspension softened out every bump and the ride, while compliant, was predictable and well-controlled.

That’s really what the Lincoln MKC was created to do: Provide a pleasant, smooth, quiet ride, though some of that quietness was created through active noise cancelation. I don’t imagine potential customers will ever test this vehicle’s limits beyond school pickups and weekend trips to Tahoe. But it’s a solid platform. Taut steering and good acceleration mean it would handle itself well during an emergency maneuver.

For most Lincoln customers, the real changes begin inside the cabin. It’s swathed in leather provided by Bridge of Weir Fine Scottish Leather and there are lots of user-friendly features throughout the cabin.

The front seats are big and easily adjustable – the driver’s seat can adjust electrically 10 different ways to the exact level of comfort needed for a long haul. The second row offers 36.8 inches of room that enables adults to squeeze back there, but while someone over 6 feet tall might not mind a cross town trip, he probably won’t care for a cross-country one. There’s also 25.2 cubic feet of storage behind the second row, which is more than enough room for five people’s luggage or all the groceries a growing family might need for a week. Speaking of which, if your hands are full, the MKC offers that liftgate that opens when you wag your foot under it. It’s a neat feature that debuted on the Escape.

But what struck me about the Lincoln MKC is the well-executed interior. The dash has a great flow about it and the instrument panel gauges look like something designed in Switzerland instead of Dearborn. The touch points are soft.

There were only two things I didn’t like. The first was the protruding bottom edge of the center stack. The push buttons light up in three garish colors and it looks like a last-minute addition to the piece instead of thoughtful extension. Also, the one USB port up front is placed deeply into what was once an ashtray. It’s difficult to plug your phone into the port, especially if you have big, sausage-like fingers.

But those are minor quibbles about a vehicle that feels luxurious throughout the cabin. It includes MyLincoln Touch, which other than sounding like a Class One felony is an excellent overall telematics system. Sync is standard and is still a very good voice-recognition system.

Lincoln also boasts a number of high-tech features that will please customers, such as the approach-detection system that lets the MKC light up as the driver nears it. A puddle lamp with the Lincoln logo shines as well, as do the parking lights and the door handles. This is something everyone else will begin to copy because of the way it makes a driver feel when he or she walks up to an MKC. Lincoln includes a lane-keep assist system, driver alert, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection and cross-traffic. There’s nothing on the list that luxury customers haven’t seen before, but certainly they’re things those customers expect.

It also offers an active park assist feature that can pull an MKC easily into a parallel parking spot. It will also pull you out of the spot if you’re worried about trading paint with the stranger parked a little too close. The system uses a series of cues to guide the driver to perfectly place the vehicle.

As for its looks, the MKC is not a particularly striking vehicle. Then again, most of its competition isn’t either. The best angle to view it is from behind, as the rear three-quarters spot provides a good look at the wraparound liftgate and those nice LED taillights. The front grille provides the new face of Lincoln and behind those winged lines are an active grille shutters that can help improve the MKC’s gas mileage. The EPA estimates those numbers to be 20/29 mpg for a FWD 2.0L model, 19/26 for an AWD 2.0L model, and 18/26 for a 2.3L AWD model.

Those are respectable numbers to go along with a very respectable vehicle. The key for Lincoln is going to be just getting people into its showrooms. The Lincoln MKC shows that even a staid brand can reinvent itself. By undercutting the competition’s price and providing more features, there’s room for Lincoln to grow.

But it remains to be seen if it can. It’s good to hope, and in the meantime, consumers who eventually rediscover Lincoln should be impressed. It’s too late for Lester Burnham, but the MKC shows that Lincoln still has a shot.


2015 Lincoln MKC
BASE PRICE $33,995-$40,860
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door crossover
ENGINE 2.0L/240-hp/270-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4, 2.3L/285-hp/305-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3800-4000 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 105.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 179.2 x 73.4 x 65.2 in
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 18-20/26-29 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 169-187/116-130 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.83-0.93 lb/mile
On Sale in U.S. September 2014