The Lincoln MKC is an SUV heavy on design and technology, without resorting to the quirky looks of the MKZ sedan. It’s considered a compact luxury crossover, and is built on the platform of the Ford Escape.
The MKC performs with verve, and pleases us with its sophisticated cabin and overall refinement, although the back seat doesn’t offer much.
The Lincoln MKC competes on generally equal terms with the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Cadillac SRX, BMW X3, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, while costing considerably less. The Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento are not considered luxury but still well equipped and worth considering.
The base engine is Ford’s impressive 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder, making 240 horsepower and a strong 270 pound-feet of torque, with front-wheel drive standard and four-wheel drive available.
There is a 2.3-liter version available, straight out of the sporty Mustang, that makes 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet. Because it comes with all-wheel drive it’s not that much quicker than the front-wheel-drive 2.0-liter; it accelerates from zero to sixty in about seven seconds. Both engines use a 6-speed automatic transmission. There’s no V6 available, but you’ll never miss it.
Changes for 2016 are all in the infotainment system. It’s been a problematic area for Ford. The new Sync 3 uses a capacitive touch screen replacing the MyLincoln Touch resistive touch screen; the voice command is improved and there are other upgrades. However, it’s not yet clear whether Sync 3 fully replaces MyLincoln Touch. There’s also a new parking system that parallel parks or unparks without the driver having to touch the steering wheel.
Fuel mileage for the MKC with front-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 20/29 mpg City/Highway, while the all-wheel-drive 2.3-liter is rated 18/26 mpg City/Highway. Those numbers aren’t much if any better than the competition, which also offers high-mileage hybrids and diesels.
The Lincoln MKC design theme is graceful athleticism, which might be a cliche but it’s a true enough description of the stance and profile of the MKC. It sure doesn’t look like the Ford Escape upon which it is based.
The split-wing grille makes a strong statement at the front, with HID headlamps and LED lights adding accent. But the view might be more interesting from the rear, with a clean clamshell two-piece tailgate and LED taillamps that span the width. It’s a smooth and unique design in a class of SUVs that tend to look alike.
There is another design theme for the cabin, called elegant artistry. This one is a bit less attainable, but give Lincoln an E for effort, because compared to past Lincolns it’s uplifting. There are strong contrasts, for example porous wood with bright metal, and glossy wood with matte metal. Available leather called Bridge of Weir. Imagine French Scandinavian.
This refinement includes silence inside, thanks in part to active noise cancellation. The cabin is tight.
The instrument panel is straightforward, suggesting a lesser attempt to be elegant. Its corners are pushed outward and the center stack is sloped and angled toward the driver, creating an airy feeling in front.
Far less so in the rear. The graceful athleticism of the tapered roofline robs from the back seat, which robs from itself by being hard and upright. The optional panoramic roof lowers the ceiling but opens your eyes to the sky.
There is no shift lever, as the transmission is pushbutton, but there are also paddle shifters so it’s all good.
The latest-generation Sync 3 needs time to see whether it is popular with buyers. We can tell you it’s in the center of the elevated kiosk-like console, that there are big knobs for radio tuning (hooray), and there’s an array of climate switches.
The MKC offers a choice of two engines. The 2.0-liter engine has enough power for almost everyone; if you don’t need all-wheel drive, that’s the engine you’ll get.
The 2.3-liter engine is a bit quicker and comes with all-wheel drive. The twin-scroll turbocharger provides immediate throttle response, and the engine has plenty of power for passing, but there’s a bigger difference in fuel mileage (two to three miles per gallon) than there is in acceleration, between the 2.3- and 2.0-liter engines.
Both engines use the same 6-speed automatic transmission. The torque converter is stronger in the 2.3 because it has more torque. Downshifts can lag, even with the paddles. And even with a balance shaft to smooth the engine, the 2.3-liter can sound coarse under hard acceleration.
Lincoln Drive Control sets modes for the response of the steering, throttle, transmission and suspension. But not easily. The bewildering choices (two for steering, two for powertrain, three for suspension) are made on the button shifter on the instrument panel. You have to use a menu system via a toggle on the steering wheel, and go three levels down to program performance. You can program two modes (Drive and Sport) and they stay in memory.
Both MKC models steer extremely well, but we thought the 2.3-liter version with all-wheel drive felt more coordinated in the curves.
We give the steering, handling, brakes and ride quality high marks. The MKC is long on poise and response. The brakes deliver a solid pedal feel and the tires a reassuring bite. We found the steering flawless when tuned sporty. The most aggressive Sport settings put this Lincoln in hot-rod territory; it was firm and grippy through some demanding esses. The electronic continuous damping suspension, whose behavior can be set by the mode buttons, adjusts to the road in milliseconds. The MKC rides as well as the BMW X3 or Audi Q5.
The Lincoln MKC holds its own and offers surprises in the highly competitive compact luxury crossover field. Powertrain and handling are exceptional, while dealbreakers might only be the back seat and available infotainment interface system. We found the 2.3-liter version with all-wheel drive the most enjoyable to drive.