2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

With its mainstay customer base dying off (literally) Lincoln desperately wants to be cool again. You're right to be skeptical of a brand attempting metamorphosis, but the 2015 Lincoln MKC makes a pretty strong case for a second coming of Ford's luxury line.

It shares a platform, base engine and general shape with the Ford Escape, but Lincoln brings a lot more than leather and extra sound deadening to the equation. Here's my take after a solid day with the vehicle, and I'll be doing my best to answer your questions about the MKC as they come in.

(Full disclosure: Lincoln wanted me to drive the MKC so bad they flew me out to Santa Barbara and put me up in an absurdly nice hotel I couldn't even afford to park near. But I'm also skipping sleep tonight to write this so I reckon any free booze-based biased I might have formed has dissolved.)

The vehicle driven and discussed in this review is the "Reserve" trim level with 2.3 EcoBoost engine and all-wheel-drive. It's the most expensive MKC at $44,565.

Let's Start From The Outside

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

It's a nicely sculpted vehicle, even out of the crossover context. From the subtle creases on the hood to the gentle bulge that forms ahead of the rear wheels, Lincoln added just enough elaboration to the Escape shape to make it distinctive without being overbearing. The way the sheetmetal is pinched outward above each wheel gives the MKC an origami-esque elegance, and the "split flying CD player" face looks much more graceful here than it does on the 2015 Navigator thanks to steep raking.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

At night, I love the full-width taillight in the style of what Dodge is doing lately. LEDs on the door handles look slick but I still haven't decided if the "welcome mat;" a projection of light and the Lincoln logo on the ground next to the car, is cool or corny.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

Unfortunately panel gap between doors was too big to ignore, and in fact pretty inconsistent between the ten or so vehicles on display. Lincoln will say "these are pre-production vehicles," but we'll never know if that's true. So take a good look at the distance between the doors and the body while you're poking around at the dealership, and see if the MKCs on the lot all match up.

Moving In

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

Lincoln's chief interior designer Soo Kang told me her vision for the MKC interior was to create the feeling of "open space" while complementing the vehicle's sporty pretenses. Trained as a classical harpist, she hoped to convey those vibes with the same abstract fluidity as the music from that majestic string instrument.

Are you still with me?

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

The challenge of making a small crossover's interior feel big was exacerbated by the high beltline and low roof— a constant point of contention between interior and exterior designers, according to Ms. Kang.

She pulled it off, due in no small part to the panoramic sunroof, but a steeply raked center console and long windshield definitely give the cabin some extra airiness as well. That said, the dash is so steep that the infotainment screen is at a bit of an unnatural angle. I couldn't get used to it, a few other drivers didn't notice.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

But it was impossible to ignore the wood and brushed aluminum that dominate the MKC dash. What a pair; the vents and door trim pieces look like they're pulled right off a steampunk speedboat. They're so sexy you almost forget to look further down toward the footwell... where you're apt to notice that the bottom half of the interior is made of cheap-feeling rubbery plastic. At least you won't get too mad when you passengers scuff it all up with their shoes (why do people always do that in my car?)

Ford fans will be thrilled to hear Lincoln abandoned their half-assed laggy touchscreen for climate control and such inputs, returning to a classy set of toggles I rather like. Also now activated by buttons is the transmission. Drive, Park, Neutral, Reverse, and Sport are not activated through a traditional lever, column, or even rotary dial. They're just... Buttons.

Interior designers ran with this and made great use of the space freed up in the center console. As for using it; it became second nature in no time. It's just "easy!"

Performance

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

The button-controlled six-speed can be run conservatively in "D," noticeably more aggressively in "S" or manually through paddle shifters in "S." Downshifts are surprisingly satisfying coming into corners, especially downhill, but you won't get neck-snapping acceleration moving up the gears.

Speed is adequate, if a little uninspiring. That's with the larger 2.3 engine, making 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque. The base 2.0 is about 40 shy on both those figures.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

The MKC feels a lot juicer from a rolling start, but booting the throttle will basically make you shrug and wish you hadn't wasted that extra gasoline. That might suggest you're better off with the 2.0 anyway, which is good for 29 highway MPG in front-wheel drive and 26 in AWD. The 2.3 maxes out at 26 highway MPG, I was getting around 18 driving a little aggressively and 16 flogging it like a rental car on somebody else's credit card.

The 2.3's compression ratio isn't too high at 9.5:1, and even though the engine's boosted it's approved for 87 octane. Of course, output hasn't been validated on cheap gas.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

But thrill seekers fear not — Lincoln's little crossover redeems itself in the corners. Active suspension and great Michelin tires keep this thing way more planted than anyone I drove with expected it to. The vehicle stays extremely flat through corners and is very forgiving if you enter too hot.

Understeer really wasn't an issue; the MKC happily absorbed a lot of abuse on steep, winding Ventura County mountain roads and left me with a big old grin when I emerged from the cockpit in a cloud of desert dust.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

Brakes are excellent in most situations. The MKC got a little squirrely in a high-speed panic stop, but nothing you couldn't manage if you were paying attention. And if you're two-footing the brake pedal, you ought to be paying attention.

Off-Road

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

Hahaha. Well we had to try, it feels wrong returning a demo vehicle without an undercarriage full of grass. But the vehicle responded to off-roading with a polite "no thank you."

Toys

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

The headlining gadget is probably the self-parking feature; hit the button and the vehicle will scan both sides of the road for an MKC-sized parallel parking space. The infotainment screen will then tell you when to stop, when to put it in reverse, and when to stop again. All the driver has to do is lightly apply the gas and brake.

I tried it, it works, but it can be thrown off by things like people walking in front of sensors so if you're planning on relying on it you might have to be a little patient.

I love the level of customization the gauge cluster allows, and Lincoln has pretty neat smartphone integration that lets you do stuff like schedule automatic starting, check system statuses, and even a "locate your vehicle" function that might actually come in handy.

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

The "THX Certified" audio system was one of the richest sounding car stereos I've ever heard. My co-driver, self-proclaimed audiophile Bradford Wernle of Automotive News, reckoned it's just about about perfect "when you can hear the triangle in the band, you've got a good piece of equipment," he explained.

And believe it or not, Ford still sticks combination locks on the side of their vehicles. Here the keypad is just noticeable on the door's vertical pillar.

Verdict

2015 Lincoln MKC First Drive: It's Surprisingly Not Bad

Based on a day of fun-road driving and a little time on a busy highway, I think the 2015 Lincoln MKC is a solid entrant in the still-exploding small luxury crossover segment. I'd love to see the company succeed, and I think they're on the right track to rebuilding their brand name.

While they're still trying to win the market over again, I'll bet the MKC will be offered with some pretty attractive lease rates and if you don't pick it up that way will make a solid used car pick in 2016.

Goods:

- Seats

- Interior is very quiet

- Handling

- Style, inside and out

Bads:

- Panel gap

- Inconsistencies in "classiness" inside

- Exhaust note

Images: Andrew Collins