2016 Lincoln MKC: Smaller Utility, Bigger Value

In a market as competitive as the luxury compact crossover field, newcomers face an uphill battle for recognition.

Especially if the newest player’s parent company has been on the sidelines for a while.

On sale for just over a year now, the MKC is Lincoln’s smallest utility offering to date, and is the best evidence yet that the company once known for barge-like Town Cars is doing what’s needed to recapture lost market share.

Not long ago, the word ‘crossover’ didn’t mean much, especially to a traditional Lincoln buyer. But pillowed velour and whitewall tires are a distant memory, and Ford’s luxury division needed to attract younger buyers to keep the brand alive.

The Lincoln MKC has its work cut out for it. The Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X3, Acura RDX, Cadillac SRX and Audi Q5 are just some of its luxo-ute competition. So how does a newcomer stand out?

Offering customers value for their luxury dollars seems to be the plan with the MKC. A long list of tech goodies and creature comforts at a starting price that undercuts most of the competition ($37,511) is what greets the crossover shopper who walks into a Lincoln dealership.

This tester was the volume MKC. With a standard 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder making 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque (mated to Ford’s 6-speed SelectShift automatic), the drivetrain mirrored that of many competitors.

All-wheel-drive comes standard on Canadian MKCs, along with a host of electronic nannies designed to keep the MKC on the road and out of insurance trouble. Again, it’s what you’d expect in this field, leaving presentation and execution as the big question marks.

Styling can make or break a first impression, and the tall, short, boxy nature of a compact crossover makes any designer’s work a challenge. The MKC does a good job of being visually interesting, mixing established ‘New Lincoln’ cues like a chrome-heavy split grille and full-width taillights with a strong horizontal line running the length of the body, flaring at the fenders.

Blackened rocket panels topped with a chrome trim line acts as a belt, cinching the tall body into something visually slimmer. Overall, it’s a cohesive design that gives you something to look at from every angle, with nothing (in this writer’s opinion) standing out as being too garish or boring.

The MKC’s cabin is bright and airy, thanks to a full-length sunroof and cream-coloured plastic and leather on the lower panels of the dash and doors. The two-tone dash and console is sparse and uncluttered, thanks to an electronic parking brake and push-button transmission.

The latter feature could be seen as gimmicky, but it increases storage space while adding to the modern feel inside the car.

In order to not scare off traditional or returning buyers, tasteful accents of chrome and wood adorn the dash and doors. It’s a happy medium between modern and traditional.

The MKS is the first Lincoln product to use the third-generation of Ford’s SYNC infotainment system. Featuring all-new software and a new interface, SYNC3 is simpler and easier to use than previous systems.

The system allows hands-free calling, voice activated commands, and access to a range of features, including a navigation system with pinch-and-zoom capability. Even the colour and intensity of the vehicle’s ambient lighting can be adjusted, depending on your mood or game plan for the evening.

As a user-friendliness test, a friend was brought in to judge the ease of synching his iPhone’s playlist with the car’s THX stereo system via mobile app. The verdict? Don’t Stop Believin’ was blasting in about 30 seconds.

We can’t all choose our friend’s playlists.

A test of SYNC3’s navigation and climate settings by the writer’s 68-year-old father was also accomplished with ease.

A noticeable addition to the dash – probably the result of consumer surveys – was a radio tuning knob. That, plus the volume knob, make up the only two dials on the dash. If you still listen to the radio (and it’s highly probable that some prospective Lincoln buyers might), it’s a nice feature that allows you to avoid the touchscreen when switching stations.

Clearly, there’s an attempt here to accommodate a range of buyers, each possessing a range of technological know-how.

The MKC tries hard to be shapely - a hard task for a small crossover.

The MKC tries hard to be shapely – a challenging task for a small crossover.

On the road, the MKC aims for the ‘cocoon’ feel that can only come from supple seating, dampened road intrusion and muted outside noise. Ample front seat legroom, infinitely adjustable leather front seats, and full dual zone climate functions made getting comfortable an easy task.

The MKC is a hefty beast – tipping the scales at a hair under 4,000 pounds (1,792 kg) – but the weight doesn’t seem wasted. If the ‘door slam test’ means anything, the solid ‘thunk’ and lack of rattles or squeaks from the power liftgate, sunroof, or anywhere else must add up to a stiff body structure.

A suspension designed to split the difference between cushy detachment and firm road-holding was put to the test on the worst roads Quebec could offer. The failures of the local public works department were soaked up nicely – in fact, no coffee was spilled at any point during the week.

A healthy dose of sound deadening materials helped keep wind, engine and road noise at bay.

Speaking of the engine, the smaller of the two EcoBoost motors available in the MKC doesn’t feel overburdened by the vehicle’s weight. It won’t smoke the tires, but it still pulls with authority thanks to turbocharging and direct injection, and returns respectable mileage for a luxury utility.

City mileage for the 2.0-litre is rated at 12.4 l/100 km (23 mpg Imp.) and highway mileage at 9.0 l/100 km (31 mpg Imp.), with a combined rating of 10.9 l/100 km.

A few days of typical urban commutes returned an average of 11.4 l/100 km, while one late-night parkway run to the city’s cheapest gas station (a great hypermiling opportunity!) returned just 6.5 l/100km. A big plus is that the high-tech EcoBoost sips regular unleaded, unlike several of its competitors. If all other things except fuel type are equal, that’s a value bonus for the MKC.

Moving up to the 2.3-litre EcoBoost (available on the top trim package) adds 45 horsepower to the vehicle, as well as a choice of 19- or 20-inch wheels (the base comes with 18-inch nickel-painted aluminum rims). That’s sure to help the driver who demands maximum cornering ability from their Lincoln crossover, if that person exists.

Still, more power is always nice, and having another four-cylinder as an upgrade engine is an unusual thing for this class of vehicle.

If you’re a white-knuckle driver, the MKC’s laundry list of safety equipment is just the thing to ease your anxiety. Every gadget in the Ford safety warehouse is here: adaptive cruise control, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, back-up camera, lane departure warning system, collision avoidance system, and more. Active Park Assist means the perfect parallel park is just a push of a button away.

By the end of the week, the MKC had proved easy to live with. Every passenger was impressed by the trappings and technology of the vehicle, and pre-conceived notions of Lincoln as a relic of a bygone time fell like dominoes.

Some of the gee-whiz technology – automatic folding mirrors, lit-up door handles, push-button everything – isn’t a universal must-have for a luxury buyer, but it’s a nice-to-have for most. As for the side mirror lamp that projects the Lincoln logo onto the ground when the driver unlocks the vehicle, it straddles the line between a brash gimmick and a cool feature.

Still, maybe it’s good that Lincoln is feeling confident enough to literally project itself out into the world. Luxury cars are supposed to attract attention, and being seen is what Lincoln needs right now.

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Steph Willems

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