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Thursday
Apr092015

2015 Lincoln MKC: Still Evolving

By Christopher A. Sawyer 

This is a handsome vehicle, and probably the best use of Lincoln’s winged grille design currently in production. It is so well integrated into the overall design that you could make a case that it should be reserved for the brand’s SUVs and crossovers, while the cars find another look. 

Like the Toyota RAV4-based Lexus NX crossover, the MKC begins from humble roots. And like the Lexus, it heavily modifies the structure of the donor vehicle to create a more premium crossover. However, one need go no further than the specification sheet to see that the Escape and MKC are built on the same wheelbase and within an inch or two in terms of length, width and height, though the Lincoln is about 200 lb. heavier than the Escape. The MKC’s parentage is abundantly clear. 

This does not mean, however, that the MKC feels and drives like a heavier, more richly equipped Escape. Ford’s dynamics team has given the MKC amore luxurious ride, but it’s not without its faults. The most glaring is the apparent lack of sufficient wheel travel. In the middle of the damping curve, the MKC is able to glide over bumps and ruts with little bother. However, it is at the ends of wheel travel that this damping comes undone. It almost feels as though increasing the damping effect as the wheel nears the end of its travel might have introduced more harshness than was acceptable, so the wheel is allowed to “float” as the suspension is extended and come to an abrupt halt as it compresses. This is not what you expect from a premium vehicle, especially one that, with all-wheel drive and the optional 2.3-liter EcoBoost motor starts at $35,595. 

Part of the problem is the need to use as much of the Escape’s pieces as possible to keep costs low and profits high. Then there’s the need to arrest the movement of 18, 19 and 20-in. wheels and tires, as well as larger brakes. Yet, the MKC comes standard with Lincoln Drive Control which includes the continuously controlled damping I found so useful on the 2015 Ford Expedition. This system detects 46 distinct braking, steering and body inputs, and adjusts the damper response according to the steering rate, road inputs and vehicle weight. On the MKC, drivers can choose one of three modes: Normal, Comfort or Sport, and it affects not only the damping, but the electrically assisted power steering as well. 

If you have read the Lexus GS F Sport review above, you undoubtedly know my disdain for these driver adjustable systems. Most vehicles so equipped are happiest in Normal mode and feel false, if not forced, when shifted to Sport or too soft and wooly when switched to Comfort. With the Lexus, you get a rotary controller located on the center console that allows you to shift in and out of each mode as the mood, and driving situation, warrants. However, the boffins at Lincoln didn’t want to take up the real estate with a button, and put this system in a menu operated by the switches on the steering wheel. This means that the driver has to toggle through the menu, find and select the correct item, leaf through the submenu to the section where he can alter the settings, and do so. And doing so takes longer, and requires more attention, than reading that description. This is lunacy! Plus, I found that not only was Normal the best compromise of all the settings, the amount of work necessary to change the settings made it a one time only thing, and a major pain in the neck… as well as three feet lower. 

If that isn’t enough, for the first time in recent memory, the steering on a new Ford-designed vehicle felt clunky just off center. Thankfully, once past this impediment, the steering was linear, and possessed good weighting if not a lot of road feel.Which brings me back to the central point: Why go to all this trouble to allow buyers to alter the settings when, 1) you make it difficult to do so, and 2) there is no compelling reason to do so? I understand that buyers in the luxury segment demand that automakers provide as many switches, settings and toys as possible so they can impress their friends, and feel like they are getting something for their money. Yet I can’t help but feel that a brand comfortable with its image and able to transmit its characteristics to potential buyers has no need of such nonsense. 

On the plus side, the interior of the MKC is quite handsome, and is the first Lincoln to display the brand’s new steering wheel design. Pleasingly chunky and — with the addition of the Climate Package — heated, it feels both substantial and luxurious. It fronts a handsome instrument panel that mixes light and dark with slashes of satin-finish wood and muted chrome. The worst part of the instrument panel is the gauge package, which has the exact same video screens and set up as any other Ford to use this layout. Yes, it saves money buying in bulk, but when you are plunking down nearly $50,000 all-in for a vehicle you expect something more than Costco trimmings. 

Over time I was able to adapt to the front seats, which feel as though the lower cushion is just a touch too short. This leaves your lower thigh unsupported, and becomes very noticeable. The average-height girlfriend had the same problem, suggesting this will affect a wide swath of owners. It became necessary to sit slightly closer to the steering wheel to lift that portion of the leg off the seat squab, thus eliminating the problem. Though you have to wonder how many buyers will have the patience to experiment until they hit the right solution. 

Rear seat riders get controls for heating the outboard seating positions and a central vent, both located on the end of the center console. There’s not much you can do with a split/fold rear seat back to make it luxurious as neither it, nor the squab can be so thick that they impede the its ability to fold flat. The back seat has plenty of room for two and will carry three in a pinch, but I wouldn’t want to be riding three-up back there for any length of time as the cabin isn’t wide enough to keep you feeling like a galley slave after a long drive. On the plus side, the door cards in the back are decked out in leather, wood and chrome just like those in the front. 

Under the hood of our tester was the optional 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that is shared with the Mustang. Like the marginally smaller 2.0-liter engine that is standard on the MKC, the 2.3 is built in Valencia, Spain. Unlike that engine, it only comes mated to the all-wheel drive system. It produces 285 hp at 5,500 rpm, and 305 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,750. That’s 25 more horsepower and 35 more lb.-ft. of torque than the smaller motor. Mileage is EPA rated at 18 city/26 highway, and I averaged 21 mpg in mostly city driving. 

The MKC does not feel exceptionally quick, even when in Sport mode. Part of that is the weight — the 2.3-liter MKC is a hefty 3,989 lb. — while part is down to the excellent sound insulation. The MKC features active noise cancellation, which sends equal-but-opposite sound waves out through the speakers to cancel discordant tones. It also means that the engineers didn’t have to add heavy insulation to damp down the noise, and could instead use any weight savings to add more stuff buyers might crave. That said, it would be my personal preference to do without the frighteningly expensive ($6,935) Equipment Group 102A if I could pick the blind spot detection system and hands-free tailgate (shouldn’t this be part of the remote keyless entry/pushbutton start on a Lincoln?) and the navigation system as a la carte items, and ditch the panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats (heated alone is just fine, thank you), power folding outside mirrors, configurable daytime running lights. 

Despite handling day-to-day chores with style and aplomb, the Lincoln left me wanting. I wondered why Ford’s luxury brand would offer a front-drive version for any reason other than to act as a value leader. I marveled at the fact that the more expensive ($1,140) and larger motor did not feel or, more importantly, sound special. Couldn’t the active noise cancellation guys have let some sound in without ruining the party? At times, I could see where Lincoln wants to go in the future, but couldn’t get past items that made me feel like this was a Ford with some really nice trim and unique sheetmetal. On a visceral level, the MKC feels like the first fish to jump out of the water and onto dry land. Neither fully fish, nor yet a mammal, the MKC has not evolved into a mature example of what Lincoln will be. Better than most recent attempts at defining the brand, it relies too much on tricks, technology and Ford parts to stand on its own. 

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 AWD 

MSRP: $35,595 

Options: Equipment Group 102A (Reserve Equipment Group, dual power auto-fold heated mirrors, panoramic vista roof, navigation with voice recognition, BLIS with cross-traffic alert, heated and cooled front seats, configurable daytime running lamps, hands-free liftgate; $6,935), Ruby Red Metallic ($495), 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine ($1,140), Enhanced THX sound system ($995), 19-in. premium five-spoke wheels ($395), Technology Package (active park assist, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, forward sensing system,lane keeping system; $2,235), Climate Package (heated steering wheel; $580)

Destination: $895

Total: $49,265 

TruCar Average: $45,809*

*Price dependent upon location. Go to TrueCar.com to find the estimated sales price for your area.

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