Well-dressed Lincoln MKC faces tough competition at our track

Where did the Ford escape to?

Published: July 31, 2014 01:00 PM

Find Ratings

See Dealer Pricing

“This is a $46,000 Ford Escape!” exclaimed a friend as I drove to lunch in Consumer Reports’ new 2015 Lincoln MKC test car. He wasn’t totally wrong, but he wasn’t 100-percent right, either.

Lincoln has long been in trouble. Getting buyers to pay more money for a premium brand that’s lost its prestige is a tough sell. Parent company Ford’s solution: develop new product. High on their list was the MKC, finally giving the brand an entry into the superhot small upscale SUV segment.

Yes, the MKC is based on the same platform as the Ford Escape. It’s a solid place to start, as the Escape is among Consumer Reports’ highest-rated small SUVs. The Escape is distinguished among its peers for being refined, quiet, and fun to drive. Improving on the Escape for Lincoln is no easy feat.

But the MKC sure makes an effort. As you’d expect, the interior is plusher, losing the Escape’s busy jumble of multiple panels and planes for a more calming ambience. Available open-grain wood actually looks like the real thing, rather than the typical over-glossed and plastic-looking grain in many cars. Available cooled seats and a power adjustable steering wheel add amenities.

Mechanical differences appear, too. The MKC boasts two different EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinders. The uplevel choice is a new 285-horsepower, 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that you can’t get in the Escape. Mated only with all-wheel-drive, power from the bigger engine is strong, but we’re not sure it’s a huge improvement over the base 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine. Either way, the MKC comes with a six-speed automatic; German rivals like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 have slicker-shifting eight-speeds.

Another addition is the Lincoln Drive Control suspension system with a choice of three different modes: Comfort (floaty), Normal, or Sport (busy). Making these selections requires drilling through multiple layers of display screens, which can be a huge distraction while driving. We’re not sure all of this complication is worth it. Unlike Goldilocks, none of the settings feels just right, even in compliant Normal mode the car feels rather unsettled.

We’re not bothered by the prerequisite luxury additions to the MKC’s over the Escape; what was taken away is more striking. The Escape is one of the sportiest small SUVs on the market, yet doesn’t sacrifice a comfortable ride or a quiet cabin. However, any traces of the agile Escape have completely escaped the MKC. The Lincoln misses this fine-honed balance, lacking the Escape’s verve and dynamic energy. At least the hushed Lincoln adds cabin quietness.

Beyond driving, the MKC benefits from the inherently practical nature of small SUVs, upscale or not. Compact dimensions make it easy to park; a backup camera is standard—a plus given the thick rear roof pillars. Chair-height access is easy, and there’s decent rear seat room even for adults. Optional all-wheel-drive helps when the roads get slippery.

Not every decision was made with utility in mind. Like many SUVs that go for style over boxy function, cargo volume is squashed by the sloping rear hatch. Intrusive wall panels on either side of the cargo floor eat up even more room.

Old school beats out high-tech in one important place: regular knobs and buttons have replaced the touch-sensitive controls that plagued recent Lincolns with MyLincoln Touch. That’s well worth a hosanna or two. Sure, the climate control buttons are tiny and crammed together, and navigating the touch screen remains fiddly, but at least the controls all do what you expect them to do. That’s a big improvement. But you can take old-school a bit too far; we could do without the Edsel-reminiscent push button shifter.

And now the sticky question of value. Our well-equipped MKC all-wheel-drive test car with the $1,140 2.3-liter engine came with the $6,935 Reserve Equipment Group. For the price of a decent used small car, that option package adds a panoramic vista roof, navigation, blind-spot warning, cooled front seats, and a slick power tailgate that opens hands-free. Learning from the Germans, Lincoln dings you for fancy paint, exacting $695 for our car’s white platinum metallic tri-coat. Other options brought our car’s price to $46,485.

That’s cheaper than a comparably equipped Audi Q5 or BMW X3, but they’re sportier and have a better brand image than the Lincoln. Skipping brand image issues all together, a loaded Ford Escape Titanium stickers for around $36,000.

Therein lies the MKC’s biggest challenge. Mainstream Fords, like the Escape, have become very refined and content-rich cars, and Ford’s been able to get ever-increasing amounts of money for them. Unless Lincoln still means luxury to you, it’s hard to see the brand winning over sales from European competition—or its own in-house sibling.

We’ll learn more about this newcomer as it gains break-in miles and goes through our multi-week test program.

Tom Mutchler

Find Ratings

SUVs Ratings

View and compare all SUVs ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Cars News

Cars

Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more