Lincoln is working to rebuild itself; to rejoin the first rank of luxury brands and compete directly — on equal terms — with Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, Acura, et al.
First, it will need to shed some pounds.
And some price.
I just spent a week in the 2016 MKC, which is Lincoln’s entry-level (and compact-sized) crossover SUV. It is based on — built off of — the same platform as the Ford Escape and in base trim, is powered by the Escape’s optional 2.0 liter turbocharged engine, producing the same 240 hp.
But the Lincoln is about a second slower to 60 (roughly, eight seconds vs. about seven seconds for the same-engined Escape) … because it is about 500 pounds heavier than the Escape. No doubt due to the extra padding necessary to make the cut as a luxury crossover as opposed to just a crossover.
This may not matter in terms of real-world/everyday driving — as most people shopping for a vehicle of this type are not looking for dragsters and one second (either way) is hard to notice without a stopwatch and when you’re not actually trying to outrace someone else.
But perception is a problem.
If the Ford — which is much less expensive — is quicker than the Lincoln — that looks bad.
Even if no one’s actually racing.
The good news is there’s an optional MKC engine that closes the performance gap. The bad news is that specifying this engine opens up a canyon-sized price gap between the MKC and rivals like the MDX and others in this class like the Lexus NX200t.
And that is probably something Lincoln can’t afford right now.
WHAT IT IS
The MKC is Lincoln’s pitch for your business in the compact luxury crossover class. It’s a two-row/five-seater based on the Ford Escape, that’s available with either of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines and with or without AWD — depending on which engine you buy.
Base price is $35,270 for a FWD Premier trim with the 2.0 turbo engine is $33,260; adding AWD bumps the MSRP to $35,755.
From there, you can move up to Select, Reserve and top-of-the-line Black Label trims, all of which can ordered with a much stronger 2.3 liter turbo engine and with or without AWD.
A top-of-the-line Black Label with AWD and the 2.3 liter engine stickers for $50,090.
Which puts it almost in another orbit vs. the RDX — which tops out at $43,420 for an Advance trim with AWD (and standard V6) as well as the Lexus NX200t, which tops out at a comparatively bargain-basement-seeming $37,980 for an F-Sport trim with AWD.
The ’16 MKC — like other 2016 Ford and Lincoln vehicles — gets an updated version of the Sync3 multimedia interface, which features smartphone-style pinch/zoom operation — as well as a higher maximum tow rating (3,500 lbs. with the optional 2.3 liter engine) and a standard power rear liftgate with Select trims.
A beautifully finished cabin — especially at night.
Optional 2.3 liter engine is strongest in class.
Base trim can be ordered with AWD — and with the standard 2.0 engine.
MKC can tow 1,000 pounds more than RDX (2,000 lbs. max) and twice as much as NX200t (just 1,500 lbs.).
Priced about $2k lower — to start — than RDX and NX200t.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Weight gimps performance; even with its optional 2.3 liter engine, the MKC is not quicker than the RDX and NX200t with their standard engines. And only just barely quicker than an Escape with the 2.0 engine.
Optional engine is expensive: you have to first buy the $39,585 Select trim. Then you can buy the 2.3 Ecobost engine for another $1,140.
Much less cargo capacity than RDX.
Some may be put off by the kinship with the merely Ford Escape (even though it’s not obvious).
UNDER THE HOOD
The MKC starts out with the Escape’s optional 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine as its standard engine.
Output — in both vehicles — is pegged at 240 hp.
A six-speed automatic is standard — and you can pair this engine with FWD or (Optionally) AWD, including the base Premier trim.
In the Escape, the 2.0 turbo four is capable of getting you to 60 in just under 7 seconds, a quick time for the class. But in the MKC, the same run takes about 8 seconds, which is a slow time for its class.
The Acura RDX — which comes standard with a 279 hp V6 — can do 0-60 in about 6.5 seconds. The Lexus NX200t is only about a half second behind the Acura… and a solid second ahead of the Lincoln.
The problem here is not lack of horsepower; it is too much weight. A front-wheel-drive MKC weighs 3,791 lbs. (3,963 lbs. w/AWD) vs. 3,515 for the same thing (FWD) in a Ford wrapper… less a few hundred pounds of padding and insulation.
An RDX (3,737- 3,946 lbs.) weighs about the same as the Lincoln but it has 39 more horses to handle the freight. The 2.0 turbo Ford (whoops, Lincoln) actually makes more peak torque (270 ft.-lbs.) than the larger Acura’s V6 (252 ft.-lbs.) and it’s made sooner (at just 3,000 RPM vs 4,900 RPM for the Acura) but that potential advantage is kiboshed by the MKC’s curb weight. If it were say 200 pounds lighter (or had another 50 hp) it would be significantly quicker — which is to say, more responsive (and that is a big deal in this price class, much more so than the actual 0-60 number).
The good news is that — unlike the RDX and the NX200t, which don’t have optional engines — you can one-up both of them, horsepower-wise, by ordering the MKC’s available 2.3 liter, 285 hp turbocharged four. This engine also makes a (by far) class-best 305 ft.-lbs. of torque.
The bad news is that this engine is only available if you buy the more expensive trims (Select, Reserve and Black Label) and comes only with AWD. The former will cost you green — $40,725 to start for the Select so equipped — and (because of the mandatory AWD) also speed. Because the AWD adds weight, several hundred pounds’ worth.
It’s quicker than the 2.0 version of the MKC, but still not as quick as the 2.0 version of the Ford Escape. You are looking at about 7.2 seconds. That’s not only a tenth or two behind the Escape 2.0. It is nowhere near as speedy — as responsive — as the RDX. And it is also still a few steps behind the NX200t.
Both of which — and this is the killer — list for about $5k less to start than the least expensive version of the MCK with the 2.3 engine.
EPA says the 2.0/FWD MKC will give you (or can give you) 20 city, 29 highway; this dips to 19 city, 26 highway with the optional AWD.
Models with the 2.3 engine and AWD rate 18 city, 26 highway — virtually the same mileage as you’d get with the smaller, less powerful engine. So at least you won’t have to pay more for gas.
During my weeklong test drive of an MKC Black Label with the 2.3 engine and AWD, I averaged 21.6 MPG, according to the car’s computer.
An MKC strong suit is its maximum tow rating — 3,000 pounds with the 2.3 engine. Neither the RDX (2,000 pounds) nor the NX200t (just 1,500 pounds) can touch the Lincoln on this point.
Another MKC plus is that both engines are regular unleaded engines. The Acura’s V6 prefers premium unleaded.
The NX200t’s turbo four requires it.
ON THE ROAD
In addition to being a little bit overweight and under-engined (relative to the price-equivalent competition and its price-less-than-equivalent kin) the MKC suffers from lag.
It’s not turbo lag, though.
There is something not-quite-right about the way the throttle linkage is hooked up. Well, it’s not actually hooked up. It’s wired up. There is no cable connecting your right foot and the accelerator pedal to the engine. It is all “drive by wire.” When you press down on the accelerator, sensors read the amount of depression and — in theory — relay that to the computer which (should) almost immediately translate that into let’s-get-going.
But in the MKC, there is often a short interval in between these events. Especially when you really want to get going and push the pedal to the floor.
You do so — and for a moment, there is no response. Then, you get going. But that brief pause can be disconcerting when you’re wanting to get going in a hurry. It’s most noticeable when you’re working the MKC hard, as when testing the high-speed handling characteristics. It’s hard to transition smoothly from deceleration/braking to acceleration; to modulate the power flow. It’s like a water tap that’s either on — or off. With a slight delay before the “water” actually flows when you turn the tap on.
This is the MKC’s greatest driving deficiency and I am not alone in noticing it. And it’s not because drive-by-wire is newfangled and not sorted out. Pretty much every new car uses drive-by-wire. Physical throttle cables have been gone for several years. The problem here is that the MKC’s programming — or its sensors, or something electronic — just isn’t 100 percent sorted out yet.
The ride quality, on the other hand, is excellent — more luxurious than the RDXs, which inclines much more noticeably to the firm and sporty side of the aisle. There’s nothing wrong with that. People revere Acuras for that. But if you prefer something more plush and quiet and don’t mind that it won’t quite keep up with an RDX in a drag race (or a road course) you may revere the Lincoln more.
The steering is also luxurious — meaning, it is light; easy to turn the wheel with just one hand (or finger). This, too, is a point of departure vs. what’s typical in the class and generally — which is (again) sporty. Which means, heavier and (often) much more sensitive to minor inputs. Models like the RDX are like that and just the ticket if you’re out doing the Wild Thing in the curves.
But that’s not what this one is for. The MKC is classically Lincoln.
A cruiser rather than a bruiser.
Which is by no means a bad thing. It is simply a different thing.
And that — as I see it — is a good thing.
Because this trend toward relentlessly “sporty” sameness in everything on wheels is — as I see it — a very bad thing. We’re not running Le Mans.
Most of us are just trying to get home from work after a long day. A soft, quiet ride, seats that are easy on your back, light steering… it’s not bad stuff.
AT THE CURB
I can’t find fault with the looks — and love the ambiance.
Again, it is different.
This Lincoln — its cabin — reminds me of the one time I got to fly first class across the ocean, on the upper deck, where the proletariat is not allowed and neither seen nor heard. Those of you who have experienced this will know what I mean. You get your own little soft-backlit cocoon, an oasis away from the uncouth masses.
That’s how the MKC feels inside.
There is no gear shifter. There are shift buttons to the right of the steering wheel, built into the dashboard. Touch the first (top) to start the engine. Touch D for Drive. S for Sport. P for Park.
This “drive by wire” works perfectly — and also makes perfect sense. Why have a physical gear shifter wasting space on the floor console when there is no longer a cable and thus, no need for such an archaic apparatus? The floor console now houses something useful — like a pair of large beverage holders, which will no longer threaten to spill stuff on the gear shifter (which isn’t there). Forward of the cupholders — and not obscured by a gear shifter lever — there is a tray in which you’ll find a couple of USB ports and a power point. Which you can see, courtesy of that soft backlit LED mood lighting, which bathes the entire cabin in a soothing aura of whatever color you prefer — ice blue, red, purple or yellow.
The dash is most un-Escape, with LCD needles that glow to life upon engine start. The center stack cascades down and forward; it appears to hang in the air — like the cantilevered design of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.
It’s gorgeous, especially the top-of-the-line Black Label, with creamy vanilla leather and the striking gray/black exotic wood trim inserts that come with. At night, with the warm glow radiating softly from hidden crevices throughout the car, starlight twinkling above you through the almost full-length panorama glass, it is like floating along at 40,000 feet in the first class cabin.
Where’s the champagne and tasty little appetizers?
It is frankly almost better to be a passenger in the MKC than to drive it. I could spend hours peacefully napping in the right seat.
But it’s an exceptionally nice space to be in, regardless.
Speaking of space.
The first row has plenty — as befits a first-class cocoon. 42.8 inches of legroom there. This is legroom comparable to what you’d find in a full-size luxury sedan (a current BMW 7 Series, as a for-instance, has 41.3 inches of front seat legroom). The second row is also very leg-friendly (36.8 inches) for what is, after all, still a compact-sized vehicle.
The Acura RDX is even more generous (38.3) but the Lexus NX200t is a bit less so (36.1 inches).
It’s a similar story as far as cargo space.
The Lincoln has 25.2 cubic feet behind its second row and a total of 53.1 with the second row folded. This is by no means small (the MKC’s “trunk” is about twice the size of the typical compact sedan’s and still much more generous than any mid-sized sedan’s trunk) but the RDX has even more capacity: 26.1 behind the second row for the Acura, with a very impressive 76.9 cubic feet of total capacity with the second row folded. Acuras — being fancy Hondas — excel at making use of the space available. It is one of their strongest appeals.
However, the Lexus has less space behind its second row than either the Lincoln or the Acura (just 17.7 cubic feet) and its total capacity (54.6 cubic feet) is only nominally greater than the Lincoln’s — and much less real-world useful, since you need to lower the second row to make use of it.
An interesting aside here is that the NX is a physically larger vehicle on the outside than the Lincoln. It measures 182.3 inches bumper to bumper vs. 179.2 for the Lincoln. The MKC may not be as space efficient as the RDX, but it is more space-efficient than the Lexus — and that’s a pat on the back for Lincoln.
A neat feature that’s unique to this brand — not just the MKC — is a keypad entry system. It’s a nice back-up, in case you misplace your key fobs.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sort out the drive-by-wire throttle, add a little more hp (or lower the curb weight ) … maybe make the price a bit more competitive. These are all relatively minor things, fairly easy remedied.
Lincoln isn’t quite there yet… but things are headed in the right direction again.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos