Can Lincoln grab a share of sizzling segment?
MKC aims to conquest compact crossover rivals
Photo credit: BRADFORD WERNLE
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Lincoln aims to reinvent itself as a brand attuned to the needs of 21st-century luxury customers. And for those customers, smaller is often better.
The 2015 MKC is Lincoln's first compact crossover, giving the brand an entry in the luxury market's hottest segment.
Lincoln's management team believes most MKC customers will be conquests from other brands. For Lincoln dealers long starved for product, the MKC can't come soon enough.
Lincoln has learned from the problem-plagued launch of the MKZ mid-sized sedan. Those lessons are evident in the MKC's design and features, and in its launch plan.
The MKZ's center console had sliding touch-screen controls instead of tactile knobs or buttons, but the MKC's console has real knobs and buttons. That's Lincoln's response to negative consumer feedback on touch controls -- feedback that helped drop the brand close to the bottom of some consumer surveys.
The MKZ's launch was trumpeted with a commercial in the 2013 Super Bowl, but dealers didn't have cars to sell because glitches delayed the launch about three months. With the MKC, Lincoln is gradually building dealer stocks this summer before a big media push in September.
The MKC is the first vehicle crafted in Lincoln's dedicated design studio.
"The Lincoln MKC was designed to capture the attention of a worldwide audience," Matt VanDyke, director of global Lincoln, said in a statement. The MKC will be launched in China this year.
The MKC’s interior features a variety of leather and wood trim.
The basics: The MKC is built on the same platform as the Ford Escape and at the same factory in Louisville, Ky. But Lincoln has worked to differentiate the MKC from the Escape. There's no shared sheet metal. The high beltline and lower roofline give it a sleeker look, and the track is about an inch wider than that of the Escape.
The MKC is the first vehicle to get Ford's 2.3-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which cranks out 285 hp, giving the MKC V-6-like thrust. The only other engine option is the 2.0-liter EcoBoost, a version of which is the top of the line engine on the Escape.
The interior features a variety of leather and wood trim. Like the MKZ, the MKC uses an electronic push-button gearshift instead of a lever, leaving room for designers to open up the center console.
Lincoln also offers a list of technologies, including Lincoln Drive Control, a system that manages the engine, transmission, electric power steering and other functions for optimum performance.
The MKC is poised and athletic, and handled the twisty roads around Santa Barbara and the Los Padres National Forest with aplomb, but perhaps lacking that touch of verve of a BMW X3.
While it may lack visceral excitement, the MKC gets Lincoln into the performance conversation vs. other brands. That's somewhere Lincoln hasn't been in a long time, if ever.
Notable features: The one-piece wraparound, clamshell rear liftgate, created by a new hydroforming process, gives the MKC a clean-looking rear and opens access to the cargo area.
The MKC will greet owners with a feature called "approach detection," which senses when a person with the key fob is within eight feet, at which time a series of soft lights start glowing and an illuminated welcome mat is projected onto the ground.
Lincoln seems to be targeting Lexus in the quietness department. The MKC has thick, acoustic laminate windshield glass and felted wheel wells to reduce road noise.
The MKC gets safety features including "park-out assist," which uses sensors to guide drivers out of tight parking spaces; adaptive cruise control, a collision warning system and a blind spot monitoring system.
What Lincoln says: "This is a really invigorating vehicle, and that is what this brand needs," says Andrew Frick, Lincoln group marketing manager, in an interview at the media launch here.
Shortcomings and compromises: Lincoln's decision to offer the MKZ Hybrid at the same price as comparable gasoline engine models has been a resounding success. At launch, Lincoln is not offering a hybrid version of the MKC.
Some dealers worry that the MKC could cannibalize sales from the older MKX crossover, a larger vehicle.
Frick says he is not concerned about that because he believes the vehicles appeal to different customers.
The market: "The segment is on fire and is in line to grow 600 percent in the next five years," VanDyke says. "We have the opportunity to enter the segment very aggressively."
The skinny: The MKC is a big step forward in Lincoln's reinvention. It may not hit the pinnacle of performance, but it should catch the attention of some people who have never before had Lincoln on their shopping lists.
The challenge for Lincoln will be getting those people to come into dealerships and take a look.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.