ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: No doubt this MKC is an important product for Lincoln to remain relevant. The small crossover segment is big business, and when you look at the luxury portion of that class, it’s the Lexus RX sitting atop the mountain. There are other really strong entries always chasing the Lexus, like the Acura RDXAudi Q5BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-class. So the MKC certainly has its work cut out for it.

What does it have going for it? It’s beautifully styled with the Lincoln company grille looking well integrated into the front of the car. Having seen a lot of these running around southeastern Michigan, I can say the taillight treatments look slick at night. The overall design is cohesive and clean.

The interior’s alright with the matte wood trim pieces breaking up the rubbery panels. Seating position in the driver’s seat is very upright, and the seat itself is firm. The push-button transmission shifter on the dashboard cleans things up. I’m thankful there are knobs to adjust stereo volume and radio stations. The touchscreen infotainment on Ford and Lincoln vehicles is middle of the road. It works OK and is fairly intuitive, but the screen itself isn’t real responsive to inputs.

The biggest disappointment is the drivetrain with this 2.3-liter turbocharged I4 and six-speed automatic transmission. The range-topping engine packs 45 more hp and 35 lb-ft more torque than the base 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and is only offered with all-wheel drive. In the 2.0-liter you can get it with front- or all-wheel drive. But Ford’s EcoBoost four-cylinders just don’t seem like they belong in a “luxury” vehicle -- at least not yet. It’s a loud engine and just doesn’t sound as refined as, say, Audi’s 2.0-liter turbo. I know, the Audi engine is only making 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and thus not pushing as much boost. The equivalent engine in the Q5 range would be the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 with 272-hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is a slick and punchy unit. As for the Lincoln’s 2.3-liter turbo? It doesn’t really wake up until the middle of the rev range, but power does taper off as you approach redline.

The 2015 Lincoln MKC is equipped with a 2.3-liter twin-turbocharged I4 paired with a six-speed automatic pushing out 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque.

I’m hoping Lincoln is working on some transmission software revisions, too. Gear changes are on the lazy side and there are periods of hunting when the computer can’t decide what gear it wants to engage.

Our 2.3-liter-equipped also gets a standard continuously controlled damping system that offers sport, comfort and normal driving modes. Even with things punched up to sport, the ride isn’t that firm or really sporty. It’s a softer ride, which is great for smoothing out impacts from road imperfections, but not exactly an engaging drive. Steering is fairly responsive, but there’s not much heft tuned in. The RDX, Q5 and X3 are all definitely more involving rides, but the RX 350 is a cushier riding vehicle.

The $49K as-tested price represents a fully loaded MKC, while a similarly equipped Q5 with the supercharged V6 is going ring in at about $53K. An RX 350 with comparable features is going to be in the low $50K range, too. So there is a small value argument going for the MKC if you’re the type who likes all the technology bells and whistles. If you can live without a bunch of fancy stuff and put more stock in a smooth and refined drivetrain and snappy handling reflexes, an all-wheel drive RDX is only $41K.

It’s difficult to make a strong argument for this particular MKC, though. If we were talking about a 2.0-liter EcoBoost model with all-wheel drive that starts at $36K, then the Lincoln gets more enticing as it’s not priced too close to numerous strong and established entries.

The push-button trans takes some getting used to in the 2015 Lincoln MKC.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I like the look and layout of the 2015 Lincoln MKC. I think it’s the best use of Lincoln’s design language so far. The interior layout is slick, and I’m sure that even the most stubborn driver could eventually adapt to the dash-mounted push-button gear selection configuration.

The luxury veneer is rather thin, though. Let your fingers stray from leather surfaces like armrests and you’ll find lots of rubbery, pebble-grained plastics. The hard plastics used for, say, the gear selector buttons just don’t feel premium. It’s not that it’s worse than a loaded Ford Escape -- a car which, Lincoln will tell you, shares no sheetmetal with the MKC -- it’s that the expectations are so much higher in this segment of the market.

And the road feel? It’s not up to Audi standards (the Q5 is the painfully obvious benchmark here). I’m sure older folks are buying crossovers now, for who knows what reason, but if you’re trying to survive as an automaker, you should at least shoot for a youthful edge.

You’ll feel it on twisting roads; it’s soft, with a lot of roll. The seats are definitely not sport-oriented, lacking bolsters to hold you in place as the vehicle wallows around (ok, wallows is a bit strong, I'll admit).

I felt the 2.3-liter was adequate, but the transmission was a letdown -- in “S” mode especially. The motor seemed to run out of gas just before redline (about 1,000 rpm above peak output, I think), at which point you’d get a downshift and climb and climb toward that redline once again. This seems like a shift point programming issue. Which means it shouldn’t be an issue, as far as I’m concerned. Do actual humans drive these cars before the programming is finalized? Do any of those humans actually enjoy driving?

For better or for worse, “luxury” and “sportiness” seem to go hand-in-hand in the automotive world; the days of the floaty, overstuffed Town Car representing the height of sophistication are gone. And there’s really no sporty edge here in the MKC that I could discern. To the average driver, there’s not much that will really cause offense, but to the enthusiast, there’s also not much to bite on. 

2014 Acura RDX Tech review notes

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: I've been hard on Acura lately over their wasted opportunities in the American market -- nonsensical naming, good engineering let down by drab styling, etc. -- but I really ...

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I think the $36,000 base price is a pretty good deal for this soft roader. Those looking for a little luxury edge on their Escape, or Edge for that matter, would be wise to take this for a spin.

The 2.3-liter makes a good amount of power, though it doesn’t feel like 285 horses to me. The four-banger makes a bit of noise, too, and I actually found the cabin to be surprisingly loud for a luxury vehicle.

The six-speed transmission is weird. Sometimes it’ll jump into the right gear when you need it to, and other times you’ll push the pedal and it’ll downshift, instead of upshifting. I also found it likes to hunt for gears when you’re looking for a little speed. It was also terrible at MIS, but this is no race car, it isn’t even a sporty crossover.

The interior is generally handsome, but like Graham said, once you start picking at things, the façade seems to fall pretty quickly. I do like the light wood grain trim, but Natalie noticed that the gaps aren’t up to CadillacMercedes or BMW standards.

I don’t like the push-button trans, both in theory and in practice. For one, there’s no tactile feel of moving a gearshift around, which bothered me more than I thought it would. The buttons also feel cheap and plastic, like the Toyota Prius, which had the same setup. The entertainment screen was fine; Ford’s Sync isn’t the best of the bunch, but it isn’t the worst either.

The sheetmetal is pretty cool, possibly the coolest thing to come out of Lincoln in a while. I could do without the dual waterfall grille, but from the sides, back and three-quarter view, it looks pretty good.

The Acura RDX, its closest competitor, starts at about the same price. Buyers get a V6 in that car, and probably a vehicle that’s put together better.

Lincoln is making moves, just very, very slowly.

The rear taillight treatment on the 2015 Lincoln MKC is even more enticing at night.

ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: At one point, my girlfriend and I drove off to nearby Santa Barbara, Calif., two hours away from Los Angeles, in the 2015 Lincoln MKC. It was dark out. We had gone 20 miles before she said, “Wait, is this a Lincoln? Oh God.” She has an irrational hatred of Matthew McConaughey, for some reason. “Have you seen the Jim Carrey spoof of those stupid ads?” So, on her phone, she played the parody for me to hear -- an ad of a Lincoln MKC driving at night, while we drove a Lincoln MKC, at night. Don’t ever say millennials never get anything done.

“You drive a Lincoln cuz ya love it,” drawls McConaughey, which I impersonated about 500 times that week, to her chagrin. I drove this Lincoln cuz it’s my job -- but I ended up really, really, really liked this thing.

First off: the seats are amazing. True buckets in every sense of the word, they were thin and yet wonderfully coddling, with the perfect amount of bolstering and adjustability -- heated and cooled, to boot. God’s own thrones. I’ll call it now: it is with little exaggeration that these are the best seats of any car I’ve driven this year.

I know. I know. I’m just as surprised as you are.

The interior is handsome and just as comfortable, too -- note the unusual stitching on the door panels, which actually exhibit some creativity. The leather is soft and the armrests are reliably squishy. Ford has caught ire in the past for getting rid of all buttons, and the MKC brings back knobs and buttons -- but now I fear there might be too many buttons. There are pencil-eraser-sized buttons for every climate control system. One gets the impression that some gruff, cigar-smoking hardass at Lincoln must’ve said: “you want buttons, you bastards? We’ll overload you with buttons!”

The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine delivers smooth, reliable power -- a ton of power, actually, because the MKC hustles a lot faster than its 285 hp (and 305 gnarly lb-ft of torque, as low as 3,000 rpm) suggests. “EcoBoost?” C’mon. I returned around 21.2 mpg with a split of city/highway driving, and either the heavy AWD system or the banality of Nevada’s State Highway 160 might be partially to blame for that. At this point, “EcoBoost” doesn’t feel very eco. Why not just call it “TwinForce?

The range in this MKC is its biggest weak spot -- the trip computer displays around 310 miles to empty, but the MKC started getting ornery at around 250 miles. That’s the same range as a 2000 Mazda Miata on fumes. Ask me how I know. If you filled up every millimeter of volume, Lincoln claims that the fuel tank can hold 15.5 gallons -- but a quick glance at my receipts showed that my fill-ups came in around 10.

Quality Is Job One, Ford once claimed, a slogan worth revisiting. With a little over 4,000 miles on the odometer, an errant buzzing noise arose from somewhere inside the steering column. I assumed it was one of those fiendish little plastic connectors that requires disassembling the entire dashboard. The bottom of the center console has a line of separated plastic that wiggles with a press. And the steering wheel airbag cover is mounted with huge gaps around the edge, right by where your fingers go for the steering wheel controls. Both are those things that seem like a minor gripe until you feel them, day in and day out.

Lincoln is in trouble, yeah, yeah, yeah -- we all know the rumblings and feelings of distaste inside the House That Henry Built. But if every new Lincoln produces as staggering an improvement as this MKC from the atrocious MKZ (a car I loathed, but my colleagues thought of more favorably), then there’s hope for Lincoln yet.

The 2015 Lincoln MKC receives an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined fuel economy.

WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: I first saw this compact crossover SUV when it was introduced as a concept at the Detroit auto show in early 2013 amid high hopes for yet another renaissance of yet another American car brand, in this case Lincoln. It wasn’t a crazy, swoopy, hopelessly lithe dream car that would never get made. It looked instead to be comfortable, commodious and entirely able to go down a production line. Now that I’ve driven it I’m not at all surprised at how comfortable the production version is.

I picked up this one in a motel parking lot in North Las Vegas, delivered by a very sleepy-looking colleague. From there I drove it the 300 or so miles from Vegas back to LA and felt very much at ease behind the wheel.

If the competitors for this are the Audi Q5, Acura RDX and BMW X3, then I’d say that comfort factor is an advantage in this slice of the SUV pie. Those competitors all have sporty performance pretensions and you feel that when you get on the road. The MKC has no sporty pretensions, it just wants you to be happy. No one dives for apexes in an SUV, do they? No, they don’t, despite what SUV marketers want you to think. Hence when the Lincoln Drive Control Suspension is inNormal, the Continuously Controlled Damping absorbs both jounce and rebound with equal measures of control. It doesn’t feel like there is a lot of roll in the body but then it doesn’t wallow and float, either. It’s softness without surrender.

Inside the seats are very soft and inviting, though I admit I couldn’t feel the French stitching. The rear liftgate that opens with a hands-free swipe of your foot under the rear end was pretty cool. I took to using that method every time I opened or closed the hatch. Nice. 

2014 Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI Premium Plus review notes

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Last time I was in a Q5 -- a 2013 Q4 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus -- I wasn't particularly kind to it. Certainly, its combination of a $50K price tag, overly weighty steering ...

And while you might not think the 2.3-liter turbo GDI four is enough to haul around this 3,989-pound mass, I never felt power or torque was lacking during my drive. It makes 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque, which was more than enough for my simple needs. I didn’t try a 0-60 launch, but it felt perfectly adequate for any task put to it. Of course, it was just me in the car, and the run from Vegas to LA is literally downhill most of the way, so maybe I’d have a different opinion if it was fully loaded and I was going the other direction trying to pass someone up the Baker Grade. Who knows? At least it didn’t have one of those wacky eight- or nine-speed automatics that search up and down all day for just the right gear combination to please the EPA. I was happy with the MKC’s simple six-speed automatic. If you want to step out and pass, you can do a quick couple downshifts with the paddle shifters.

A couple things they might have done better: The PRNDL transmission gear selector is a pressure-sensitive push-button panel strip stuffed behind the steering wheel up on the dashboard. It could have been easier to access. How long has it been since automatic shift levers were attached to anything? It’s been forever. But as manufacturers acknowledge that and look at different and more ergonomically efficient means of gear selection, we have to suffer through their experiments (think of the Chrysler and Jag twist knobs, for instance). They’ll sort it out eventually. I would like whatever shifting mechanism carmakers eventually chose to be handy, or, as they say, to “fall easily to hand.” There was also a buzzing noise somewhere in the dash that drove me semi-nutty. Our test car had only 5,000 miles on it, much too soon to be working parts loose behind the dashboard. I also can’t stand those proximity beepers. I couldn’t find anywhere on the MKC to turn them off. However, all the above are minor irritants.

Lincoln says this is the second of four all-new vehicles in its “reinvention” (Lincoln’s word, not mine). While the basic comfort and driveability of the MKC is good enough, the styling doesn’t seem too distinct and brings to mind another Ford division that sought to reidentify itself not too recently -- Mercury. We all know what happened there. Whether that happens with Lincoln only the Ford execs know, but the question here is whether a perfectly comfortable MKC is enough to keep the brand alive among fierce competition. I hope so.

Coming in at $36,490, the 2015 Lincoln MKC is a great value overall.

2015 Lincoln MKC

Options: Rapid spec 102A including leather trimmed heated and cooled front bucket seats, unique steering wheel with Wollsdorf leather, 10-way power front seats with lumbar support, ambient lighting, universal garage door opener, auto-dimming driver’s side-view mirror, LED turn signal indicators on side-view mirrors, auto-folding side-view mirrors, configurable daytime running lamps, cargo cover, Panoramic Vista Roof with power shade, navigation system with voice activation, hands-free liftgate, BLIS blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, power tilt and telescoping steering column, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels with dark stainless pockets, embedded modem ($6,935); technology package including adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support, active park assist, forward sensing system ($2,235); 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine ($1,140); enhanced THX audio sound system ($995); climate package including heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers ($580); ruby red metallic exterior paint ($495); 19-inch premium painted five-spoke luster wheels ($395)

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