Premium brands don’t just sell products; they also sell stories. This is true for consumer electronics companies. Apple sells the mystique of Steve Jobs and the mantra, “Think Different.” It’s just as true for car brands. A Toyota Camry is a well-built commuter car. A Lexus ES, on the other hand, is crafted to the painstaking standards of a brand dedicated to perfection. Similar cars, much different stories. Call it mythos. Call it marketing B.S. The story is as much a part of the luxury-car experience as leather seats.

I’m thinking about all this as I grab the keys to the 2015 Lincoln MKC on a brisk Michigan evening. It has the leather seats, but it lacks a narrative. The handsome exterior styling certainly says “premium” but declines to get more specific. Even its most distinctive brand-specific cue, the Lincoln-logo puddle lights, is derivative, reminding me of a similar touch on the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. Whatever happened to the bold, stunningly unique Lincoln C concept from Freeman Thomas’ studio, with its 1960s Continental roofline?

The interior conveys a slightly clearer message. As in the Lincoln MKZ sedan, a push-button transmission cleans up the center console. I like it, although some have understandably complained that it’s too easy to hit the wrong button. (A recent recall relocates the starter button to prevent drivers from accidently shutting off the car when changing gears.) Lincoln’s version of MyFordTouch works well because you can now touch knobs and buttons as well as its 8-inch color screen. Most of the materials, real and man-made, look and feel on par for a crossover that starts around $35,000.

I once asked Lincoln executives how they want their cars to drive, given a spectrum from BMW to Lexus. “The sweet spot in the middle” was the response. That sounds fantastic in theory but, on my 50-mile commute home in the 2015 Lincoln MKC, it came off as a bit confused.

The steering is nervous and strangely artificial off-center, not unlike what we’ve experienced in the Ford Focus ST. Under hard acceleration, torque squirms through the steering wheel, despite the fact that this MKC is equipped with all-wheel drive. The 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 285 horsepower, an upgrade from the standard 2.0-liter turbo, doesn’t excite enough to justify its city fuel-economy rating -- an unsatisfactory 18 mpg -- or its $4,550 price tag. The adaptive suspension performs better, taming the frost heaves and potholes while ably controlling body motions.

It would be tempting to blame the Lincoln MKC’s lack of personality on its Ford Escape underpinnings. It would also be incorrect. The 2015 Audi Q3, which arrived in the office around the same time as the MKC, is basically a last-generation Volkswagen Golf under its skin. Yet it looks, feels, and goes down the road like an Audi.

The 2015 Lincoln MKC has been attracting plenty of customers in its first few months on the market. Lincoln says many of them are new to luxury cars, which makes sense, since they’d be the least likely to get hung up on image and pretense. Or maybe they really like Matthew McConaughey. Regardless, they are getting a nice crossover for their money, especially if that money totals $40,000 or less. But if Lincoln hopes to grow with these customers and steal more sales from premium competitors in the future, it will need to figure out what story it wants to tell.

2015 Lincoln MKC Specifications

On Sale:Now

Price:$33,995/$49,265 (base/as tested)

Engine:2.3L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/285 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 305 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm

Transmission:6-speed automatic

Layout:4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover

EPA Mileage:18/26 mpg city/highway

Suspension F/R:Strut-type, coil springs/multilink, coil springs

Brakes F/R:Vented discs/discs

Tires:245/45R-19 98V Michelin Latitude Tour HP

L x W x H:179.2 x 73.4 x 65.2 in

Wheelbase:105.9 in

Weight:3,457 lb

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