Ford's efforts to resuscitate its moribund Lincoln luxury brand began in earnest with the introduction of its 2014 MKZ sedan, a model many labeled as the marque's make-or-break offering. Of course, one model does not a comeback make, and with the MKZ just now starting to trickle into dealers, it will be some time before America's jury of consumers comes in with their judgment. More to the point, it's likely to take better than a decade's worth of products and sustained marketing effort to even begin to figure out whether Lincoln has a shot at redemption or if it will die of Mercury poisoning. After all, rival General Motors has been pouring resources into Cadillac since the late '90s, and if the sales charts are any guidance, it's still probably too early to declare its rebirth a success.
Certainly, a brand with Ford's resources, free of distractions (read: the now-defunct Premier Auto Group and various other side projects) should be able to successfully market a single luxury brand, particularly one with such a rich – if distant – history. Especially now with the Blue Oval enjoying more consumer goodwill than at any time in recent history. So let's all give Alan Mulally and friends a little room to work, eh?
We can start by focusing on the compact crossover seen before you, the Lincoln MKC Concept. Riding atop the same global C-platform that underpins the Ford C-Max, Escape and Focus, the MKC showcar here presages a production small CUV that will stick its distinctive nose into one of the auto industry's fastest-growing segments.
Related GalleryLincoln MKC Concept
Lincoln's future hinges on first impressions as much as anything else, and to that end, the MKC Concept makes a darn good one. We've had the chance to spend some up-close time with this vehicle ahead of its Detroit Auto Show debut, and it's a surprisingly handsome machine. We say "surprisingly" because, by general consensus, the Autoblog staff has been less than complementary about the brand's new design language – mainly its split-wing grille said to hark back to the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr. The MKZ sedan was the first clean-sheet Lincoln we've seen that incorporates this feature, and while distinctive, our team remains split on its aesthetic success largely because of its.
That's why we're so glad to see the MKC – to our eyes, the two-piece split-wing setup works beautifully here. It's at once distinctive and harmonious, with two distinct textures lending it more nuance and richness than its sedan counterpart. The grille's added height (or that of the headlights that buttress it on either side) may also deserve some credit here, as might the deep-draw creases on the hood, which give the design directional thrust, drawing the eye from the base of the windshield across the bonnet, through the grille and down into the lower fascia.
The side view is no less attractive, with deep-draw sheetmetal and an aggressively raked backlight. Aside from an interesting matte-chrome cutout along the rocker panels to cut visual bulk, the profile's most interesting feature is the cutline created by the wraparound liftgate. The rear is likewise positively impacted by the hatch design, which features a beautifully uninterrupted full-width taillight treatment that's almost Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo in execution, along with nicely detailed exhaust outlets and lower fascia.
Dimensionally, the MKC Concept isn't far off of the Escape, thought there are some important variances. At 106.9 inches long, this Lincoln rides atop a slightly longer wheelbase than the Ford (105.9), and at 179.3 inches overall, it spans 1.2 inches longer, too. In typical showcar tradition, it's also a fair bit wider (76.1 inches sans mirrors), where the Escape is 72.4 inches wide. Likewise typical of the exaggerated aggressiveness in the concept car genre, the MKC is 63.2 inches tall, a full 3.4 inches shorter than the Escape. Some of that is likely from a chopped-down greenhouse, but it might ride lower as well (no ground clearance figures have been released).
So we're probably not looking at the exact Lincoln MKC production model, even if you factor in realistically sized side mirrors and add door handles and such. However, this is far from pie-in-the-sky territory; there are realistically sized wheels marking out the corners (stout 20-inch seven-spoke pieces), though we assume they'll need to decrease the windshield rake a skosh and put frames on the windows. The big question is whether engineers will be able to keep the clamshell liftgate, a feature other models using the C-platform don't have.
The interior is flat-out gorgeous, with a clean and modern aesthetic that doesn't resort to a lot of showcar trickery like center-mounted floating seats and improbably shaped instrument panels in order to wow. It also avoids the trap of being too austere – there's a warmth to this design.
With the exception of the full-length center console that makes this a four-seat vehicle, we think the production MKC's interior could survive largely intact, even the panoramic roof (sans center rails). Strip away the leather covering every surface and you're still left with a lot of interesting details that could see production, including air vents that mimic the vanes on the split-wing grille up front and subtle Lincoln Star-pattern detailing repeated everywhere from the stitching to the speaker grates. Even the seats are built on production frames borrowed from the MKZ. We particularly like the artful control stalks (they remind us of a saxophone's neck and mouthpiece), though we don't expect them to make production. The unusual reconstructed real wood trim, which is comprised of layers of compressed endgrain finished with a bit of metal flake to draw out the ridges, however, just might. Rich, labor-of-love details like this could make all the difference to potential buyers looking for a reason to splurge on a Lincoln over entrenched premium brands like BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Other showcar-like details including the pushbutton shifter and minimalist center stack with capacitive-touch switchgear is already a production reality on the MKZ, too.
Lincoln remains mum on what powers this showcar (if indeed it even has one at all), but the production model will likely arrive under four-cylinder EcoBoost motivation, skipping the Escape's base 2.5-liter Duratec engine altogether. It is here that we hope Ford will splash out a bit – upscale design and nicer accommodations are great, but we feel strongly that luxury customers want greater power and technology underhood than what is found in their more common Blue Oval-badged counterparts. Thus far, Dearborn has yet to demonstrate that it feels the same way.
Make no mistake. Lincoln has a long, tough climb back to relevance ahead of it. Not only does it need to continue to radically renovate its product range, it must boldly recast its public image and fundamentally reinvent its dealer experience from brick and mortar to customer relations. The MKC concept isn't radically innovative in any particular area, but it does suggest that Lincoln's design language has legs. It also helps that the production model is poised to move into one of the industry's fastest growing segments, one that lacks a truly dominant player. As places to reinvent a brand go, the small premium crossover segment ain't a bad place to start.
MKC Concept New Opportunity for Lincoln
> Lincoln MKC Concept debuts at 2013 North American International Auto
Show – Lincoln's first-ever small vehicle
> Small luxury utility concept signals future Lincoln entry into industry's
> MKC Concept introduces the "Lincoln Experiences" suite of technology and
signature content to enhance the driving and ownership experience
DETROIT, Jan. 13, 2013 – Lincoln today introduces the MKC Concept, a vision of how Lincoln will enter the industry's fastest-growing small luxury utility segment.
With nearly 60 percent growth in 2012 and more than 200 percent in the last four years, the small luxury utility segment has far eclipsed all other luxury segments. The opportunity is a key next step in Lincoln's strategy to grow with four all-new vehicles targeted at the highest-growth segments over the next four years.
"We are reinventing Lincoln by focusing on the largest and fastest-growing segments of the luxury market, while offering clients something different," said Jim Farley, executive vice president of Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln. "The just-introduced MKZ re-establishes Lincoln in the largest luxury segment, and the MKC Concept highlights a key opportunity in the fastest-growing part of the luxury market."
This segment growth is being driven at both ends of the demographic spectrum. Many new buyers are coming into affluence and purchasing their first luxury vehicle. Others are moving from larger vehicles to smaller ones to simplify their lives. This growth includes China, where Lincoln will begin selling in the second half of 2014 through independent dealers.
Creating 'Lincoln Experiences'
Lincoln is being reinvented in every way – from a complete new lineup of stunningly designed vehicles to how dealerships provide surprising personal client services and how drivers engage with their vehicles. The goal is to appeal to a new type of luxury clients considered cultural progressives, who are open to new ideas and experiences.
In current and future vehicles, these "Lincoln Experiences" will include a variety of distinctive features, such as push-button transmission engagement, programmable ride control, unique and diverse powertrains, personalized lighting, and a suite of customizable functions that are unique for each client as the vehicle instantly recognizes the operator and creates a personalized welcoming sequence.
Future Lincolns also will combine these unique experiences with the option of stunning, bespoke interior and exterior design appointments that will transcend typical luxury automotive standards, furthering the brand's transformation. The MKC Concept explores many of these transformative ideas.
The MKC Concept builds on the foundation of the Lincoln Design DNA found in the new MKZ. These warm, open and inviting design cues are a core element of the brand's heritage.
"The MKC Concept has a wonderful stance and sits beautifully on its wheels," said Murat Gueler, MKC Concept lead exterior designer. "It has a sleek, sculpted body and wheel arches and elegant shoulders. The lines of the vehicle appear relatively simple on first look but with a second view reveal a dynamic three dimensionality.
"The Lincoln design team has done an outstanding job with the MKC Concept in communicating Lincoln's design vision for reaching a new and discerning clientele."
An uninterrupted, highly crafted rear-view appearance highlights the signature full-width taillamps. This is made possible by a liftgate design with a side-view cutline – a Lincoln first. It shows how the dedicated Lincoln design and engineering teams have worked together to deliver customer-focused solutions that not only elevate the appearance, but also provide maximum load capability.
"This approach eliminates the traditional vertical cutline on the rear seen on utilities, which in turn contributes to the athletic presence of the vehicle," Gueler said.
The continuity also is apparent in the execution of the frameless windows, which amplify the richness of the design, as does the signature split-wing grille. The exterior is augmented by warm, cream-based white metallic tri-coat paint, 20-inch premium wheels with polished chrome rims, and a large fixed panoramic roof that runs the length of the vehicle.
Interior design, colors and materials
High-end bespoke design, materials and execution inspire the four-passenger interior.
"There is a significant upgrade in materials and a stylish, fashion-oriented package. The materials are combined with progressive combinations and uses of stitching and colors," said Soo Kang, Lincoln interior design chief.
Just like MKZ – which sets the tone for the brand's thoughtful new approach to design – the MKC Concept features a distinct push-button gear shift selector. This enables a flowing, expressive and architectural center console design covered with riveting details, and unique colors and materials.
The headliner is wrapped with high-end material, providing a warm and luxurious feel. The pillars are wrapped with premium leather. The seats also feature premium leather and include a unique embroidered Lincoln Star and crimson stitch accents.
The Lincoln Star lattice also is subtly placed on the MKC Concept's floor mats to complement the lattice design in the speaker mesh, light fixtures and lug-nut covers.
The smooth leather also wraps the door trim uppers, armrests, bolsters, console side rails, instrument panel and cargo area.
"There is a rich softness to the exterior and interior palette of the MKC Concept," said Susan Lampinen, group chief designer, Color & Material Design. "The leather-wrapped architecture complements the open-pore and designer hand-dyed woods."
Other refined details include finishes like appliqués cut from layers of reconstructed natural wood infused with a metallic flake for a glistening effect on the steering wheel, upper instrument panel and door panels.
A true Lincoln
"The Lincoln MKC Concept is designed to strike a perfect balance between warm, inviting comfort and the engaging and superb dynamic qualities of performance, ride, handling and braking," said Farley. "This balance is focused toward a new luxury automotive client emerging in the marketplace – someone who recognizes a great vehicle and demands a balance between all-out performance and comfort."
Lincoln is the luxury automotive brand of Ford Motor Company, committed to creating compelling vehicles with an exceptional ownership experience to match. Lincoln will introduce four all-new vehicles in the next four years. For more information about Lincoln, please visit media.lincoln.com or www.lincoln.com. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/lincoln.