Back in 2012, Lincoln claimed its comeback bid was finally underway with the new-for-2013 MKZ. But don't you believe them – the renaissance won't actually begin in earnest until the shapely compact crossover seen here reaches showrooms in big numbers. That's because while the four-door MKZ was indeed a proper step toward rebirth, the 2015 MKC is the first wholly conceived vehicle under Lincoln as a standalone brand, a move first announced back in 2012. That's an important distinction, because Lincoln's newfound emancipation from Ford's design and development processes has given the struggling marque both the corporate wherewithal and the will to develop a more fully formed product. The four-wheeled result seen here is a surprisingly cohesive luxury CUV, one with significantly more aesthetic and dynamic separation from its Ford Escape sibling than the MKZ and its Fusion counterpart. Said another way, after flogging Lincoln's latest for hundreds of miles over canyon roads outside of Santa Barbara, we've come to understand that this is far from a re-grilled Dearborn special with luxury tinsel – it's a bona fide standalone product that readily displays the sort of clear differentiation seen in platform cousins like the Audi Q3 and the Volkswagen Tiguan. It's the real deal. The hydroformed clamshell literally and figuratively seals the deal. As noted before, this is the first modern application of Lincoln's split-wing grille we can get behind. With the hood's deeply sculpted creases drawing down into its slats, the MKC's nose has real directional thrust, with piercing HID headlamps that bookend the grille's sweeping form. It's an aggressive look, with a sturdy, wheels-at-the-corner stance augmented by a fast windshield rake and by our top-shelf Reserve model's optional 19-inch alloys. The profile is also nice work, with a clever bone-line crease originating in the headlamps that diminishes just above the front door handle only to reappear and gain definition anew above the rear handle. Combined with the narrowing greenhouse (which is wholly different from The Blue Oval Model That Shall Not Be Named) and an elegant piece of tapered rocker panel brightwork, the eye is subtly drawn around the rear of the vehicle to the liftgate. It's that hydroformed clamshell that literally and figuratively seals the deal, though. Not only is it an elegant piece of metalsmithing, it allows for a rear graphic that's uninterrupted by shutlines, giving Lincoln's trademark long-band taillamps the room to stretch out, wrapping 'round the corners and emphasizing the vehicle's width. This is a thoughtful, 360-degree design. Mercifully, the same can be said of the interior. With a minimalist, uncluttered aesthetic furthered by the absence of a traditional gearshift lever and boasting sweeping expanses of real wood and aluminum trim, the MKC's cabin is a very nice place to be, particularly when fitted with our Reserve tester's panoramic moonroof, which helped keep its ebony interior from being too dreary. It's worth mentioning that low-gloss, open-pore timber again for a moment. That elongated piece on the passenger side? It's slightly concave, making it the …
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