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Review

Can the MKC save Lincoln?

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In the US market, a compelling crossover SUV is absolutely essential to the success of a modern maker of luxury cars. Lexus has some fine choices, as do BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Acura, Infiniti and Volvo. Lincoln... Not so much. Until now, that is. The suave new MKC brings fresh lines – and fresh thinking – to a crowded segment.

Following the lead of BMW and Audi, whose entry-level X3 and Q5 models feature turbocharged four-cylinder engines, Lincoln gave the base MKC a 240-horsepower 2-litre EcoBoost engine. A 2.3-litre turbo four is optional, producing a healthy 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. Notably absent (for now, at least), are six-cylinder gasoline, turbo-diesel and gasoline-electric hybrid options.

And yet, there is much to like in the MKC’s top engine. Acceleration is brisk and fuel economy is acceptable. The car makes use of noise-cancelling technology to smooth over the four-cylinder engine’s less refined moments. And happily, the system works as intended, effectively mitigating engine noise at idle and during hard acceleration. Occupants are never reminded what sort of engine lies under the hood. On the road, the MKC delivers exemplary ride comfort and splendid control over bumps and around curves. All good news.

The MKC’s biggest hurdle is the excellence of its rivals. Its pricing and fuel efficiency are on par with those of some known commodities, including the X3 and the Q5, so the American upstart may have some difficulty attracting notice among the clamour of a noisy, contentious market. (Maybe Lincoln's engineers can turn out some special market noise cancellation technology that will help clear those obstacles as effectively as its interior cancellation pacifies the MKC's cabin.)

And Lincoln itself is in crisis at the moment, following a period when the brand was known most for a model that consumers rarely bought: the archaic Town Car sedan, once the darling of livery drivers and funeral directors in the US, which was discontinued after the 2011 model year. The company's new goal is to become known as a purveyor of refined, comfortable luxury cars without any racetrack pretense. It will demur from an arms race with would-be German rivals who benchmark their cars against one another with lap times. The modern Lincoln aims to deliver simple dynamic precision with a relaxed ambiance.

The approach is one taken by Volvo, whose lovely S60 sedan routinely loses stopwatch-based magazine competitions yet remains a sublimely refined long-distance weapon. Lincoln’s current MKZ sedan was a half-step in this direction, but the MKC fulfills the mission more completely. And the company plans to replace its larger MKX crossover and MKS full-size sedan with new models that raise the luxury bar even further.

In the MKC, that bar is pretty high. Consider the use of gorgeous open-pore wood trim and sumptuous leather upholstery from famed purveyor Bridge of Weir. Likewise, the MKC's crisp sheetmetal and sophisticated exterior lighting exude cool modernity, which should help bring the MKC to the attention of drivers who have otherwise largely forgotten Lincoln.

And in such company as the MKC keeps, getting noticed is half the battle.

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