The Lincoln MKC concept crossover could be the brand's next shot at relevance, but it likely will have to wait another year--until at least spring of 2014--to make the transition from Detroit Auto Show dream to showroom reality.
The MKC is the Ford Motor Company brand's version of the compact crossover introduced recently for the 2013 model year. The Escape has been both widely praised for its handling and design--and noted for a series of early recalls, including two related to a fire risk with its available 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Lincoln guesses that there's still potential in a crowded market niche that's been created and populated heavily by established luxury brands for the better part of the past decade. More new nameplates are on the way, too. Compact to mid-size crossovers like the Audi Q5, Acura RDX and Cadillac SRX are in or approaching their second generations, while newer, smaller entries like the Buick Encore will have had a year or more head-start on the eventual production version of the MKC.
Part of the plan to mint new buyers: sell Lincoln MKCs to China, where the Ford brand will set up shop in the second half of 2014 on a limited basis.
Distinguishing the MKC from the Ford Escape takes the concept version down the same path as the larger MKX and its near-twin, the Ford Edge. It's the same issue confronted more recently by The Car Connection's Best Car To Buy 2013, the new Ford Fusion, and the resulting spin-off Lincoln MKZ sedan. The MKC has to look different enough to command the price premium of the Lincoln nameplate, while keeping mechanical changes to a minimum.
From a styling perspective, the MKC carries on the MKX's look, with some subtle evolution, though it's hard to miss the generic crossover shape behind the winged grille, and in front of the thin ribbon of taillamps. With its low stance and trim grille, the MKC Concept owes as much to the Infiniti FX as it does to any of its current stablemates, especially on its concept-special 20-inch wheels. Just as in the MKZ, the MKC Concept's cockpit is mostly notable for what's not there: a conventional shift lever, left behind for pushbutton controls and a touchscreen-dominated interface--the place where the complex MyLincoln Touch infotainment system will live.
As for any details on performance, Lincoln declines to provide those--but if the MKZ sedan gives any clues, we're expecting both the 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinders from the Escape to be available. While the MKZ gets a V-6 unavailable on the Fusion, it's unlikely the Lincoln MKC will get a non-four-cylinder powertrain, but it's feasible that the hybrid powertrain from the related 2013 Ford C-Max could bow on the production version. All-wheel drive is expected to be an option.
All those predictions are based on the assumption that the MKC Concept makes it to dealers next year. Lincoln's sales fell last year to just 82,150 vehicles from a high of more than 200,000 vehicles a decade ago--a total about one-third of that of sales at brands like BMW and Mercedes. Lincoln attributes the 4-percent fall in 2012 to the loss of perennial fleet models like the Town Car, though other near-luxury brands watched their sales rebound. It's banking on the MKZ sedan to begin to turn its sales numbers around, but the MKZ launch has lagged, with cars just now reaching some dealers.
It's a safe bet the MKC will show up on a lot near you next year--but whether it can carve out a bigger niche for the brand, with entries like the Mercedes GLA and Audi Q3 on the way, isn't nearly as clear.