The latest iteration of the Lincoln Motor Company is starting to take shape with the unveiling of the second new vehicle in its range, the MKC. A compact, luxury crossover, the MKC is not what you’d expect from a company best known for building Town Cars and Presidential limousines.

Whether through the genius of foresight or a stroke of luck, the MKC which was shown in concept form at the 2013 North American International Auto show, couldn’t be hitting showrooms at a better time. The market for smaller luxury cars is booming and this car fits squarely into that trend. Designed to compete with the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, the MKC faces stiff competition.

The MKC’s balanced exterior design isn’t a show-stopper, but its lines are well drawn and fluid. Highlights include an excellent expression of the Lincoln signature split-wing grille and a single piece, wrap-around liftgate. The low roof height, wider stance and 19-inch wheels give it an aggressive look that hint at what should be a more sporting feel than is usual for Lincoln.

Another unique feature for the MKC is approach detection. Using wireless technology embedded in the car and the key fob, the MKC knows when the driver is nearing the vehicle and turns on several lights, welcoming the driver and passengers to the vehicle. These include soft lights in each door handle, the front and rear parking lamps, warm interior lighting and illuminated “welcome mats” projected on the ground by each front door from LED lights embedded in the side view mirrors.

One of the knocks on Lincoln vehicles recently is that they have been little more than “fancy Fords,” sharing significant mechanicals dolled up with a dash of leather and chrome. The MKC is a dramatic departure from this practice.

While the MKC began its life on the same platform on which the Escape is built, that’s where the similarity between the two vehicles ends. The platform itself has been widened to create more interior room and help with ride dynamics. The Continuously Controlled Damping suspension is a Lincoln exclusive and allows the driver to adjust the suspension from sport to comfort and normal driving modes, based on the desired dynamic. The MKC also sports an all-new ABS braking system and more significantly will have an exclusive powertrain.

The MKC will feature an optional 2.3L Ecoboost engine that is projected to deliver 275 HP and 300 lb. ft. of torque. These numbers should give it the highest horsepower per liter in its class. The torque number should also deliver excellent acceleration, but we won’t know for sure until we get to drive the vehicle next spring. Available in all-wheel drive with vectoring that biases toward the rear wheels, the MKC should be able to handle the elements and still provide an enjoyable driving dynamic.

Inside the MKC is well-designed and well-crafted. The two-tone color scheme is dramatic without being gaudy and the materials are well-chosen for a vehicle that hopes to attract buyers from BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. The open pore, real wood panels add a warm touch to the interior and are nicely matched. The Scottish Bridge of Weir leather seats are supportive, comfortable and meticulously sewn.

With plenty of room up front to accommodate my 6’3″ frame, the steering wheel and controls fall readily to hand. Though it will still take me a while to get used to the push-button transmission, I do appreciate the openness it creates in the smaller cabin. The other delightful surprise was to find both tuning and volume knobs on the audio control panel. It’s nice to see a manufacturer understand that new and different aren’t always better. And for my money this is the most intuitive, effective and efficient way to control a radio.

All in all, the MKC is both surprising and promising especially at an announced starting price of $33,995. According to Jim Farley, EVP, Global Marketing, Sales and Service at Lincoln, that’s the point “The idea with the MKC was to challenge what people think of Lincoln and use it to create a more relevant and modern brand.”

While the design and content seem to be exactly what drivers in this segment are looking for, the proof is always in the driving. That should happen some time this spring. The MKC is expected to hit dealer showrooms in June of 2014. Once we’ve had some time behind the wheel, we’ll render our final verdict.

2015 Lincoln MKC