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Review: 2015 Lincoln MKC Black Label AWD

Lincoln is stepping up its game with the MKC Black Label.

The reintroduction of the Lincoln brand comes with many readjustments to the way business is conducted today. The 2015 Lincoln MKC Black Label AWD is a textbook example of the new style that is now in vogue. It was introduced right around the time actor and Lincoln spokesperson Matthew McConaughey began receiving payments to drive a Lincoln.

One of the brand's new hallmarks is the addition of the Black Label Studio. Designed to turn owners into members, it borrows directly from the Lexus playbook. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to the eye of the beholder, but still the Black Label Studio will offer personalized service including sales people showing up on your terms at your house, workplace or at the dealership.

The Black Label experience also offers themes, which include interior designs. Our MKC AWD was based on the Oasis theme that "evokes a desert spa sanctuary” through its cream and tan tones. Membership does have its privileges, too, as owners can receive free anytime car washes and annual car detailing.

What is it?The MKC Black Label is the high-zoot (Premium Utility Vehicle) version of the Lincoln brand's Compact Crossover Utility Vehicle. Four doors and a hatchback with room for five passengers, it is the same size but slightly different profile as its cousin the Ford Escape. Alongside the Lincoln MKZ, it is now on sale in China and accounts for around 70-percent of sales there.

Our tester was powered by the available 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine, with direct injection and variable twin-cam timing that produces V6 power from an inline four-cylinder package. Making 285-horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque, it features high-strength pistons with cooling jets for durability, and a cylinder head that incorporates its own exhaust manifold. Three-port pulse turbocharging also helps to eliminate turbo lag. Both engines are mated to a Selectshift six-speed automatic transmission, which can be operated in manumatic mode via steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers.

From a suspension standpoint, the MKC is equally slick. Using continuously controlled damping, sensors scan the road surfaces 46 times every two milliseconds, and depending on the driver-chosen parameters, can accommodate comfort, normal and sport settings for a personalized drive style. That combines with electric power-assisted steering to offer satisfying road feedback.

A lower-powered 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine is available with a buyer's choice of front- or all-wheel drive. Buyers of the top flight 2.3-liter EcoBoost receive the exclusive AWD option.

Other features help to separate the Black Label from the also rans: Approach detection projects the Lincoln logo on to the ground as a form of puddle light, while an ambient glow illuminates the interior. Additionally, ours was equipped with the "foot access” rear hatch that opens and closes with the sweep of a foot under the rear bumper. Sweep it open, and after stashing your loot, sweep it closed once again.

Park Out Assist joins Active Park Assist to help with chores of getting in and out of tight spaces. Adaptive cruise control is also along and can speed up or slow down as far as a stop, depending on the traffic in front of you. An audible alarm sounds if the sensors anticipate an imminent shunt, while lane keep assist keeps you within the stripes if and when you become inattentive.

What's it up against?Lincoln is shooting upwards, and aiming for targets that include the Range Rover Evoque, the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi's Q5, BMW's X3, and the Acura RDX. From just the leather alone, we'd say Lincoln is in the ballpark.

How does it look?The MKC starts with a robust platform that is shared with the Ford Escape in the states and the Ford Kuga elsewhere. But their respective bodies feature design cues, which separate them quite noticeably. Look past the rather obvious Lincoln winged grille, for example, and you'll notice the MKC's higher beltline while the roofline swoops down for a more aerodynamic, hunkering down look. LED running lights are on either side of the grille, which now features aero-tuned functional shutters.

While the standard MKC is fairly zooty to start with, the Black Label ups the quotient and features an abundance of chrome to accent the deep Chroma Couture premium paint. What color is that, you ask? We wondered the same thing, but in reality it's very close to dark brown metallic.

And the inside?We've always admired the interior of the standard MKC. In fact, we think it is one of the best interiors produced by the Blue Oval to date. Being a Black Label-spec model, Lincoln pulled out all the stops so the range-topping MKC features open pore wood trim as well as the Bridge of Weir Scottish leather, which has been polished and smoothed for a higher quality luster than skins found in other vehicles. Lincoln has been using that company as a leather supplier dating back to the 1950's. That's the upside. On the downside, we think the starter and gear selector buttons still appear rather cheap for a vehicle that aspires to luxury stature.

The adjustable driver and front passenger seats offered multiple adjustments for long-distance comfort. Active noise control is on board to cancel distracting sound waves. But the real sound waves we wanted to hear came from the THX II premium audio system. Pioneered by movie mogul George Lucas and his team, it even offers a test tone that is exactly like the THX bass note that you would hear before the start of a movie at the local cineplex. Kick back your seat recliner, turn the audio way up, push the button and enjoy. That alone is almost worth the price of admission.

The Ford Sync system with its eight-inch touchscreen returns along with the MyLincoln Touch connectivity suite to control navigation, telephone, entertainment and vehicle settings. They interface with an always-on embedded modem that connects smart phones with the MyLincoln mobile app, among others.

Inside there is plenty of safety equipment, including airbags located on every surface. So much so, it almost resembles a children's bounce house.

Cargo space is average for the segment, with 25.2-cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. Fold them forward, and the capacity grows to 53.1-cubic.

But does it go?From the start, it was love at first stab, of the accelerator, that is. The last time we encountered a 2.3-liter engine, it was motivating, or at least trying to motivate, a Ford Fairmont and Pinto. Worry not. This is not that engine. Instead we find a totally new, two-stage, turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine that thinks it's a V6. Talk about punching above it weight class. So good is this engine, that it also finds itself in the 2015 Mustang.

A strong starter, this Ecoboost pushes the nearly two-ton vehicle to a 0-60 time of 6.8-seconds, which is probably a tick off the pace of some of its six-cylinder competitors.

The Lincoln Drive Control allowed us to change the drive feel from the wallowy side-to-side lilt of the Normal setting, to the softer Comfort setting and finally the firmed-up Sport setting with its throttle remap and firming of the steering rack. Standard torque vectoring helped to make it more composed through the turns.

Offering a quiet ride thanks in part to active noise cancellation, our 3,989-pound Black Label MKC, according to the EPA, is capable of 18 city/26 highway. We averaged 21 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving.

Leftlane's bottom lineArguably Lincoln's most evolved vehicle to date, the MKC Black Label AWD pushes the brand closer to where it actually should be, if they want to play long in the luxury segment. Sure, there still may be just a little too much plastic inside, but through the use of other high-grade materials, it's clear that the designers and engineers, if not the higher-ups, actually do get it.

2015 Lincoln MKC Black Label AWD base price, $48,700. As tested, $57,500.Black Label Equipment Group, Chroma Couture Premium Metallic, $1,750; 2.3 Ecoboost engine, $1,140; THX Enhanced Audio System, $995; 20-inch Metallic Painted wheels, $1,145; Technology Package, $2,295; Climate package, $580; Destination, $895.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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