* Model: Lincoln MKC
* Exterior color: White Platinum Metallic
* Interior color: Hazelnut
* Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged
* Horsepower: 240
* Transmission: six-speed automatic
* Fuel economy: 29 miles per gallon highway, 20 mpg city
* Dealer: Mountain View Ford Lincoln
* Price (as tested): $41,675
Talk about striking when the iron is hot. The new Lincoln MKC luxury compact crossover is arriving just in time to capitalize on a red-hot market segment.
Empty-nesters and young, affluent buyers seem to have discovered that when it comes to SUVs, small does not mean chintzy. In fact, an easy-to-park little crossover turns out to be perfect for customers who don't need to worry about second-row knee- and hip-room because 99 percent of the time there are no actual knees or hips in the back seat.
Auto analysts expect the market for small- and mid-size SUVs to increase about 12 percent a year through 2015, according the the Wall Street Journal, which is more than twice the rate of growth expected for all new cars and trucks combined. BMW's success with its X1 small SUV, as well as brisk sales of Buick's new Encore, show that luxury "cute-utes" are gaining market traction. Lexus introduces its NX compact SUV later this year.
Meanwhile, the MKC represents a roll of the dice that those looking for a Ford Escape-sized vehicle can be enticed to step up to the luxury-packed MKC for about a third more money. A base MKC stickers for $33,100, while the cheapest Escape starts at $22,61o.
Our test vehicle this week was a striking White Platinum Metallic MKC from Mountain View Ford Lincoln provided by sales consultant Kent Gordon. Our well-equipped tester has a sticker price of $41,675.
STYLING AND FEATURES
Sometimes a car is designed so that the focal point is unmistakable, and so it is with the MKCs super-sharp grille; the best ever example of Lincoln's flying wing design.
Still, it's the MKCs hind parts that are attracting more attention in the automotive press; specifically a clam-shell rear hatch that wraps around the rear corners of the vehicle. The design, which fully integrates the taillights into the lift gate, magically eliminates unsightly shut lines from the rear of the car. Whole articles have been written about this bold design, which gives the vehicle a tailored, seamless look. To my eye, the MKC is easily the best looking SUV available not parked at an Audi dealership.
Our test car's White Platinum Metallic paint has a pearl-like luminescence that's well worth the $695 price bump. Inside, comfortable (but snug) seats are trimmed in Hazelnut colored leather, think light brown.
These high-end furnishings mesh well with the uncluttered dash, which includes push-button gear selectors lined up vertically just to the right of the steering column. There are only two dials on the center stack, with other infotainment and climate functions controlled by three horizontal rows of buttons.
As is typical in this size segment, rear-seat leg room is modest -- but that's why they call it a compact. Our tester came with heated and ventilated front seats. It takes the seat coolers a couple of minutes to kick in, but once they do the feature is much-appreciated on a scorching, 90-degree day. Ah!
Standard equipment on the MKC includes heated mirrors, LED taillights, dual zone climate controls, remote keyless entry, active noise control and remote start.
Our tester layers a $6,925 options packaged on the the base price of $33,100. Notable options include a panoramic sunroof, voice-controlled navigation, blindside and cross-traffic safety alert system and a hands-free liftgate.
The new MKC comes with two turbocharged, four-cylinder engine options: a 2.0-liter and a 2.3-liter. Our tester is a 2.0-liter model, which makes and ample 240 horsepower. There is just a bit of turbo lag, but once the engine gathers itself, straight-line acceleration is impressive. We didn't drive a 2.3-liter, 275-horsepower model, but expect it to be a couple of ticks faster 0-60 mph with a corresponding dip in fuel efficiency.
On our test drive on Interstate-24, the MKC darted through mid-day traffic. It's silky six-speed automatic transmission makes shifts almost imperceptible. As befits it's luxury status, the MKC offers a quiet, compliant ride that feels downright sporty.
The government says you can expect a 2.0-liter MKC to average 29 mpg in highway driving, and 20 mpg in stop-and-go city driving. All-wheel-drive is optional.
A decade ago, when the compact luxury SUV segment was virtually non-existent, most buyers who didn't need family-sized haulers automatically defaulted to sedans.
Not any more. The new American aesthetic involves refining the all-purpose SUV model for every need, and the MKC indeed shows that luxury car makers are finally getting the message.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.