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Over the past several years, Ford Motor Company has made tremendous strides in transforming its business from one plagued with financial instability and uncertainty to one of record profits. At the center of the turnaround effort was the Ford brand, which underwent a product overhaul as part of its “One Ford” plan. Changes to Ford’s corporate culture led to achievements including the reduction of the number of its global platforms and the development of the company’s acclaimed EcoBoost engines, both of which helped set the foundation for the Blue Oval’s future success. Now with many of Ford’s troubles in the rearview mirror, the organization hopes to recreate the same magic that saved its marquee brand to revive its luxury division, The Lincoln Motor Company. With the arrival of the first-ever Lincoln MKC compact utility at dealerships this month, the luxury brand is making its strongest case that it has changed for the better and deserves to be a part of the conversation.

Last week, I visited Santa Monica, California to participate in the 2015 Lincoln MKC Guidebook Event where I had the opportunity to drive and compare the new MKC with the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Q5 and Acura RDX. Cognizant of the high level of competition it’s up against, the Lincoln team didn’t cut any corners to develop a vehicle that could measure up to the high standard set by this group of luxury CUVs. The challenge for Lincoln was convincing those in attendance that It’s truly making a concerted effort with the MKC to change the public’s perception of its ability to be a relevant luxury brand. Upon seeing the vehicle in person, however, it became apparent that there was something different about it that made it stand out from its Lincoln siblings.

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While the success of any vehicle design is conditional on subjectivity, I found the size and shape of the MKC to be quite pleasing, with fluid lines and curves not dissimilar to many European exteriors. The attractiveness of Lincoln’s signature split wing grille is in the eye of the beholder, but the new wrap-around liftgate displays a uniquely stylish form that is created using a hydroforming process as opposed to a traditional stamping process. Overall, the new Lincoln CUV captures an upscale look and feel that has eluded many of the brand’s products in the past, but what helps it stand out most among its competitors is a high-class interior that rivals any in its segment.

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With a sleek, clean look throughout its interior, the MKC has an inviting cabin that is remarkably comfortable, particularly because it is swathed in leather that is baked for 18 hours – six times the industry average – to achieve newfound levels of softness. The implementation of an intuitive push-button gear shifter also improves ergonomics and produces a sense of roominess unmatched by other models in the segment. Control knobs and buttons on the center stack feel nice to the touch and exude high quality like the rest of the materials inside the vehicle, including real wood trim ranging from matte to semi-gloss. Ultimately, though, words on a page can only do so much to describe how impressive a job Lincoln has done with the inside of the MKC. Lincoln’s new interior design is a welcome addition that will be seen in all of the brand’s future products, but only after people see it in person will they be able to appreciate it the way it deserves.

As far as driving dynamics go, I had the opportunity to drive the MKC and its competitors up the Pacific Coast Highway and through the canyons of Malibu where the Lincoln performed admirably. While the MKC’s powertrain options don’t blow the competition away as far as technical specs go, they proved to be more than satisfactory and certainly held their own against the German offerings. Also, the MKC handled quite well and was arguably faster through sharp turns than many of the other vehicles, inspiring confidence among the drivers. Although performance capabilities are not as important in the luxury CUV segment as they are in others, the fact that the MKC holds its ground shows that Lincoln did not focus on the vehicle’s styling while overlooking its engineering.

In a vacuum, the Lincoln MKC is a quality luxury automobile in many ways, but the comparison tests with its leading competitors demonstrated that it’s very much in the mix, particularly compared to the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi models. When considering pricing, the MKC will be very competitive and should become even more attractive with regards to packaging and content. The challenge, however, will be persuading prospective buyers into giving the MKC a shot, disregarding the prestige provided by a German badge. In the end, the MKC’s success will likely be determined by how much of a premium consumers are willing to pay for brand reputation, but those willing to take a chance on Lincoln will undoubtedly be rewarded.