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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Testing the Lincoln MKC with my father: Small ute, big demands

YAHOO AUTOS                    

My dad was visiting a few weeks ago. The conversation turned to cars, as it always does when I talk to anybody these days. He’s been driving a Cadillac SRX since 2006.
“I finally got my recall notice,” he said.
“For what?” I said.
“The ignition switch.”
“Better take it in.”
“Eh,” he said. “I don’t have anything too heavy on my keychain.”
Fracking hell, I thought. He drives my mother around in that thing. He drives his dog, too. And my nieces and nephews. And occasionally my son. I’ve been in that car myself many times. There have been 36 deaths from GM’s faulty ignition switches, and hundreds of injuries. Those are only the confirmed ones.
“Dad, it’s not safe,” I said. “You need to take it in, and then you need to drive something else.”
“It needs new brakes and new tires,” he shrugged. “That’s an expensive proposition. But so’s a new car.”
Then, a little while later, he said, “What have you heard about that Lincoln MKC?”

I hadn’t heard much. Entry-level luxury CUVs are not exactly the kind of vehicle that car writers, or anyone else, buzz about. Still, I sensed an opening. My dad is a member of the last American generation that actually enjoys buying cars, and certainly the last one that would reflexively consider a Lincoln.
“I can get one if you want to try it out,” I said.
“If you can,” he said. “Sure.”

As soon as I could, I emailed my local Ford representative and inquired about the MKC. They had one available at the back end of November. And so over Thanksgiving week, I hauled it to Phoenix, 14 hours across the unforgiving desert, to try and make a sale and maybe save my father’s life.

Bernie’s car history is as unpredictable as the man himself: When he got out of Vietnam, he bought himself a badass green Pontiac GTO as his reward for surviving the war. That was the car of legend, and he drove it vigorously.

 Then I came along, followed closely by my sister. The GTO was reluctantly discarded in favor of a Chevy Impala. One afternoon, while driving down the street in Memphis, the Impala’s hood popped open and wouldn’t close. That was the end of the Impala.

In those days, my dad had a peculiar way of testing new cars. He would go to the dealer and slam the driver’s side door as hard as he could. On most '70s makes, that action would make the car shake so hard it looked like it was going to fall apart on the showroom floor. It was hardly the auto industry’s high-water era.

A visit to the Mercedes dealer proved fruitful, though. He slammed the driver’s door of a mammoth deep-blue 280. It wouldn’t close all the way. The door was an anvil. He had found his new car. The Mercedes 280 was one of the greatest models of all time. It lasted for 25 years and nearly 300,000 miles.

Then followed a few unmentionable vehicles, until Bernie leased a Lincoln Aviator. It got negative six miles to the gallon and was as big as a steamship. Everyone hated that car — but him. By then, he was pushing 60. He was a big man. Nothing took priority over size and comfort, and the Aviator was the most sizable and comfortable car he could find. Bernie loved his Lincoln.

 After the lease expired, Ford wouldn’t give him the buyout terms he liked, so he went over to the SRX, Cadillac’s first SUV. It was no Aviator, but it was acceptably large and inefficient.
Now, though, with imminent ignition failure looming, the time had come for something else.

2015 Lincoln MKC
2015 Lincoln MKC

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Bernie test-drove the MKC. He’d made a turkey dinner with fixings for the residents of my grandmother’s small nursing home, and he and I took the food over. He sat in the driver’s seat and reached for the gearshift. It wasn’t there. The MKC shifts via buttons on the dash, just to the right of the steering wheel.
“That’s weird,” he said.
He shuffled around in his seat.
“This is pretty small,” he said. “It’s a lot smaller than I expected. And it’s not very comfortable.”
Strike two.
As we moved down the street, the topic of comfort came up again. He squirmed and shuffled, like a business-class flyer forced into coach, or at least premium economy.
“Even the Acura MDX is more comfortable than this thing,” he said. “And certainly any Lexus. I drove your sister’s Honda Pilot yesterday and I thought that was more comfortable than this.”
I sat next to him and bit my nails nervously.
“Stop fidgeting, Neal,” he said. “I know how to drive.”
As we turned onto the main road, he dealt the final blow.
“They’re not targeting senior citizens with this car,” he said. “But it’s senior citizens who would buy a Lincoln.”
Later, though, he did add, “once you get used to it, it drives pretty easy.”
My wife and I put about 2,000 miles on that MKC, and my dad’s assessment pretty much holds up. It’s not particularly comfortable, but it does drive pretty easy. There’s also a decent stereo system, and, if you pay for the package, seat heaters and a moon roof. It has fake wood accents and door handles that light up and the usual stuff you pay for with entry-level luxury these days. The rear storage is pretty poor, the rear seating, pretty cramped, and the gas mileage so-so; we saw 24 mpg in mostly highway driving.
Base price was just over $35,000, but with all the options and taxes, the little MKC cost $48,000. This car’s just not worth that much money; If I were in that market, I would slam doors on the Lexus NX, BMW X3 or Mercedes GLA long before the Lincoln. It is, however, better than the Buick Encore.
After we delivered Thanksgiving dinner, I let my dad drive home. This final run didn’t much change his basic assessment of the MKC.
“Thank you,” he said to me. “Now we know.”
As we got out of the MKC, my mom said to us, “How’d you like the car?”
“Nope,” Bernie said. “We’re not getting one.”
Judgment had been rendered.
Maybe Lincoln wants to be a youth brand now, but if it ever decides to quit the McConaughey shilling and return to its core customer base, I know a guy in Phoenix who’d be happy if they just brought back the Aviator.