GROSSE POINTE SHORES, MI – Lincoln next summer will launch its new MKC small luxury CUV, a vehicle it says should perform well in one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments.

The ’15 MKC, the second new Lincoln vehicle planned to launch by 2016, will go head-to-head with segment stalwarts such as the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Lincoln officials also consider the larger Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Acura RDX as competition, as they’re expected to be cross-shopped against the MKC.

Matt VanDyke, director-Global Lincoln, says the small-luxury CUV segment has grown by leaps and bounds and shows no signs of slowing down.

“The segment in the U.S. is up 200% over the last five years and 60% over the last year,” he says during a media preview here, “and it’s still not a fully filled-out segment.”

VanDyke says Lincoln hosted consumer workshops in which participants were shown the design and features of the vehicles but were not told which brand they were. In those studies, the MKC consistently ranked first among top competitors.

“We’re excited about how we think consumers will view this vehicle after they know all the details,” he says. “The segment is on fire.”

Although the MKC will be based on Ford’s global C1 platform, which also underpins vehicles such as the Focus C-car and Escape CUV, the architecture has been modified to fit the design and powertrain requirements of the new Lincoln model.

“We widened the track on the car and pulled the suspension out,” says Lisa Drake, Lincoln chief engineer. “It’s a unique suspension front and rear, and the track width is about 1 in. (2.5 cm) wider than anything else off C1.”

In addition to the revamped suspension, the MKC gets a new 2.3L direct-injected 4-cyl. engine producing 275 hp and 300 lb.-ft. (406 Nm) of torque. Drake says Lincoln decided to offer a more powerful EcoBoost engine to keep pace with competitors.

To accommodate the 2.3L EcoBoost mill, Lincoln engineers designed a new cooling system, including the radiator, condenser and charged-air cooler. A new air-induction system also was added, as was a unique exhaust setup and high-pressure fuel injectors. 

The MKC with the optional 2.3L EcoBoost will come standard with all-wheel drive, while the base model with a 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cyl. engine producing 240 hp and 270 lb.-ft. (366 Nm) of torque also will be available in front-wheel drive.

The AWD system features Lincoln Drive Control, which allows drivers to select sport, comfort and normal drive modes. The system constantly monitors the road and can adjust the suspension within 20 milliseconds for a smooth ride.

MKC also offers a blindspot-monitoring system, and cross-traffic alert, which detects traffic as the vehicle backs from a parking space.

Max Wolff, director-Lincoln design, says when he started inking the MKC three years ago he wanted to create a vehicle that would stand out in a crowded segment.

The front end is adorned with Lincoln’s signature split-wing grille, while a high beltline and low shoulders make the vehicle appear well-planted.

“We did a whole bunch of work to get the proportions, stance and overall feeling right,” Wolff says. “This will be smallest car (in the Lincoln lineup), and probably the most youthful. So we really wanted to get that expression across in the exterior and interior styling.”

Perhaps the most distinctive exterior feature is the liftgate, which wraps around the side of the vehicle and incorporates the taillamps.

Drake says when Wolff came to her with the request for the liftgate she and her team “panicked,” as the piece couldn’t be formed using traditional stamping techniques.

“He challenged us to make this a feasible 1-piece stamped panel, and it has a lot of chamfering as well,” she says.

To fulfill Wolff’s designs, Drake enlisted the help of Canada-based supplier Amino, which created the panel using hydroforming, a type of stamping that utilizes liquids to create more complex shapes.

“It’s not a process that could be used for 500,000 panels, because it takes a lot of cycle time to do,” Drake says. “But we were fortunate to be able to combine that level of technology with the design direction.”

Another Lincoln exclusive is the MKC’s approach-detection technology, which senses when an owner is near and responds by illuminating the Lincoln symbol under the sideview mirrors, as well as the headlamps, taillamps and door handles.

“We’re finding a nice reaction to this from a safety and security perspective, because you don’t have to get all the way to the car (before the lights go on),” Drake says. “We want to turn the experience into something a bit different, and this is one of those elements.”

Inside, the MKC features Lincoln’s push-button transmission, first offered on the MKZ sedan, as well as Bridge of Weir leather seating surfaces with French stitching and real wood trim pieces.

The MKC will be made available with Lincoln’s recently announced Black Label interior packages, combining varied materials and colors to create a personalized appearance.

The ’15 Lincoln MKC is slated to begin production in second-quarter 2014 at Ford’s Louisville, KY, assembly plant. Vehicles will begin arriving at Lincoln dealerships next summer.

bpope@wardsauto.com