All but abandoned when the domestic auto industry nearly collapsed a decade ago, Lincoln was given a reprieve – with enough funding to bring six new models to the road. That included its first-ever compact crossover, the MKC. Targeting the likes of the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40, Lincoln’s smallest-ever CUV delivered some real surprises while hinting that more good things might follow.
This past year, Ford Motor Co.’s luxury brand has followed through, notably with the Aviator, a three-row utility vehicle that has been winning great reviews while landing a spot among semi-finalists for North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. Now comes the third new CUV of the past 12 months, the 2020 Lincoln Corsair.
The replacement for the original MKC gets more than just a new name (which helps nail shut the coffin on Ford’s disliked alpha naming strategy). Corsair shares the same, basic, all-new architecture used for the 2020 Ford Escape. But don’t think this is just a gussied-up version of the new Blue Oval crossover. From its integral bushings rear suspension, to the double-firewall noise insulation, from its adaptive dampers to the 14-speaker Revel audiophile system, Lincoln engineers have made sure that the 2020 Corsair truly fits into the luxury category.
That said, if the new model catches your eye, you can expect to pay a premium price. The 2020 Lincoln Corsair starts at out at just under $39,000 with its “base” 2.0-liter turbo and front-wheel-drive. Load up the top-line Reserve with a 2.3-liter turbo punching power out to all-four wheels and it will slip through the $60,000 mark. To add a little perspective, the base Lincoln Nautilus starts at around $41,000, while the new Aviator’s starting MSRP is just over $51,000.
So, is the Corsair worth the price? That was what we intended to find out as we spent a day driving a circuitous route from San Francisco down to the Monterey Peninsula last week.
The decision to use a single, underlying architecture for both Escape and Corsair is no surprise. It’s a strategy most manufacturers, including Audi’s parent Volkswagen Group, today use. The test is to find out just how much the two models have been differentiated. In the case of the compact Ford and Lincoln crossovers, the answer is: substantially.
Visually, they’re no longer near-twins. The Corsair is both longer and wider than the latest-generation Escape and has more visual sculpting, especially with the side panels that adopt a subtle Coke-bottle flair. The hood bears a gentle power bulge that smoothly rounds into the now-standard Lincoln grille, here framed with cats-eye LED headlamps.
The look is “meant to seduce you,” suggested Kemal Curic, the brand’s new design chief, not “attack you.” That’s all part of Lincoln’s decision not to try to mimic its German rivals but to create its own visual and engineering language, dubbed “Quiet Flight.”
To back that up, the engineering team led by John Jraiche put a premium on eliminating road, wind and engine noise. That involved both minor and major efforts, starting with the double-layer firewall that normally is found only on the most premium of luxury models, as well as the active noise cancellation system. More subtle steps included mounting the side mirrors on the door body panels, rather than where side window vents used to go. Some of the moves, such as the sculpting of the rear spoiler, also enhanced aerodynamics, paying off doubly in the form of improved mileage.
Inside, the 2020 Corsair adopts the new cabin language seen on the bigger Aviator, a broad, horizontal layout that enhances the perception of width and roominess. The material choices are more elegant and upscale than with the old MKC. The “floating” console is one of the interior’s nicer details.
Small CUVs often seem to struggle to fit into the luxury category. The pricing of the new Corsair is driven by the features that are available, including 24-way massaging seats up front and the sliding second-row seats. Incidentally, while the new Lincoln has a smaller wheelbase than the Acura RDX, the Detroit automaker manages to give Corsair a roomier rear. The Lincoln still manages to offer plenty of cargo space, especially when factoring in the underfloor storage compartment.
Lincoln hopes to win back traditional buyers who’ve migrated to imports over the years, while also attracting affluent younger customers considering the brand for the first time. One way to go after Gen-Xers and Millennials is with high-tech content. And there’s plenty, including that Revel system, Apple CarPlay, plenty of USB ports and a head-up display not only larger than most but also bright enough to view while wearing polarized sunglasses. One of our favorite touches is the use of sound effects recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra rather than conventional warning buzzers and chimes.
From a safety standpoint, the Corsair comes stock with the Lincoln Co-Pilot 360 advanced driver assistance system, including Blind Spot Detection with Cross-Traffic Alert, Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, a Lane-Keeping System, Rear View Camera and Auto High-Beam Headlamps. The upgraded Co-Pilot 360 Plus adds features like Traffic Jam Assist, Lane Centering and Speed Sign Recognition.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, meanwhile, a motorist can dial in five distinct Drive Modes, including “Excite,” the Quiet Flight equivalent of Sport Mode. Each option controls a variety of vehicle functions, including transmission gearing, adaptive damping – if installed – and throttle response.
Corsair launches with two powertrain packages, both carried over from the old Lincoln MKC. The “base” 2.0-liter turbo-four now makes 250 horsepower – five more than before — and 280 pound-feet of torque. And it now gets an EPA mileage rating of 23 city, 29 highway and 25 combined in front-wheel-drive models, 22/29/24 with all-wheel-drive.
The upgrade is a 2.3-liter turbo rated at 295 hp and 310 lb-ft. Horsepower is actually down five from the outgoing MKC – but torque is up 5 lb-ft. Only offered in all-wheel-drive, it’s rated at 21/28/24 mpg.
While not the most powerful options in the class, both are quite sporty and should more than meet the expectations of most potential buyers. We spent most of our day behind the wheel of the Corsair 2.3T AWD Reserve. The engine, paired with an eight-speed automatic, readily responds to driver inputs, especially in Excite Mode. In line with the Quiet Flight concept, there’s relatively little engine noise with the 2.3-liter package. We’d actually invite just a bit more to underscore the power it delivers.
Despite offering 45 less hp and 30 lower lb-ft of torque, the 2.0-liter turbo is a more than acceptable alternative. It is a little louder, ironically, under wide-open throttle, but it’s a refined tune, not the buzzy sound we get from many smaller turbo-fours.
Incidentally, Lincoln hasn’t formally confirmed details, but a plug-in hybrid package is coming early next year. While smaller than the PHEV powertrain found on the three-row Lincoln Aviator it will echo the emphasis on performance, though it also will be the most fuel-efficient model in the Corsair mix.
The all-wheel-drive package offered on Corsair is rear-biased and can completely disconnect the front driveshaft to send up to 100% of torque to the back axle. That helps enhance the sporty feel of the Corsair under aggressive driving, something we had the chance to experience on the back roads weaving through redwood country south of San Francisco.
Steering proved precise, cornering quite predictable, with surprisingly little body roll. If we had any complaint it was that the Corsair ride could get a little harsh on some types of rough pavement, though it was, overall, nimble and quite comfortable. Given the option, we’d clearly prefer to equip our crossover with the adaptive damping package.
On the whole, the Corsair lives up to the promises of Lincoln to deliver a truly competitive compact crossover. Whether you like a sporty ride, a quiet cabin, solid handling or lots of technology, the 2020 model comes through.
The one challenge that Lincoln faces is pricing. Fully loaded, the 2020 Corsair is one of the more expensive models in its class and even the base model carries a premium compared to the Audi Q3, starting at $34,700, and the Acura RDX at $37,600. There are some other pluses that could enhance the CUV’s selling proposition, including the various services the brand has added, including pickup and delivery when it’s time for service.
Ford’s premium brand may have some challenges getting buyers to give the 2020 Lincoln Corsair a look-over, but based on the overall experience, we’d say the Detroit CUV is a good value and, more than worth checking out.