by Gabe Beita Kiser
While Cadillac recovers from the financial disaster of building too many German-like sedans at a time when the market was gaining a preference for SUVs, Lincoln is hard at work bringing its name back into the spotlight by turning the clock back and searching for the all-American glory it possessed in the post-war years. To recapture the magic, Lincoln had to buck its letter-filled naming convention, a precedent set by German manufacturers and adopted by the rest of the luxury automakers, and personalize its vehicles with more memorable titles from its heyday. It started by ridding its lineup of confusing denominations like MKX, a mid-size SUV that's now known as the Nautilus, and MKC, a baby crossover that brings the Corsair moniker back from the annals of Ford history for 2019.
Loaded with two turbocharged four-cylinder engines-a 2.0-liter making 250 horsepower and 2.3-liter that cranks out 295 ponies-the Corsair brings Ford's storied luxury brand one step closer to conquering a segment inhabited by the likes of the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and Cadillac XT4. But packaging is only part of the battle. The other part involves making drastic changes that improve quality and alter the perception that Matthew McConaughey's favorite automaker does little more than sell Fords with stretched crosshair badges.
Lincoln's aim to incorporate design elements from its past without straying from the constraints of the C2 platform the Corsair shares with the Ford Escape can be seen all around the body. The huge shiny grille up front is the capstone of that effort, and it's bordered by a pair of downward-sloping LED headlights that are pushed away to widen the front end. The grille is then complimented by equally shiny wheels and trim pieces emblazoned with the Corsair name that sit below each of the side mirrors. While black A, B, C, and D pillars help give the roof the impression that it's floating above the passengers' heads, it's connected to the visual mass of the base by chrome trim that borders the side windows and breaks at the D-pillar to form an elongated C. Gradual creases on the hood and body help fill in the Corsair's blank spaces with surfaces that bend the light in an elegant manner without making the design look too busy.
The single taillight strip at the rear calls back to the MKC's, albeit with a much classier look that's achieved by thinning out the lights and smoothening their edges. Our main complaint with the exterior, however, is that the bottom of the rear clamshell hatch doesn't connect with the upper end of the rear bumper, reveling a large gap between the two when seen from a standing angle.
Lincoln gave us a chance to drive each of the Corsair's two available engines, allowing us the time to gain an appreciation for both. Only 45 horsepower separate the 2.0-liter from the 2.3-liter, and the discrepancy in output drops to 30 ft-lbs when looking at torque figures. The 2.3-liter is the obvious choice for drivers who live for the passing lane. With 310 ft-lbs of torque coming in after a half-second intermission from the turbocharger, the Corsair's four wheels claw the pavement and achieve a 0-60 mph sprint in 6.6 seconds. The only available transmission, an 8-speed automatic with a push-button shifter, does a wonderful job of quickly finding the right gear and shifting without drama-though it tends to seek higher gears during spirited hill climbs, even in Excite mode (Lincoln's version of Sport mode), causing it to do the downshift and upshift dance with too much zeal.
And perhaps because there was no time to pilot a front-wheel drive Corsair (all-wheel drive is an option with the 2.0-liter and standard on the 2.3-liter) when it came time to drive the 2.0, the smaller engine seemed to mimic the 2.3's rapid power delivery and strained only slightly at the top end. With either engine, it's hard to go wrong. The 2.0-liter's 280 ft-lbs of torque help it pull ahead easily and ensures that it never feels handicapped when compared to its larger counterpart, but the 2.3-liter hardly sees any losses in the fuel economy department due to the extra displacement. It averaged an impressive 22 mpg during our time with it despite our best attempts to peer pressure it into chugging more fuel. What's more, the 2.3-liter's fuel economy ratings hardly differ from the AWD 2.0-liter's. It matches the smaller engine's 24 mpg combined and 21 mpg city, with the 2.3-liter's 28 mpg highway rating falling short of the 2.0-liter's by a single mpg. The front-wheel drive Corsair maintains the 2.0-liter AWD's highway rating and only bests its city and combined ratings by 1 mpg.
Before Lincoln ditched its three-letter naming convention, its interiors could be rightfully accused of taking too much inspiration from the Fords on which they were based. But the brand has grown drastically since then. The push-button shifter is still present on the dashboard, but rather than being made of cheap plastic like the MKC's, the Corsair's features metal buttons that feel heavy to the touch. Yes, the wood trim is still fake, and it's easy to find the cheap plastic bits if one's hand strays below the knee level or ahead of the center-mounted 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, but most of the touch points are made of leather or metal, and those that are plastic feel rigid and aren't wobbly like the buttons in Lincolns with three-letter denominations. The cabin environment is also drastically different than the MKC's. Rather than feeling like a high-trim Ford's with a different dashboard, Corsair passengers are treated to the impression that they're driving an actual Lincoln, complete with a retro-looking central air vent and plenty of chrome trim.
Even the simplistic nature of the digital gauge cluster-which is kept free of distracting and unimportant text and relies on soothing graphics to convey information, or SYNC 3's new color scheme that, unlike in previous Lincolns, does not assault the eyes with an intense shade of orange-brown-go a long way towards helping a driver emerge from the cabin with the sense of being invigorated. But the real difference comes from how the Corsair's interior catches many of the decibels coming in from the outside world before they reach an occupant's ears. Whether accelerating at full tilt or coasting over bad roads, the Corsair does a fantastic job of keeping the plebeian sounds of a rough world outside.
Hiding underneath the Corsair's inoffensive and creased sheetmetal are exterior dimensions that give the interior room to fill out the crossover's bones. A length of 180.6 inches leaves plenty of room for the 106.7-inch wheelbase and the 27.6 cubic feet of trunk space (57.6 cubic feet with the second row stowed) resting over the rear axle. The panoramic roof does cut down on headroom-the front seats get 39.5 inches and the rears get 38.7-but legroom is plentiful up front and far from constricting at the rear, with measurements coming out to 43.2 inches and 38.6 inches respectively.
At the core of the Corsair's quest for refinement (as well as one of the biggest ways it differs from the larger Nautilus) is the way this crossover handles. In part because it shares its C2 platform with nimble machines like the Ford Focus, the Corsair dealt with the winding roads of San Mateo County's Skyline Boulevard far better than its badge or body style advertises. While the insulated cabin is not the place to be if you want any sort of feedback from the road, the Corsair's commands feel alive and ready for play as soon as the road gets twisty. The adaptive suspension is soft and travels a few inches before finding a point at which it becomes a backstop, allowing the crossover to dig into the corners. While it's tough to feel where the front tires are pointing using the steering wheel, the Corsair changes direction predictably relative to steering input, taking out some of the guesswork. In short, it's very easy to get used to how the Corsair steers. And just like every luxury car should, the Corsair's steering doesn't feel darty, allowing a straight line to be maintained easily.
The braking system, whether used in the city or on the back roads, left us wishing that the pedal was a little less touchy and more progressive since its sharp cut-in makes for jerky stops. Though it's easy to modulate the throttle and dial power in or out once the turbos are spooled, the latency period between throttle input and engine response is longer than optimal-sometimes because of the turbo and other times because of the transmission-but Ford still does a better job than most of its turbocharged counterparts in this area. Overall, the Corsair's driving style surprises and inspires. It's comfortable but engaged, much like German luxury cars are. But rather than try to copy the Germans like Cadillac, Lincoln took traditional American luxury car handling and evolved it so that it still delivers cushy and detached feedback while facilitating a feeling of connection to the road. In day-to-day commuting, the Corsair fades into the background so that driving becomes a mindless task, and that's a sentiment that's aided by the important features, like Lincoln's Co-Pilot360 Plus, to the lesser ones, like Phone As A Key, which allows drivers to leave their key fobs at home.
Getting behind the wheel of the Corsair is not a feat one needs to be ultra-wealthy to partake in. Even with that status-boosting grille, it's possible to snag a Corsair for as little as $36,940 including destination. That, of course, would be the base front-wheel drive Standard-trimmed Corsair equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo engine. Moving up to all-wheel drive from any point in the lineup costs $2,200, while the available 2.3-liter turbo engine requires shelling out an extra $1,140. Moving up to the Standard I trim from Standard is a short $1,400 walk, but migrating from Standard I to Reserve costs a not-so-tiny $5,285. For that, you get features like ambient lighting, navigation, the vista panoramic roof, a 14-speaker Revel audio system, 19-inch wheels, and an automatic liftgate. Stepping up to Reserve I for the Co-Pilot360 Plus system costs $3,400, while going from there to the range-topping Reserve II trim, which can only be had with the 2.3-liter, means spending an extra $6,890 over the AWD Reserve I for a total of $56,115.
Given that Lincoln leaves some of the Reserve II's extras, like the Premium package, adaptive suspension system, heads-up display, 24-Way Perfect Position Seats, Reserve appearance package, and technology package on the options menu, it's possible to simply buy a lower-trim Corsair and add your desired features to save the bank account.
The lens of prejudice is a distorting one, because though a negative bias towards American luxury vehicles used to be a good way to avoid buying a subpar car, the Corsair is proof that maybe it's time we get a new prescription. In the past, the only way to justify parting with a mild five-figure sum for a Lincoln was if you had an affinity for the brand, if you were Matthew McConaughey, or if you were running a Town Car service. Put simply, if you had around $40,000-$50,000 to spend on new car, the Lincoln dealership was the last place you wanted to be caught. The Corsair challenges that rule by checking all the right boxes. It's comfortable, looks and feels upscale, doesn't abuse the parts bin like Lincoln's of yore, comes properly equipped to handle a corner, drives like the engineers took the time to learn about the driver, and has a powertrain that feels mostly refined and packs plenty of power.
In hitting these targets, the Corsair puts Lincoln back into a playing field it used to be a heavyweight contender in. It's become a crowded playing field in recent years, with everyone from Jaguar and Mercedes to Cadillac and Lexus vying for market share, but the Corsair has a shot. If Lincoln can keep this momentum into the future, then the Corsair could be the car that revitalizes Lincoln.