Lincoln’s slick Corsair flirts with boomers, escapes its predecessor

2020 Lincoln Corsair side profile

It’s easier to write a long letter than it is to write a short one—and it’s easier to make a big luxury car than it is to make a small one. Plenty of automakers have foundered on these particular shoals, from Cadillac (with the Cimarron) to Aston Martin (with the badge-engineered Cygnet). Even Lexus has occasionally struggled with the idea; the first-generation ES was assembled like a Grand Seiko but there was nothing particularly upscale about it, while the hybrid HS and CT all too frequently showed economy-car bones beneath translucent luxury skin.

With the occasional Versailles-shaped exception, Lincoln has long held itself above this particular fray, a diffidence assisted not inconsiderably by the long march upmarket of the blue-oval Ford brand beneath it. Like it or not, however, there’s simply too much market—and markup—in the compact side of the luxury SUV business nowadays, so everybody from Acura to Porsche has at least one iron in the fire. That now includes Lincoln, which has fielded the Escape-based MKC since the summer of 2014.

The arrival of a new Escape platform means there’s a chance to revolve the alphanumeric MKC into a properly-named Corsair, which debuted this morning at the New York Auto Show. As you’d expect, the Corsair translates Lincoln’s post-Continental vibe into the compact-crossover format, the same way the Navigator, Nautilus, and upcoming Aviator do for their own segments. If our early look at the vehicle is any indicator, however, Lincoln’s might have managed to build the first true luxury car in the mini-SUV space.

2020 Lincoln Corsair grille detail
2020 Lincoln Corsair wheel detail
2020 Lincoln Corsair 3/4 front parked
Lincoln
2020 Lincoln Corsair

Lincoln’s design director, David Woodhouse, quipped that the Corsair “looks like Monica Bellucci, not like… the Predator,” taking a good-natured swipe at the hyper-aggressive moon-lander-meets-alien styling of the class-leading Lexus NX F-Sport. In truth, the Corsair’s resemblance to Ms. Belliucci starts and ends at the remarkable (and, no doubt, expensive to produce) curvature of the body side stampings. The current corporate nose is more at home on the Continental or Aviator than it is on this modest FWD-platform crossover, while the gloss-black appliques on A- and C-pillar just look unfinished. Woodhouse refers to the Corsair’s silhouette as “anti-wedge”, and it is a bit of a welcome change compared to the relentlessly doorstop-shaped competition.

It’s when you open the doors, however, that the Corsair truly shines. The materials are first-rate, the sliding rear seat performs the same magic here that it does in the Escape, and there’s a Revel sound system to take the sting out of long commutes. It’s remarkably similar to what you’d get in a Navigator or Continental, which amounts to a minor miracle in this segment. While the Black Label trim which elevates those bigger vehicles into extravagance won’t be making an appearance—Joy Falotico, Lincoln’s preternaturally composed president, describes it as “not a good fit for this size vehicle”—there’s a radical-looking “Beyond Blue” interior which, frankly, makes the Japanese-branded competition look like taxicab-spec Camrys in comparison.

The Corsair is so unapologetically luxurious that one can’t help but wonder if the larger, and more popular, Nautilus (nee MKX) won’t suffer by contrast. “The Nautilus is wider, larger, and more powerful,” Falotico notes. “We expect it to continue as a volume leader.” Truth be told, if you don’t absolutely require the 2.7 twin-turbo V-6 from the Nautilus, the Corsair might be all the Lincoln you need, particularly when specced with the 280-horse 2.3-liter turbo four.

2020 Lincoln Corsair 3/4 rear parked
Lincoln
2020 Lincoln Corsair

We’re told the Corsair will be exceptionally quiet, and that it will do everything from help steer around collisions to park itself at the touch (and hold) of a single button. As with the Navigator, the instrument panel has been replaced with a single large LCD capable of displaying animations for the five different drive modes. You’ll also be able to use your smartphone in place of a key. Barring any other new introductions between now and the Corsair’s arrival this fall, it should be the most completely equipped and most luxurious offering in the segment.

It’s tempting to conclude that Lincoln’s finally cracked the small-car luxury code… but who’s going to buy it? A company representative suggested that it might be popular with female buyers who are “hitting their career stride” and might want a “quiet moment” in traffic, but the other, and likely more numerous, segment mentioned was the “empty-nest” crowd.

The irony of this targeting is that it was the older Generation X buyers who were the first to abandon Lincoln (and Cadillac) en masse for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus. For many of them, the Corsair will be the first Lincoln they’ve ever seriously considered. Happily for them, and for Ford, this looks like an exceptionally competent effort. Which sounds like faint praise, until you remember: it’s easier to make a big luxury car than it is to make a small one.