Lisa Drake is a young professional. She holds a bachelor’s from Carnegie Mellon, with a double major in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. She holds an MBA from the University of Michigan. She and her husband and son live in Birmingham, an upscale suburb north of Detroit.
And that, in part, probably has something to do with the fact that Lisa Drake is the chief engineer for the Lincoln MKC.
She started with Ford working on powertrain. She then had positions like Plant Vehicle Team Manager for F-150 product development, and assistant chief engineer for the Super Duty Series.
Drake says that to work in Truck it was necessary to really get into the mindset of the customers of those vehicles.
Chances are, it was a whole lot easier for her to get her mind wrapped around the creation of a luxury vehicle that will be fundamentally instrumental to the reestablishment of Lincoln as a credible luxury marque.*
Drake worked hand-in-hand with Max Wolff, Lincoln chief designer, who joined Lincoln from Cadillac at the start of 2011.
“The very first person that I met when we started the development of the vehicle was Max Wolff. We sat down on his first week on the job and said we need to make sure this is a stunning vehicle inside and out, with all of the features and the amenities that we need to compete in this segment.”
The MKC is based on the Ford Global C platform. It is the same platform that is used for the Ford Escape. The MKC will be produced at the Louisville Assembly Plant, the same place where the Ford Escape is being built.
But it is no more the Escape than it is a Focus or Transit Connect, which are also based on the Global C platform.
Drake says that they knew that in order to be competitive, “We knew we had to deliver exceptional ride and handling performance.” So they made the vehicle low and wide, increasing the track by about an inch, which not only provides the vehicle with a nicely planted stance, but which means the center of gravity is low, thereby providing high levels of handling and performance.
Meanwhile, over in the Lincoln Design Studio, the team was hard at it, working to create a product that would be sufficiently distinctive for Lincoln, while carrying on the familial look established with the current-gen MKZ (e.g., the spilt-wing grille design).
“One of our favorite design elements is at the rear of the vehicle, our wrap-around lift gate,” say Drake.
She acknowledges, “When they first designed this lift gate, they had a single line that went all the way down the side of the vehicle and no cut lines on the lift gate. We weren’t exactly sure how we were going to accomplish this. It was such a clean design. Max really challenged the engineering team on keeping it without cut lines.”
So in order to achieve not only the physical size and the deepness of the draw, they went to a supplier, Amino North America, which produces the panel with hydroforming. The design intent was achieved.
They paid careful attention to all the touch points on the interior. “We knew we had to elevate the interior of this car to a whole different level to compete in this segment.” So the key word are “soft,” “craftsmanship,” and “considered.” From the bolster to the glovebox to the new steering wheel, they addressed it. Although the car is full of tech—they’re putting in a high-speed modem and developed a smartphone app that will allow remote start, vehicle status updates, etc.—they’ve created special knobs for the audio volume and tuning, not relying wholly on the capacitive interface of the MyLincoln Touch system.
Speaking of the audio, they’ve made a change to the THX system. Says Drake, “Were hoping George Lucas would be proud.” (Just after the Empire Strikes Back, Lucas began to address audio, which led to the development of THX.) Drake explains that while the ordinary approach in crossovers is to put the subwoofer back in the cargo area, the problem is that when there is cargo loaded and/or the cargo shade drawn, the bass gets attenuated. So they’re putting the bass in the primary door speakers, which she says provides a more crisp, clear performance.
And speaking of performance, it has to go right to the powertrain. There will be a Lincoln-exclusive 2.3-liter EcoBoost that features a twin-scroll turbocharger and a three-port exhaust manifold (i.e., the exhaust flows from the inner and outer pairs of cylinders are kept separate as they go through the three ports into the two scrolls of the turbocharger, thereby minimizing backflow into the next cylinder that fires). Testing shows that the 2.3 will produce 275 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm.
(The standard engine is also an EcoBoost: a 240-hp 2.0-liter version.)
There are newly developed brakes. There is a puddle light that forms a “mat” shaped like the Lincoln logo when the MKC is approached by the driver at night. There is “Park Out Assist” that provides hands-free maneuvering out of tight parallel parking places. And there is much more.
Jim Farley, executive vice president of Ford Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln, describes Lincoln, which became part of Ford in 1922, as a “challenger brand.” As such, he says, the company has to go further than its competitors as it works to reestablish itself in the luxury market.
“Many people think of Lincoln as larger vehicles,” Farley says. “This product will likely change their image of the brand—to be more relevant to their lives. It is a very important product for us.”
One indicator of how important: The production model is revealed in November 2013. It will be available in dealerships in Summer 2014.
They want to make sure they get this launch right.
*Between Truck and Lincoln, Drake was Ford Global Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicle Chief Engineer, which had her working on the C-Max Hybrid and Energi plug-in vehicles, the 2012 Focus battery electric vehicle, the 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid, and the 2011 and 2013 Lincoln MKZ hybrid.