The Audi Q5 and Lincoln MKC are luxurious compact crossover SUVs. Both take to the middle ground in a segment now spanning myriad entries—it’s rife with vehicles from the Lexus NX, to the Land Rover Discovery Sport and the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class.
Between these two, the Lincoln MKC is the surprise winner–with the caveat that a new Q5 arrives for the 2018 model year. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
It was the Audi Q5 that arguably forged that mainstream track, from the instant it arrived on these shores about five years ago; ever since, it’s been a benchmark for the class. Meanwhile, the Lincoln MKC was just introduced for 2015, giving the brand a foothold on what’s become an essential part of the luxury market.
Although the Q5 might not stand out from a design standpoint quite the way it did when it was originally introduced, it’s still a standout with respect to styling, materials, and trims. The Lincoln MKC takes a strong direction of its own that’s cohesive yet not quite head-turning on the outside; all the while, though, it’s up to snuff with the Audi in trims and switchgear inside.
MORE: Read our 2017 Audi Q5 and Lincoln MKC reviews
In performance, the two models aren’t nearly as close—although we sure wouldn’t discount the MKC as forgetting about driving enjoyment. It’s just that the Q5 offers strong, gutsy, and refined performance in its base 2.0-liter turbo-4 setup, ranging up to the top-performance SQ5, with its 354-hp version of the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. We’d probably go for the 2.0T to keep costs down, or to the SQ5 for maximum performance, as the Q5 3.0T model makes less of a convincing argument for its additional thirst and higher price.
There’s no V-6 on offer in the MKC, but you won’t miss it. The Lincoln does offer two strong turbo 4-cylinder engines—a 2.0-liter making 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet, or a 2.3-liter making 285 hp and 305 lb-ft. The latter has a twin-scroll setup, and its throttle response is impressively prompt.
Both the Q5 and MKC include excellent automatic transmissions (8-speed in the Audi, 6-speed in the Lincoln); with the MKC you have a choice between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, while all Q5 models include all-wheel drive (badged quattro).
Handling between the two is also closer than you might think. The Q5 has the better ride and handling characteristics of the two at the base-model level, but step up to the higher-trim MKC and opt for the continuous controlled damping suspension and you get both a more refined ride and sharper handling, with steering that’s unexpectedly sporty. Overall, because of the SQ5 and the better Q5 base setup, the Q5 wins by a nudge.
In interior comfort and packaging, the Q5 wins, because of its excellent seating and more of a luxury-vehicle ambiance throughout. Both models have rich finishes and tight assembly quality, but the MKC’s back seat is a bit disappointing. With the available panoramic roof, back-seat headroom is especially tight in the MKC. While back seats flip forward easily in the MKC, we’d rate the Q5’s setup higher because it manages more comfortable and spacious back seats without being any less useful for cargo.
In safety, neither of these models are segment leaders, as they have good but incomplete sets of crash-test results. But both make amends, somewhat, with standout safety features. For the Q5, that’s its available rear-seat side airbags–but no standard rearview camera–and for the MKC it’s a technology package that brings a slew of active-safety items like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, active park assist.
Both of these crossovers are well-equipped luxury models, and they include excellent sound systems plus supple leather upholstery and many other comfort items. The Lincoln actually can be equipped with heated-and-cooled front seats, a hands-free tailgate, and a huge dual-pane moonroof, with totals running thousands less than a top Q5. The Q5 and its MMI infotainment system and interface feel undeniably a step ahead in today’s connectivity-critical market, yet it lets us down with its lack of a regular USB port (you’ll need an adapter for that).
While the MKC doesn’t take any bold steps forward with respect to design, powertrains, or packaging, it does give Lincoln something it urgently needed—a refined, even somewhat sporty compact crossover. The speed at which it’s closed the gap with Audi is remarkable–and here, a winning effort.