Lincoln’s fall from midcentury American exceptionalism wasn't sudden. Instead, Ford's stewardship saw the brand’s Rat Pack appeal fade into uninteresting obscurity over decades, its slab-of-luxury image the victim of middle management cost-cutting. Things were bleak by the mid-2000's with the lineup bloated by rebadged Fords. Now Lincoln 2.0 (3.0? 4.0?) has hopes of shedding this lineage with a fresh fleet of crossovers including a new Navigator, Nautilus, Aviator, and the subject today: the 2020 Lincoln Corsair.
Lincoln’s renaissance is impressive from most standpoints, but there are still tinges of those darker times. Consider the 90-90 rule, jokingly conceived by Bell Labs programmer Tom Cargill back in the Eighties: "The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the 'other 90 percent' of the development time." You can be almost done, and but those final touches will almost always take longer than expected.
This is the case with the 90 percent 2020 Lincoln Corsair, a luxury crossover on the verge of being great. But the competition—the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Acura RDX, and Lexus NX—set the bar high, so we’re left judging the Corsair’s final 10 percent, its fit and finish, to an exacting degree. The bulk of the transformation from its Ford Escape platform-mate and the dowdy MKC it's replacing has been completed. Now comes the hard part.
The 2020 Lincoln Corsair, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $35,945 ($60,110)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder or turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder | 8-speed automatic | front or all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 2.0-liter: 250 | 2.3-liter: 295
- Torque: 2.0-liter: 280 | 2.3-liter: 305
- EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined): 2.0-liter FWD 22/29/25 | 2.0-liter AWD 21/29/24 | 2.3-liter AWD 21/28/24
- Seating: 5
- Cargo Volume: 57.6 cu (behind first row) | 27.6 cu (behind rear row)
- Quick Take: It’s a hair’s breadth away from being a proper luxury crossover. A mid-cycle update could do the trick.
Though the Corsair uses the new 2020 Escape platform, it’s design is considerably more elegant than the Ford. There’s flow to its clean lines and an overall commanding presence that comes from a clear porting of the handsome Aviator's classic styling. While the wide, Lincoln star-adorned grille is certainly a statement, it’s an agreeable one unlike the predatory maws of Lexus or BMW. Top marks here.
Lincoln offers the Corsair in five trim levels. Standard is a base-spec model and can be had in either FWD or AWD. Standard I sees a Convenience Package (interior ambient lighting, Voice-Activated Navigation, powered foldable second-row seats, and integrated garage door opener) and 18-in dark-painted wheels added. Reserve spec adds a powered full-panel moonroof, 14-Speaker Revel audio, Ford's hands-free foot-activated tailgate, and 19-in machined and painted wheels. Reserve II adds Lincoln's Elements Package (heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer, and rain-sensing wipers) and CoPilot360 Plus. Lastly, Reserve III drops Lincoln's bigger 2.3-liter engine beneath the hood and adds adaptive suspension, the Technology Package (Phone as Key App, wireless charging, adaptive LED headlights, and 12.3-in instrument cluster), a Head-Up Display, and Lincoln's proprietary 24-way Perfect Position front seats. Customers can also choose from the cadre of options ala carte.
Inside, the Corsair has the right amount of luxury. The seats feature creamy leather, inviting and comfortable with an optional massage function. The compact crossover is also surprisingly spacious and offers up ample leg (43.2-in front/38.6-in rear) and headroom (39.5-in front/38.7-in rear) in both rows, even for taller individuals. Lincoln calls the Corsair’s interior a “Sanctuary for the Senses” and we can't deny that painful bit of ad-speak is true. There's a true push to mitigate the encroachment of noise, vibration, and harshness into the cabin, more so than the competition. Thanks to adaptive suspension, a new rear bushing design, active noise control, a dual-walled dashboard, enhanced sound-deadening, and thicker sidewall tires, the Corsair is as whisper quiet as proper Lincoln.
At first glance then, the Corsair gives the appearance of a well-sorted luxury machine. But dig a little deeper and the specter of Ford’s cost-cutters is still visible. That’s first and foremost felt in the Corsair’s buttons and knobs. Wrapped in faux aluminum and treated with Bentleyesque knurled bezels, the Corsair’s tactile controls feel every bit the pieces of plastic they are. Lincoln took great pains to hide its Ford bones in most areas, but there's too much play in their tolerances. The Corsair's designers also saw fit to carry the HVAC outlet's design across the dash's entirety. Though not egregious in its styling, the materials are cheap, flexible plastic. We could easily see someone accidentally knocking into it and breaking one of the vanes clear off.
In steps forward, Lincoln’s gauge cluster is handsome. It might not be quite as crisp as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but it's certainly less cluttered and easy to configure how much information you want relayed. Our favorite look was the near blacked-out screen displayed in Normal drive mode showing just the speedometer, fuel gauge, and media selection. Unfortunately, the same praise can't be heaped on its clunky and visually outdated infotainment system. With Windows 95 pixelation, the system lagged behind our Bluetooth, Navigation, and System Setting inputs. CarPlay and Android Auto are available, but we weren't allowed to use either as plugging in our phones would've wiped our drive route from the navigation. It's 2019, Lincoln, a split-infotainment screen with CarPlay or Auto is possible.
The 90 percent rule also surfaces in the Corsair's optional Revel Audio system. Revel routinely amazes our ears; however, the Corsair’s system still needs tuning. Our patented stereo test playlist returned a muddled bass line, slightly diluted vocals, and mids that weren't as crisp as advertised. The system’s fader also required a slight push rearward for a more encompassing effect. These should be easy software fixes.
Worth noting that safety is one area where the Lincoln Corsair is a finished package, provided you're willing to pay for the extras. Buyers have the option of Lincoln’s CoPilot360 or CoPilot360 Plus safety technology suites. CoPilot360 includes automatic Highbeams, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Forward Collision Warning and Dynamic Brake Support, as well as Lane-Keep Assist, a Rearview Camera, and Blind-Spot Detection for better lane changes and parking lot maneuvers. Upgrade to the CoPilot360 Plus and you get all of the aforementioned systems plus Adaptive Cruise Control, Traffic Jam Assist which helps center the car, watch for speed limit signs, and come to a full stop without driver intervention, as well as Reverse Brake Assist, Active Park Assist Plus which helps drivers parallel park, a 360-Degree Camera, and Evasive Steer Assist aiding last-minute course corrections if a crash is imminent.
Propelling the Corsair, Lincoln offers two turbocharged engines. The base engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Customers wanting a little extra juice can select a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine with 295 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. Both use a seamless 8-speed automatic transmission; the 2.0-liter can be had with front- or optional all-wheel drive, while the 2.3-liter is all-wheel-drive only.
Sampling both engines along the Pacific Coast Highway, either are worthy motivation for the crossover, though we’d likely choose the 2.0-liter as there’s not enough distinction to justify the price premium. Each engine is punchy and is more than adequate for even the shortest highway onramps. Likewise, Lincoln did such a good job at insulating the driver from the road, there's nary a vibration felt nor sound heard from either engine once the start button is pushed. And you can't base your decision on fuel economy as both are negligibly different with only a single MPG saved by the 2.0-liter. There are also five drive modes; Normal, Conserve (Eco), Excite (Sport), Slippery (Rain), and Deep (Snow) but none distinguish themselves enough from one another. Put it in Normal and be happy.
Lincoln additionally offers adaptive suspension which smoothes out the ride over uneven and broken pavement to a degree worthy of its luxury status. That said, the softness it brings can cause the Corsair to list slightly in turns. You won't get seasick, but it is noticeable. Given the suspension's computerized nature, this should be another blemish the company can easily fix.
At the end of our drive, we’re left with few true gripes about the 2020 Lincoln Corsair. But we’re left wondering what our opinion would be if Lincoln were to pay closer attention to that final 10 percent, if it were to fully grasp that the crossing that gap will take just as much effort as the first 90 percent of the journey. It's a good crossover, but it's one that's capable of greatness.