To paraphrase Pat Benatar, roads are a battlefield. Nowhere is this truer than Southern California, specifically Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. The region regularly earns the dubious distinction of having the worst rush-hour traffic in America, though "hour," singular, is anything but accurate. Here it's more like rush hours. So when I test a car that can ease a daily grind where speeds might top out at 30 mph, it can mean huge difference to my mental well-being.

Features that can make my own 2-plus hours in daily traffic a little kinder include a soft and inviting driver's seat, quiet ride, and superior levels of overall comfort. The 2015 Lincoln MKC Black Label has all these traits and more. And it turns out that "more" might have just prevented the vehicle from being a casualty on the clogged arteries that we call freeways.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015 

Collision warning to the rescue

In this case, it was the little Lincoln SUV's safety systems that not only saved my sanity, but quite possibly my bacon. I was in the "fast" lane, going about 10 mph. As I went to switch lanes, the driver in front suddenly decided that 10 mph was just too quick. She braked right as I was mid-switch. I went to do the same, but not before the Lincoln warned me of a potential collision and then took action. The Lincoln gave a visual and audible warning from the dash via its Forward Collision Warning then instantly pre-charged the brakes via the MKC's brake support feature. Thanks to this, as soon as I tapped the brake the MKC stopped with full force. Accident avoided.

While this kind of system doesn't seem as sophisticated as one that automatically applies the brakes for you -- such as that which debuted several years ago on the Volvo XC60 -- it nonetheless is an extremely helpful feature to have. And you don't have to pony up the big price of over $57,000 that arrived with this loaded Black Label MKC. As part of the Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning package, you can add it to a lower-trim MKC for far less. After experiencing a near-collision, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Other observations:

Livable controls. This Lincoln was introduced with the Sync 2 touch-based infotainment system. Though not the latest iteration of the technology, it's still packed with information and controls everything from navigation and audio functions to which vents are blowing air into the cabin. But gripes against the system are long and familiar -- latent response time, too-small screen characters and an overall user interface that can be less than intuitive. While we await the far-better Sync3 making its way into 2016 Ford and Lincoln vehicles, the 2015 MKC is redeemed with traditional hard controls for oft-used functions such as volume, radio tuning, fan speed and climate temperature.

Packs a punch: The 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine in the Lincoln MKC is small but potent. There's little turbo lag, the output of its 285 horsepower is evident, and those ponies play well with the 6-speed automatic transmission. It runs on regular 87-octane gasoline, to boot.

A contender: There's no doubt Lincoln has catching up to do with in both its image and product lineup compared to luxury rivals like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus. But Lincoln's newest product goes toe-to-toe with compact rivals like the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLK, and the new Lexus NX

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