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Published: 12/06/2001 - by Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
When the Blackwood concept vehicle debuted at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show in 1999, few journalists gave it much thought. Although luxury SUVs were at the height of their popularity, the idea of a luxury truck, complete with a motor-driven tonneau cover and authentic wenge wood exterior trim, seemed a little far-fetched. Critics and showgoers alike exchanged blank stares as they pondered the thought of a truck that can't really haul anything.
Now, three years later, rational humans everywhere are again scratching their heads as the Blackwood has become a reality. And unlike most concept vehicles, the production Blackwood bears few changes from the original. The "cargo trunk," as it's officially called, is still lined with LED lights and plush carpeting, and although the bed's real wood exterior trim is gone, there's now a high-tech laminate coating that recreates the look by using actual photographs of the original panels. Ahh...technology at its finest.
A recent test drive required us to consolidate every ounce of our journalistic integrity in a half-hearted attempt to objectively critique the positive and negative aspects of a $54,000 pickup truck. To no one's surprise, the Blackwood failed to convince us that it's worth nearly the price of two F-150 SuperCrews, its lower-brow, but identically configured, Ford cousin.
But then again, we're not the Blackwood's projected audience far from it. The Blackwood is intended to appeal to luxury vehicle buyers who are looking for something different, not contractors looking for a new worksite hauler. This is a limited-production vehicle that will sell itself as much on its exclusivity as it does on its capability. So it can't carry a sheet of plywood, so what? There are literally hundreds of thousands of trucks on the road today that have never seen more than a box of Tide in their beds, let alone gigantic sheets of building material.
The Blackwood isn't a luxury pickup as much as it is an alternative to every other luxury car, truck and SUV on the market. How it stacks up against your average utilitarian pickup is inconsequential. The real test is whether or not it provides a legitimate substitute for a luxury sedan or an upscale SUV.
The Blackwood possesses at least one direct competitor in the form of the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Like the Lincoln, the EXT is a seriously expensive limited-production sport-utility truck. With its more traditional cargo bed and full-time all-wheel drive, the Cadillac is more of a true utility vehicle than the Lincoln, but let's face it, these are nothing but pure image vehicles. Debating the merits of one's utility over another is like arguing over who's the smartest supermodel. Therefore, with style so important in this high-dollar game, how does the Blackwood score?
The exterior look is obviously a subjective matter, but certain elements bear mention. The nose is pure Navigator, so nothing new there, but the sharp 18-inch wheels are a design exclusive to the Blackwood. With its low-profile street tires, this wheel/tire combination suggests street performance above all else and gives the Blackwood a muscular stance.
The aforementioned "wood paneling" that seemed so interesting on the concept truck loses much of its punch on the production version. Even up close, the exhaustively reproduced wood grain disappears against the truck's black finish, leaving the cargo bed looking like a bad prison uniform. The chrome gas filler lid is supposed to hark back to similar pieces on vintage race cars, but one editor thought it looked more like the bottom of a well-polished coffee can.
So the exterior may or may not have the look of luxury depending on whom you ask, but when it comes to the interior, you would expect nothing less than top-notch materials and an elegant design. Upon closer inspection, we came to the conclusion that you get some of one and only a little of the other.
Like the exterior, the cabin is almost completely black. The gray "wood" trim is not convincing (as if gray wood ever could be), but as one editor put it, "they had to do something to remind you that you're not in a Ford." High-grade Connolly leather covers the seats, while lesser cowhides have been applied to the steering wheel and center console. We would prefer some original design work on the instrument panel and a radio faceplate that doesn't scream Ford F-150, but in an industry dominated by platform-sharing and rampant parts-swapping, this is apparently asking too much.
There are captain's chairs front and back, rendering the Blackwood a four-passenger vehicle only. The driver and front passenger both enjoy heated and air-conditioned seats, a trick innovation that we wish more luxury vehicles offered. Large center consoles between each row of seats provide generous storage and sizable cupholders, but considering that numerous Ford products offer in-dash CD changers, we thought it strange that the Blackwood would still use a console-mounted changer that robs valuable storage space.
Settling into the seats exposes rather unforgiving cushions that are far from plush. Adjustable pedals, a tilting steering wheel and numerous seat adjustments allow just about any driver to find a comfortable position, but even the soft leather covering can't mask the overly stiff padding underneath. The climate and radio controls are simple and well within reach, but again, there's little in the way of originality when it comes to the Blackwood's interior design.
If you want unique, check out the cargo bed, or cargo trunk, as Lincoln calls it. With just the push of a button, the weatherproof tonneau cover raises automatically to reveal the beautifully crafted cargo area that had even us skeptics oohhing and ahhhing in appreciation. At just 56 inches long, and lined with stainless steel trim and lush carpeting, this pickup bed is obviously not meant for Home Depot runs. Lockable storage bins on each side provide additional capacity, and meaty tie-down hooks provide solid anchors for tying down larger items.
There's no arguing that this lavish cargo bed is pretty much useless for serious hauling duty, but like the brochure says, it's a cargo trunk. Lincoln envisioned the Blackwood as the perfect vehicle for towing a boat to the lake, or ferrying your horse to a new stable. You don't need acres of cargo space to accomplish those tasks, but you might want somewhere to throw a few water skis or your favorite saddle. Viewed in this context, the easy accessibility of the cargo trunk doesn't seem so ridiculous.
Although the Blackwood lacks the utilitarian nature of most full-size trucks, it certainly doesn't skimp in the hardware department. Under the hood rests the same 5.4-liter InTech V8 that powers the Navigator. With 300 horsepower and 355 lb-ft of torque on tap, this engine has enough power to get the Blackwood moving in a hurry, as well as give it a substantial 8,700-pound tow rating. Four-wheel drive is not available, but an electronic traction control system and a limited-slip differential are standard.
Around town, the big V8 is quiet and smooth, emitting only a low roar when fully opened up. Off-the-line power is excellent, as the engine makes 90 percent of its torque at a low 1,750 rpm. At highway speeds, however, even 300 horsepower can't make 5,700 pounds of truck move quickly, but there's enough power on hand for safe merging and passing. Track testing yielded competitive numbers for a vehicle of its size, confirming our seat-of-the-pants observation that it's quick out of the gate but runs out of breath once it gets going. The standard four-speed automatic transmission can be slow to react at times, but the shifts are perfectly smooth no matter what the situation.
To push the Blackwood further beyond the realm of the average truck, Lincoln's engineers spent considerable time fine-tuning the suspension to deliver a more car-like ride that delivers responsive handling and a quiet cabin. The independent front suspension is pulled directly from the two-wheel-drive Navigator, while the rear suspension is exclusive to the Blackwood. A single leaf spring aided by adjustable air springs assure a level stance at all times, and anti-windup bars keep the rear axle positioned squarely for steady starts under heavy loads. Four-wheel disc brakes, standard ABS and an Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) system assure confident stopping power.
Almost everyone who drove the Blackwood was impressed with its well-mannered ride. It's noticeably stiffer than the softly sprung Navigator, but not to the point of being harsh. You'll never mistake it for a sport sedan, but in the world of full-size trucks, there are few that can match the Blackwood for overall road feel and body control. There's no doubt that the low-profile 18-inch tires contribute significantly to the nimble feel, but the fact that the Blackwood also boasts a near-perfect 50/50 front to rear weight distribution certainly doesn't hurt.
Repeated stops from 60 miles an hour returned distances between 135 and 140 feet, again, about average for a vehicle of this type. Although the steering was calibrated to mimic the feel of Lincoln's LS sedan, the Blackwood still felt heavy through the quick turns of the 600-foot slalom. If anything, our testing revealed the Blackwood's ability to remain stable and predictable during evasive maneuvers, something that can't always be said about full-size sport-utilities. Our week-long test drive yielded a dismal 13.3 miles per gallon, not surprising considering the massive V8 and nearly 3-ton curb weight.
But those statistics will be of little concern to the average Blackwood buyer. This is a vehicle that touts style over substance. There are plenty of trucks on the market that are bigger, faster and more capable, but if you don't really need any of that, who cares?
Our staff of automotive enthusiasts balked at the idea of the Blackwood from day one. A week of piloting the new Lincoln did little to change our opinions. Between the exorbitant price, minimal seating capacity and bland interior, we just can't fathom the thought of anyone actually plunking down their hard-earned money to own one. But we know better than that.
There will be no more than 10,000 Blackwoods sold in 2002, guaranteeing an aura of exclusivity that will draw as many buyers as the exquisitely crafted cargo trunk. We're not sure who these buyers are, or why they feel the need to own a $54,000 truck, but we don't doubt for a second that they exist. We'll be praying for them.
Conditions for Testing:
System Score: 6
Components: The Alpine system in this 2002 Lincoln Blackwood leaves something to be desired. While it plays adequately and plenty loud, it's less impressive than some of the systems we've seen in other Lincoln products and in vehicles that compete straight-up with the Blackwood.
The head unit is the standard Lincoln head we've been seeing in most of the company's vehicles for the past year or so. Again, not a great head unit, but it does offer a few niceties. For one, it occupies a double-DIN space in the dash, meaning the opening it takes up is roughly twice the size of the industry standard. This allows the Lincoln folks to set a wide topography with ample spacing between the controls, and it's a snap to operate while driving. The radio is also well elevated in the dash, affording the operator a clear view of the road while at the same time keeping half an eye on the head unit. The radio boasts a cassette player and a built-in six-disc CD changer, and something new a built-in DSP unit that plays psychoacoustic games with the audio signal.
Allow us to explain, briefly. DSP stands for Digital Signal Processing. In the audio world, it made its entrance to the automotive marketplace around 1990. In fact, your intrepid reporter was tasked with selling the first aftermarket car DSP when it hit these shores with a loud thud roughly a dozen years ago. The idea is to manipulate the audio signal to create spaciousness and echo through delaying the signal to various speakers, thereby tricking the mind into hearing something that isn't there. It's like that reverb dial on your guitar amp, only more fun. Dissertation concluded. The Lincoln unit gives you five different settings Talk, Jazz Club, Hall, Church, Stadium and you can also fine-tune it for Driver Seat, Rear Seat, or All Seats. It's fun to play with, is something new and different in factory systems (this is the first one we've seen), and if you don't like it you can disengage it.
A few more things on the Blackwood head unit. Lincoln has gone to multiple rocker panels on its heads, to control such things as radio tuning, bass, treble, fade and the like. We much prefer the round knobs used in other vehicles. Call us old-fashioned ("You're old-fashioned!"), but round knobs, especially the detented ones, give a much better tactile feel, and are safer, and easier, to use on the road.
Speakers are a puzzlement in the Blackwood. An 8-inch Alpine sub occupies an enclosure between the two rear seats. All well and good. But the front and rear doors contain full-range 5-by-7s, which do nothing to add to the sound of this vehicle.
Performance: This is a good truck system (do we call this vehicle a truck, or what?). It sounds best when turned up loud real loud which is great, since this has the double benefit of drowning out tire and road noise. My notes say, "Subwoofer gives a great 'round' sound in the lower register. Impressive attack on drums. Good thumper." That pretty much sums up the Blackwood system. While it performs admirably when pressed, it loses its luster when the volume gets lowered. Female vocals, in particular, are hollow and harsh at lower volumes. Likewise, acoustic strings lack depth and detail. Granted, most people buying this vehicle will not be driving it to the opera, but you'd expect a more versatile sound system in this segment.
Best Feature: Impressive bass response.
Worst Feature: Poor sound quality for refined tastes.
Conclusion: If you're a pop, hip-hop or rock listener, you'll love this system. However, if your tastes lean toward lighter sounds jazz, classical, folk you could be disappointed. In our listening tests, this system seemed to have a real problem reproducing unamplified acoustic instruments. But it's a good thumper. Scott Memmer
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
I'm not going to mince words here. This thing is absurd a four-door pickup that seats only four, is available only with two-wheel drive and whose bed is too shallow with that gee-whiz power tonneau cover to be practical. And why did they give the exterior of that quasi-bed a woodgrain finish? It doesn't tie in with the front half of the vehicle at all, you know, the Navigator portion.
I do credit Lincoln with referring to the "bed" as a trunk due to the permanent nature of the tonneau, and I was impressed with the beautifully finished interior of said trunk, fitted as it is with stainless steel, fine carpeting and cool LED lighting. But I can't imagine using it for trips to Home Depot...oh, wait a minute, anyone who has $54,000 to waste on a senseless vehicle such as this doesn't engage in home projects. Besides, if you need to lug large objects in luxury, the Navigator holds more and costs more than $7,000 less, to boot.
If I needed (note use of the word needed) a crew cab pickup and had 54 large to spend on a vehicle, I'd take a new Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Plus Quad Cab and spend the remaining 21 grand on a Miata.
Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
The thing about being the first is that you enjoy a monopoly at least for a while. If someone needs a specific tool, and there's only one of its kind, well, then they have no choice but to buy it. Imagine the Swiss Army Knife; until the Leatherman tool came along, if you needed a handy all-in-one device, you'd pretty much have to spring for the red oval, right?
Somewhere, there's someone who needs a luxury pickup truck. We don't exactly know where, but there is. Personally, I probably enjoyed the Blackwood much more than I had a right to. It's certainly a comfortable vehicle, with its climate-controlled seats and plush ride. Plus, the rear gates are kind of fun to operate. But practically speaking, who on earth would buy this? Pickups are meant to haul around stuff. Stuff, by nature, is usually dirty and messy. Do you really need a $54,000 vehicle to daintily transport cow manure? And do you want stuff to scratch up the cargo area? Perhaps this would benefit those carrying trophies from the hunt of the annual Barney's warehouse sale.
I know that I'm opening up the floodgates of merciless teasing from my fellow colleagues as I say this, but I rather dig the looks of the Navigator. However, the Blackwood absolutely does not work. Make sure you're good and ready for ridicule before plunking down the money for this.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Driving the Lincoln Blackwood along Pacific Coast Highway the other day, I got to thinking about the potential buyer for such a bizarre vehicle. My guess is that people who will buy the Blackwood possess a poor sense of aesthetics, suffer from crippling insecurity and possess so much money that burning it for kindling in the east library fireplace is a common occurrence.
Really, nobody who knows what true luxury is about would even consider this exercise in excess, and nobody who knows what a pickup truck is about will gaze upon the Blackwood without guffawing. It is the ultimate poseur-mobile, good only for grabbing attention or towing that classic Chris Craft speedboat to the lake.
Putting aside the Blackwood's styling, price and buyer psychographics, what you've got is basically a Ford F-150 SuperCrew, a vehicle this staff likes very much. Viewed from that perspective, the four-passenger Blackwood offers a cushier ride, better acceleration and nicer interior trimmings. The seats are firm and offer heating and air conditioning for year-round seasonal comfort. I'm no fan of the fake wood gracing the dash, but Lincoln had to do something to distance the cabin from that of an F-150 contractor special. And I've got a question: Why can a Ford Focus be equipped with a six-disc in-dash CD changer but the Blackwood gets a bulky changer mounted inside the center console?
The cargo area offers minimal utility. How easy will it power up when coated with ice and snow? In the rain, will everything in the bed get wet with the hard tonneau opened? And how do you reach items that have rolled all the way forward? The buyer of a $50,000 vehicle is not going to risk his Ralph to crawl inside the cargo area and retrieve that jar of Grey Poupon.
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