It's easy to forget the Lincoln Blackwood folly after spending a week in the Lincoln Mark LT luxury pickup. You may still have disturbing memories of the Blackwood, a $50,000 pickup that sported four bucket seats, plenty of fake African wood and clever a Dutch-door tailgate/power tonneau combo that opened to a practically useless pickup bed. With very little utility and even less sex appeal, fewer than 3500 Blackwoods were sold from 2001 through 2003. Lincoln had hoped to sell more than 10,000 units.
The new LT offers an upscale level of comfort, a great ride already established by the latest generation of F-Series pickups and towing ability up to 8900 pounds. The strategy appears to be working as just under 2800 units were sold through the first six months of 2005.
Starting price for the 2-wheel-drive model is a more reasonable $39,200. Our test vehicle had a few options that boosted the MSRP to $42,850, including power moonroof, tow package, power sliding rear window, 18-inch chrome wheels, running boards, adjustable pedals and reverse sensors. Standard equipment includes heated leather seats, 6-CD sound system, power accessories, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, tailgate assist, 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V8 and 4-speed automatic transmission.
The introduction of the Lincoln gives the GMC Sierra Denali a direct competitor and offers up a meaningful challenger to much higher-priced Cadillac Escalade EXT. But comparing these vehicles side-by-side with the LT brings out a few glaring shortcomings in the Lincoln.
With the Cadillac, you can get touch-screen GPS navigation. With the Denali, you can get satellite radio. With the Cadillac you can get side-impact air bags. With the Denali, you can get 345 horsepower. With the Cadillac you can get automatic dual-climate control. With the Denali, you can get a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.
Get the picture? The LT ends up being a SuperCrew Lariat with Lincoln flair, not Lincoln luxury.
The LT screams Lincoln from the outside. The signature waterfall grille and chrome rocker trim that circles the body in concert with the bumpers will surely draw the traditional Lincoln buyer. The LT comes in a variety of colors, compared to the black-only Blackwood. Our Dark Toreador Red was a bit unusual for a truck but quite pleasing with the bright Lincoln accoutrement, such as the chrome handles, 7-spoke wheels and bed rails.
You certainly get your money's worth with the Lincoln exterior styling; however the interior does leave you wanting for more. The Nudo leather is nice and French pleating impressive but the seats are flat and stiff. They lack full power adjustability although it doesn't take long to get into position with the power pedals. Our Dove Grey/Black interior theme was accented with ebony wood and metallic trim. The overall theme is inviting, right up to the distinct Lincoln face on the instrument panel, bold stitching around the IP brow and leather on the center console.
Missing from are the usual features of a Lincoln luxury vehicle, such as navigation, plushier seats and a booming sound system. The Navigator offers a Soundmark THX audio as an option, but no such upgrade is offered in the LT. A rear-seat DVD player is available, however, on the LT. Critics have also noted the lack of side air bags or side-curtain air bags.
The LT shares the same cabin quietness as the F-150. Ford made luxury-type improvements on its new F-Series platform to isolate road noise and harshness, including a massive hydro formed frame and liberal use of sound insulation materials. There isn't much else Lincoln engineers could do to improve the ride without giving up payload or towing ability. Different shock valving and bushings may add a little more compliance, but the F-Series is generally regarded as the nicest riding body-on-frame pickup on the market. The rack-and-pinion steering felt responsive and communicative.
There's no deny the refined ride and performance of the Mark LT and any other F-150 model. Ford has achieved a wonderful balance of comfort and utility with this generation of pickups. But as you get closer to this performance equilibrium, sometimes there's little room for distinction. To some, chrome and leather on the LT is the same as chrome and leather on the F-150 Harley-Davidson model. The same analogy can't be applied to the Cadillac or GMC competitors. The EXT is not the same as a Chevy Avalanche LT, nor is the Sierra Denali the same as a Silverado LT. There are distinct differences in engineering and amenities.
In a curious twist, Lincoln is taking a different approach to marketing the Mark LT. It was introduced along with a custom Harley built by the madcap TV crew of American Chopper. The bike certainly wasn't any more luxurious than many other choppers built by the Teutuls, but it had Lincoln styling cues. Recently, Lincoln teamed with the country music industry for a promotion in which numerous performers-including Vince Gill and Amy Grant-signed the front seat of an LT. The vehicle was given away in a promotion along with a custom Gibson guitar.
Lincoln is clearly targeting a diverse audience in promoting the LT. The brand's current demographics probably lean more towards AARP than MTV, so a little spice is encouraging. The Navigator brought a more youthful buyer into the Lincoln showroom. But as large SUVs fall out of favor of consumers, Lincoln feels that pickups can be the draw to entice younger motorists. Keeping the price down will get their attention but will the product appeal to their lifestyles?
There's word on the street that Ford may let the Ranger die a slow death and never build a replacement generation. Instead, the company wants to build a Honda Ridgeline-type pickup. That platform would present Lincoln a perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the development process and put its luxury stamp on every part of the vehicle's design and engineering. A true, distinctive Lincoln pickup could then be built. Right now the Mark LT is a nice Ford pickup with a Lincoln grille.