EXPERT REVIEW

Cincinnati.com's view

Granted that it’s beautifully executed . . . 50 grand still seems like a lot for a joke. Speaking here of the 2002 Lincoln Blackwood, a – ready for a hoot? – luxury pickup.

Desperate to lower the median age of its buyer group, Ford’s luxury division is apparently ready to try anything. What we have here is a monument to conspicuous consumption – the sort of thing those Microsoft millionaires whom Seattleites despise would buy on a whim, just to give their country-club pals a snicker.

It tells you something that the first 50 units – dubbed the Neiman Marcus editions and marked up accordingly – were snapped up instantly.

After all, SUVs, even Lincoln’s own awesome Navigator, are so last-millennium, watcha gonna do to grab attention? You pull up to the country club in this black leviathan (the only color scheme offered, though I bet they’ll sell a few “gold kits” to snazz it up, and some idiot will repaint it red), and find some excuse to pop open the tonneau cover, perhaps to retrieve a $5,000 set of golf clubs.

Watching the rigid plastic, weatherproof panel almost silently raise and lower itself is worth the price of admission. Controlled by either a pair of switches inside the cabin or buttons on the key fob, the lid opens or closes in about 9 seconds. When it closes, it screws itself down quite tightly.

(Wishing to keep my options open re my dream of being a concert organist, I tested the cover’s auto-reversing function by inserting a plastic milk bottle at various spots along the rim as the panel came down. There was enough crunching at one point to suggest some pain, but not amputation.)

I had more fun playing with the tonneau cover than I did driving the Blackwood. Actuating it from 100 feet away, I had the dogs circling the machine like those apes checking out the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The bed of this pickup is like none you’ve ever seen – carpeted, trimmed with stainless steel panels and soft LED illumination around its periphery, it will accommodate 26 cubic feet of gear in all, utilizing the little cubbyholes built into the sides and the rear Dutch doors.

That’s bigger than most car trunks, but, with less than 16 inches of height, the Blackwood’s trunk (as Ford actually calls it rather than a load bed) is more suited to conveying Vuitton luggage than trail bikes. The cover is securely attached, and only pitches up about 45 degrees.

The Dutch doors are a nice touch, making the “trunk” a lot more accessible than it would be with a conventional pickup’s fold-down tailgate, although they preclude use of any kind of bed extender. But I doubt the Neiman Marcus crowd ever schleps stuff from Home Depot.

The load bed’s exterior is done up in fake wood panels. They’re plastic with brushed aluminum strips separating the “planks.” The name Blackwood is another term for the African Wenge wood that was used on the show-car version of this piece, but when Ford ran durabi lity tests on the genuine item, they decided instead to photograph slices of the stuff and laminate them onto the plastic – for an ineffably tacky effect.

Happily the wood and leather inside the beast are of superlative quality. The leather is from Connolly, the famed purveyor to Rolls-Royce, and it is applied with a free hand to the four thrones the Blackwood holds. Yes, this nearly 3-ton supertanker is set up with but four bucket seats. They’re as plush as first-class perches on an airliner, and there’s as much room front and rear as you’d find in business class, at least. The driver gets a very good power lumbar support.

The Blackwood’s one possible excuse for living is that it makes a good prime mover, rated to tow 8,700 pounds – a two-horse trailer, one supposes, or a modest boat. But as a filthy rich friend of mine once remarked, a boat you can tow ain’t worth having, and it can’t be much of a horse if you let an amateur transport it.

Blackwood has essentially th me engine as Navigator, a 5.4-liter double-overhead-cam 32-valve V-8 that creates 300 hp (@5,000) and a load-shouldering 355 foot-pounds of torque at a mere 2,750. Unladen, it managed the 0-60 test in less than 10 seconds. The torque curve is fairly flat, and considerable urge was perceptible even in overdrive fourth gear at highway speeds.

The transmission itself was rather ordinary, considering the price range. It hesitated on both upshifts and downshifts, and got muddled fairly easily during rapid on-off-throttle testing.

The truck is rear-wheel-drive only. One might have expected all-wheel-drive, as on Navigator, but since this job is more for show than go, Ford chose to simplify things and keep the profile a bit lower.

EPA estimates for Blackwood are 12 mpg city, 17 highway. I calculated 13.4, using the required premium unleaded, during my stewardship, which occurred mostly over freeway surfaces, once I found out how inept it was at negotiating anything undulant or tortuous.

Yes, despite having 18-inch wheels, near perfect front-rear weight distribution and such niceties as electronically variable shocks and air springs rear, old Blackie was not nearly so fine a mount as its cousin, the Navigator. Despite having an expansive 138.5-inch wheelbase, the big fella pitched and rolled uncomfortably over my favorite stretch of malign macadam, at far lower speeds than much cheaper machines have managed.

The steering, via a variably orificed recirculating ball mechanism, is as vague as it would be if constructed from rubber. Steering inputs and outputs did not correlate very well, and even on the freeway, the juggernaut needed constant coaxing to keep its heading.

The instruments are well laid out, with a voltmeter and oil pressure gauge added to the usual four. The dual inside controls for the power tonneau cover are placed overhead, flanking an identical switch for the power moonroof – a slight ergonomic gaffe.

The Blackwood comes with rear radar standard, useful on a mount that stretches a bit more than 18 feet. It worked quite efficiently, even as I neared some driveway bushes.

The brakes are discs fore and aft, the fronts ventilated, the rears solid, and of such a size as to inspire confidence. They did in fact scrub speed off rather convincingly, and the antilock was quietly efficient.

The driver and co-pilot get front and side air bags, although head-curtain bags are not offered. The Feds have not tested a Blackwood, but its Navigator cousin got top marks in frontal crash tests. Nothing from the Insurance Institute.

The test machine had the one option available, a CD-ROM-based navigation display utilizing the Global Positioning System. Its color screen is way down on the console. It could be argued this is to discourage the driver from trying to mess with it while in motion, but I fear it just might be a greater distraction than those which are mounted up high. It was a clear, crisp readout, an d tracked our position well as Blackwood and I turned heads in three states.

The stereo is an Alpine Audiophile AM-FM-6-CD unit, of distinguished clarity and very good overall tonality.

Build quality was very good. The Blackwood is a limited-edition production, Ford saying it won’t make more than 10,000. Better hurry.

Base price on the Blackwood is $52,500, including freight. The navigation system is $1,995, for a total of $54,495. You could probably grab one for five stacks of hundreds, if you’re seriously into gauche.

“Gannett News Service”

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