EXPERT REVIEW

Our view: 2002 Lincoln Blackwood

Forget the price tag, the neon track lighting and the simulated wood on the exterior that could have doubled for a pinstripe suit. Want to know the best part about the all-new, semi-crazy, definitely unreal world of the 2002 Lincoln Blackwood?

Power hinges.

One after another, the gawkers lined up to see America’s favorite form of down-home transportation suddenly transported into “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” on wheels. No need to ask the audience; they were too busy shaking their heads in disbelief.

A truck with a power-assisted bed cover that automatically rises and falls? You bet your greasy jeans. And not just at the push of a button – but four separate ones. Push the key fob. Up. Push the button on the driver’s side door. Down. Push either of two buttons above the rearview mirror. Up. Down. Fascinating stuff.

J.R. Ewing would have bought this truck. But a quick tip for any oil barren thinking of a new ride: Leave the cowboy boots in the garage and grab your penny loafers. Lincoln’s newest form of “American Luxury” is Star Spangled Extravagance.

Practical? No. But definitely a pickup of some sort.

Actually, Lincoln calls it a luxury utility vehicle, but isn’t that an oxymoron? How can you have a truck that’s capable of towing all the cattle and still have a carpeted bed liner? Carpet? Truck? Home on the strange.

First introduced at the 1999 Los Angeles Auto Show, and delivered to showrooms this spring as an early ’02, the Blackwood is all L.A. – the finest form of roughing it we’ve ever run into.

The Blackwood is like your next-door neighbor who’s just hit the Powerball: Scratch the leather and it’s still the same old Ford SuperCrew. It’s all the window dressing on the outside that reeks opulence, not offroad.

The idea kind of fits. You’ll never catch the Blackwood in those commercials with mud and a Budweiser. But you might catch it in the driveway of a CEO who’s always wanted a truck.

That’s not true trucking, you say. You’re right. And that’s where the Blackwood scores. It’s everything you’ve never seen on a hauler; it’s nothing like a real truck. Exactly what is it? It’s a luxury car, an SUV and a pickup rolled into one. It comes in one color: black, inside and out. It’s big. It’s gaudy. It drinks gas. And it’s expensive.

We’ll call it a “luxotruck.” What does that mean? Quite a bit. The Blackwood comes with a built-in towing hitch, but does not come with four-wheel drive. It has a (removable) carpeted “cargo trunk” (Lincoln’s term), but does not have a large bed for hauling – about 56 inches, instead of the standard 72. It carries only one engine, a 300-horsepower, 5.4-liter V8, but a whole lot of mass (5,637 pounds).

It’s truly its own vehicle. Check that: It’s an amalgam of vehicles. Technically speaking, the Blackwood is a Navigator in the front grille and a SuperCrew nearly everywhere else. Unlike the F-150, the Blackwood seats four in large, cap tain’s chairs, instead of five or six, but like the SuperCrew, it has four, full-size front-hinged doors.

In the back, the Lincoln has dual side-opening doors instead of a tailgate and two storage compartments inside the stainless steel-trimmed bed for small items.

And you can’t forget the neon. Under the aforementioned front-hinged, power-operated cover, two LED strips line both sides of the floor and glow like a night on Broadway. Inside, the Blackwood is more of the same Lincoln that you’d expect – and a bit of what you wouldn’t out of a truck.

The ride is high and firm and the trim all wood and leather, with the added bonus of front seats which blow warm or cool air through the perforated upholstery. Power is standard throughout – windows, mirrors and even pedals (for the vertically challenged) and there is automatic climate control, a CD changer in the console and even a GPS system for navigation (about $2,000 option). There are also plenty of side pockets an wo deep consoles in front and back for storage.

As for the ride out to the barn, you might find it hard to beat.

This Lincoln didn’t just come loaded with goodies, it also comes with a good suspension. Resting on the Blackwood’s 18-inch wheels is a system that uses a leaf spring teamed with air springs and acceleration-sensing rear shocks. It keeps the Blackwood glued to the corners and is designed to handle automatic load leveling.

It does an excellent job of cruising over rough road, scooting off the stoplight (0 to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds) and pulling out in traffic. It does a less than adequate job at stopping. With all that mass, I found braking heavy and time consuming. Steering feel is also a little mushy and, on fuel mileage, the Blackwood comes awful thirsty – about 13 mpg highway during our test.

And speaking of minuses: How about the photo-like material Lincoln’s plastered across the back to look like fake wood. Ugh.

On safety, it gets better. There are front side air bags, traction control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Ford’s Reverse Sensing System that beeps like a garbage truck when you get close to backing into things.

So what does all this cost? A load more than you’d think.

Intended as a limited-edition vehicle, the Blackwood lists for $51,785 plus $715 in destination charges. Just for comparison’s sake: $30,000 less than a Hummer; $18,000 more than the King Ranch 4WD F-150 SuperCrew. But get them while you can. Lincoln plans on making only about 10,000 Blackwoods per year. Demand? That might be another story.

At least the folks at Ford have done their homework. Cadillac is ready for its own truck next year, the Escalade EXT. For now, the Lincoln makes as much sense as many other “interesting” vehicles to hit the market.

A Lincoln pickup? Why not. After all, it’s better than the Lincoln minivan.

2002 LINCOLN BLACKWOOD

Rating: 3

High Gear: Lincoln’s first-ever truck comes loaded with lots of power-assisted goodies, including a covered bed, upscale features, a built-in towing hitch and a sprightly engine.

Low Gear: Four-wheel drive would be nice (even if it changes styling) and so would losing the tacky fake-wood exterior and adding a bench seat for more rear seating.

Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, front engine, four-door, four-passenger luxury pickup.

Standard equipment: Four-speed automatic; traction control; dual front air bags; front side air bags; anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes; reverse sensing system; automatic climate control; power steering, mirrors, pedals and windows; cruise control; heated/cooled leather seating; six-way power front seats; Alpine AM/FM/cassette w/6-disc changer; steering radio/climate controls; power sunroof; power tonneau cover; universal garage door opener; fog lights.

Competition: Chevrolet Avalanche, Cadillac Escalade EXT, Ford F150 SuperCrew

Engine: 300 hor sepower, 5.4-liter V8

Torque: 355 foot-lbs. @ 2,750 rpm

Wheelbase: 138.5 inches

Length: 220.2 inches

MPG rating: 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway

Manufactured: Claycomo, Mo.

Warranty: Basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles; the drivetrain is four years/50,000 miles; body corrosion is five years/unlimited miles and roadside assistance is four years/50,000 miles.

Base price: $51,785

Price as tested (including options, destination and delivery): $52,500

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