The Detroit News's view

Lee and Nancy Hinsley plunked $5,000 down on a new 2002 Lincoln Blackwood this spring without even taking a test drive. The San Diego couple say they were enthralled with Lincoln’s first-ever pickup truck, a $52,500 luxury ride with one-of-a-kind features like a remote-controlled tonneau cover and a glow-in-the-dark bed.

“We like things that are unique and have all the bells and whistles,” said Nancy Hinsley, 45, a homemaker, mother of two teen-agers and an avid boater. “I thought, wow, those air-conditioned seats are good if you’re going through menopause or live in the Southwest. Besides, we thought the Blackwood was a gorgeous vehicle.”

She hastens to add a luxury pickup truck is not her idea of an automotive oxymoron. In fact, a vehicle with a cushy, sedan-like cabin plus hauling capability and a bed seemed to fit nicely with the Hinsleys’ active lifestyle and desire for the finer things.

“I have to tell you, we let the dog in our Lincoln Navigator – even when she’s just come out of the lake and is all wet,” Nancy said, referring to her golden retriever, Annie. “Some people would think that’s absurd. But I like luxury items I can actually use.”

The Hinsleys’ Blackwood story does not have a happy ending. They recently cancelled their order. The couple said they backed out of buying the four-door Blackwood because it seemed too impractical for everyday use. After our test drive, we had the same gripe. Our final assessment: Blackwood is a novelty – more party animal than workhorse.

Unlike the Hinsleys, we got to spend several days in a couple of Blackwoods. Anita got behind the wheel of one in California at the vehicle’s press introduction in late May. Then we both tested it on our home turf in Michigan earlier this month. The Blackwood, built in Kansas City, Mo., goes on sale in late July.

Blackwood is aimed at an exclusive crowd; Lincoln is targeting a 60-percent male audience with an average age of 40 and an annual household income of $200,000 a year. To maintain Blackwood’s exclusivity, Lincoln says it will build less than 10,000 a year. Like the Model T, the Blackwood comes in any color you want as long as it’s glossy black.

To emphasize Blackwood’s uptown image, Lincoln hooked up with tony retailer Neiman-Marcus this spring to market a special-edition Blackwood. The 50 vehicles sold out in eight hours.

Jim Rogers, Lincoln’s general marketing manager, boasts that “We’ve got entire sports teams signing up” to buy Blackwoods. And Gerry McGovern, Lincoln’s long-haired British design director, gushed, “Blackwood is a fantastic example of Yankee exuberance.”

Make that irrational exuberance. And not just because Blackwood gets a distressing 12 miles per gallon in city driving and 17 miles per gallon on the highway.

We were anxious to haul three grandparents to college graduation in Detroit’s latest luxury offering. The cabin seems irresistible, all perfor ated black Connolly leather like you might find in a Jaguar, accented by crystal-oak wood trim. But the five of us wouldn’t fit inside because Blackwood only has four bucket seats. There was some discussion about one of us riding atop the wide toilet-bowl-shaped center console in the rear, but that was ruled out. Too bad Lincoln doesn’t offer an optional bench seat in the Blackwood.

On the plus side, the new truck is loaded with standard features and has only one option, a $1,995 navigation system. Like other manufacturers, Lincoln has not perfected this system. We both found it difficult to use and not very intuitive. Standard items on Blackwood include a moonroof, power-adjustable pedals, heated side-view mirrors and a reverse-sensing system.

Besides the impractical seating arrangement, Blackwood has limited use for hauling stuff. Yes, the bed comes with a standard cargo organizer, but the hard tonneau cover raises only partway – to 6 feet 8 inches to be exact – an s not removable. Nor does Lincoln recommend driving with it up. Because of this, you won’t be able to haul large items like a washing machine or TV set in the rear. The Blackwood skips the traditional tailgate in favor of Dutch doors that swing open instead of folding down, thus making it difficult to haul longer items. Don’t even think about adding a gun rack – it would look tacky on a $50,000 truck. The 4-foot-8-inch pickup bed has stainless-steel sides and white LED strips along the bottom that light up at night. It also has neat stainless-steel storage bins built into the sides. Blackwood should be the hit of any tailgate party – if it only had a tailgate.

Blackwood’s bed is supposed to resemble classic motorboats, with “wooden” bands set apart by brushed aluminum trim. But there is no wood on the sides. What you see is actually a photograph of African wenge wood that is laminated onto plastic. It’s fake, but trouble-free.

“The modern consumer doesn’t want to sand and varnish wood,” said Lincoln’s Rogers. In addition to no sanding, there may be fairly limited off-road opportunities in Blackwood. It’s only offered in a 4X2 variety, no optional 4X4.

Blackwood is powered by a 5.4-liter dual-overhead cam V-8 that makes 300 horsepower and 355 pounds-feet of torque. The engine is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Traction control is standard, as are anti-lock brakes. The new pickup has dual front-and-side air bags, but no rear air bags. All four seat belts are height adjustable, a boon to children and short people.

Despite its size – Blackwood is 220.2 inches long and weighs 5,700 pounds – the new Lincoln is relatively easy to drive and park. The suspension tuning, speed-sensitive power steering and 18-inch wheels and tires make for a comfortable, controlled ride. But not enough to make the Hinsleys reconsider.

“We still think the Blackwood is the best-looking luxury pickup out there,” said Nancy Hinsley. “But Cadillac is doing one now (the Escalade EXT, due out later this year). We thought the Lincoln would be the only one on the road. If I’m going to spend $50,000, I want something nobody else has.”

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