Laguna Beach, California So we're driving a Lincoln Blackwood on the Pacific Coast Highway late on a Friday evening. A twenty-something guy in a stepped-on white GMC Sierra pickup with matching hard tonneau races up alongside, appraises the 'Wood, and gives us an emphatic thumbs up. "Hmmm," we think. "Maybe this is the vehicle that will finally rescue Lincoln from the Town Car demographic abyss." This four-door, four-passenger, sybaritic, seemingly purposeless pickup may not represent the immediate future of Lincoln, but it's an indication of how the division wants to reinterpret the concept of American luxury.
The Blackwood, which is derived from the 1999 concept of the same name, is closely related in content and mission to the Navigator. Lincoln's lumbering SUV has been a runaway success, its image as the ultimate urban conveyance burnished by its role in Sean "Puffy" Combs's hasty exit from a Manhattan nightclub. The Blackwood takes the "image truck" idea further, because it's badder, bolder, and more exclusive, with only 10,000 units to be built annually.
The Blackwood shares the Navigator's platform and is powered by the same 5.4-liter DOHC V-8. It also adopts some of the Navigator's chassis hardware, including the control-arm front suspension, but with slightly stiffer spring rates, new jounce bumpers, and a slimmer anti-roll bar. At the rear, leaf springs and air springs work in parallel. Acceleration-sensitive dampers sit at all four wheels, with those at the rear axle staggered to help mitigate the live axle's unseemly wind-up characteristics. Lincoln engineers benchmarked the LS sedan's steering for the Blackwood. Starting with the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor's recirculating-ball setup, they incorporated a different power steering pump and stepped up effort requirements. The result is steering feel and linearity that, while not likely to impress Porsche drivers, is something Navigator owners can only dream about. Combined with the well-damped ride and the reasonable weight distribution, the Blackwood is far better to drive than the Navigator. Still, there's no forgetting the nearly three tons of weight being distributed.
The Blackwood isn't weighted down (or hoisted skyward) by four-wheel-drive hardware, because the concept truck was rear-wheel drive, and Lincoln wanted to retain its relatively low stance. The Blackwood should be fine in winter, though, with its bespoke Michelin eighteen-inch all-season rubber, standard traction control, and a limited-slip rear differential. "The key to our system is engine management," says vehicle dynamics engineer Dave Reiche. "The software recognizes deformable surfaces and allows up to seven percent wheelspin, because sometimes you need to let the tires dig into snow or sand just a little bit to gain traction."
The exterior is identical to the Navigator from the grille to the A-pillars. The Blackwood is certainly not beautiful, but we're glad that Lincoln gave it the Navigator's relatively handsome front end rather than its butt-ugly rear. Lincoln also delivered a vehicle that looks almost identical to the concept. The only significant difference is that the trunk's exotic African wenge wood panels have been replaced by photolaminate film bonded to plastic panels, not unlike Pergo flooring. It's a reasonable facsimile, and who wants to maintain exotic African wenge wood anyway?
Lincoln freely admits that the Blackwood is not for hauling manure, referring to the covered pickup bed as a "trunk." As trunks go, it's nice, lined with stainless steel and carpet, illuminated by LED strips, and holding 26.5 cubic feet of whatever it is that Blackwood owners will own--as long as it's less than sixteen inches tall, to fit under the remote-operated, securely bolted-on power tonneau cover. The rear Dutch doors have storage bins, and a soft-sided cargo organizer attaches to the trunk's tie-down hooks. The Blackwood's payload capacity is a sizable 1200 pounds, and it's tow-rated at 8700 pounds.
The Blackwood is overpriced at $52,500, but at least it comes fully loaded; the only option is a $1995 navigation system. The interior is lined with black Connolly leather, and either warm or cool air can be directed through perforations in the front seats, a nifty feature that'd be even niftier in Ford's new Thunderbird convertible. An in-dash six-disc CD changer and Alpine stereo are standard. The rear bucket seats, which fold down to form flat cargo shelves, flank a huge, leather-upholstered console that bears an unfortunate resemblance to a Kohler toilet.
Over the next five years, Lincoln boasts, it will introduce an entirely new product line that will redefine American luxury and Lincoln itself. We've seen glimpses of this Lincoln future in the Mk9 show car and other concepts, and the Blackwood is not really related to them. It's more of a teaser, an indication that Lincoln is willing to do things differently. If the Blackwood gets young guys in GMC Sierras, not to mention fifty-year-old guys in Lexus SC430s, to think favorably about Lincoln (or even to remember that Lincoln exists), it will have served its purpose.