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First, there was the 2002 Lincoln Blackwood. Now, there's the 2006 Lincoln Mark LT. And just as buyers of the Blackwood might have believed they were getting a true pickup, so might buyers of the Mark LT be lulled into assuming they're getting an updated, if gently downgraded, Blackwood. Neither was nor is true.
That earlier, faux hauler was an uneasy amalgam of a couple of Ford F-Series pickups and the Lincoln Navigator, which itself was a direct knock-off of the Ford Expedition. This true hauler, however, is in fact a rhinoplasticized and slightly beefier version of nothing less, or more, than the Ford F-150 crew cab pickup. That bodes both good and bad for 10,000 people a year Lincoln hopes will buy the second truck ever to wear the Lincoln brand. Seeing as how Lincoln sold less than 4,000 Blackwoods over two model years, that'd be a bullet on the company's sales charts.
The good news is buyers will get a thoroughly polished, well-trimmed, four-door vehicle that can transport four people in comfort, five people in a pinch, handle a payload of more than a ton and a half, and tow up to 8900 pounds. It's available in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, which is unique to the class. The latest in engine technology delivers best-in-class fuel economy. An audio/video system is available to entertain rear-seat passengers, and satellite radio is available.
More good news: Pricing. The Mark LT starts at a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $38,680 for the two-wheel-drive model and $42,235 for the four wheel-drive model. That's significantly less than the Cadillac EXT, its most logical competitor, which starts at more than $54,000.
The bad news is that even with all the trimmings, the two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel, the overstuffed seats, the automatic climate control, the play-anything stereo and so on, the Mark LT cannot overcome the reality that it started life as a pickup. And its ride and handling are the ultimate betrayers of this truth.
This leads us to offer the following recommendation: Do not buy the Mark LT for its stellar performance numbers. Don't buy it for its plush, luxo ride. Buy it instead and only for whatever cachet the Lincoln badge brings with it in the circles in which you live and work, along with its ability as a pickup truck.
Lincoln's stylists did a better than decent job of making a square peg fit in a round hole in the design of the Mark LT's front end. Only the most observant eye notices that what looks like a distinctive Lincoln face, like that of a Navigator or of a Blackwood, is the trademark air vent-like Lincoln grille carefully shaved to slide into the same opening as a Ford F-150 grille. Otherwise, everything that makes up what the Mark LT first presents to the world is, yes, out of the same parts bins as feed the F-150 assembly line. Still, it's not an unflattering face.
Distinctive marks on the Mark LT's side panels are few, but noteworthy. Front fender side panels sport the Lincoln badge and a Mark LT logo. The mirrors wear chrome caps over a matte black base, which matches the mounting plate filling the forward lower corners of the front door windows. Door handles are chrome full-rounds set in body-color bezels. Chrome cladding visually links the front and rear bumpers.
Large, mostly rectangular taillight and reflector lenses bridge the seam between the fenders and tailgate. A chrome handle in a body-color surround above an oversize Lincoln badge opens the lockable tailgate, which also wears Mark LT identification. The license plate occupies a recess in the chrome rear bumper above an inset step pad over the optional hitch receiver plate. A single chrome exhaust tip peeks out under the side body panel aft of the right rear tire.
Climbing into the Mark LT is a major step up even with the assist of the optional running boards. And about those running boards, they weren't much help. To be truly functional, they need to protrude farther from the body. As they are, they're some help climbing in, but when you're climbing out, they mostly serve to dirty the back side of your leg as it's nigh impossible to twist your foot around to use them as a step. The powered running boards on the Navigator, which extend when the door is opened and retract when it's closed, were a better idea.
Save for the Lincoln logo and name sprinkled liberally around the cabin and a trendy color scheme of cool shades of tan or gray accented with tasteful wood and chrome trimmings, there's nothing to distinguish the Mark LT's interior from a Ford F-150 crew cab.
Seats front and rear are virtually bolster free and borderline over-stuffed, much like what might be found in the den of an upscale house or in an airline first-class cabin. An oversize center console with a deep storage bin separates the two front seats, which are adjustable along multiple planes. The rear seat, which is rather upright and fixed, can sit three, but with a fold-down center armrest, it's more inviting for two.
Against the most sensible competition, the Cadillac Escalade EXT, there's little difference in dimensions. Headroom front and rear varies by less than an inch, likewise legroom, which is ample. Hip room is more problematical, as the way it's measured can mislead. The Mark LT's front seat width is listed at almost 64 inches, but this is side to side between the inside door trim and without accounting for the center console, which is far from slender. The EXT's front-seat hip room is listed at 62 inches, but this also includes a substantial center console. Our memory tells us the Mark LT's front seats are the roomier, but this reflects as well our comfort with the busy-ness of the inside door panels, the shape of the seat cushions, etc. Best to try, then decide. We're more comfortable assessing the rear seat. The Mark LT's back seats promise 63.1 inches of hip room, the EXT's 62 inches. In that the design and style of the seats are similar, essentially benches with split, fold-down backs, the Mark LT's extra inch-plus directly translates into more hip room. The Mark LT's rear door openings are more welcoming, too, than the EXT's, which offer less clearance between the seats and door edges at floor level, to the point we had to turn our feet sideways when climbing in and out of the Cadillac's back seat. The EXT comes out ahead on one major interior measure: Front-seat side impact airbags are standard, which are not available on the Mark LT.
The way the Lincoln Mark LT's interior interfaces with occupants is virtually all positive, even more so when compared with the Cadillac EXT's chunky, cheap-feeling, outdated, over-done, ad hoc hodgepodge of panels and switches. In contrast, the Mark LT's dash is smooth and sleek, with sharply defined, vertical panels and well-spaced, supremely functional ventilation registers. The instrument cluster is a quiet, symmetrical assemblage of well-shaded, round, easily scanned analog gauges. The speedometer dominates, with a slightly smaller tachometer to the left and a combination voltage and oil pressure twin to the right; the last houses the information display with compass heading, ambient temperature, odo/trip meter and vehicle system warnings. Tucked into the saddles between the two side gauges and the center speedometer are needles reporting fuel level and coolant temperature. Large buttons managing the essential cruise control, audio and air conditioning settings bracket the sizable steering wheel hub.
The stereo control head occupies the top third of the center stack, with the air conditioning controls directly below. The bottom third is filled with a cigarette lighter and the reverse parking sensor on/off switch above an iconic Lincoln label. All controls are intuitively marked, finger-friendly and ergonomically arrayed. The only disappointment is the lack of a proper tuning knob for the stereo; in lieu, there's either scanning or seeking, both agonizingly slow processes. Give the Cadillac EXT credit, though, for a feature not offered on the '06 Mark LT: a navigation system.
A surprisingly comfortable, ice cream scoop handle-like gear lever stands proud out of a chromed shift gate in an equally sleek and uncluttered ce
A truck is a truck. No matter how it's featured and trimmed, or how sophisticated the suspension design and frame composition, a truck will drive, ride and handle like a truck. The Mark LT is no exception to this rule. This isn't to say it's uncomfortable, or unresponsive, just that notwithstanding its luxury nameplate, it's not a Town Car with an enlarged, open-air trunk.
The reality check starts with the engine. Despite the promise of three-valve-per-cylinder and variable-valve-timing technology, its 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque disappoint when called upon by the driver's right foot. Maybe the relaxed acceleration from a stop and middling mid-range punch are sufficient for a pickup hauling building materials or pulling a trailer, but they left us wanting more from a vehicle positioned principally as a people mover.
Fuel economy tried to make up for the lackadaisical performance, however; rated by the EPA at 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, the four-wheel-drive Mark LT we tested averaged a respectable 15 mpg over the several hundred miles we racked up in our week with the truck. (EPA estimates the two wheel-drive mpg at 14/19 city/highway.) In contrast, Cadillac gives the '05 EXT 345 horsepower and 380 pound-feet to motivate approximately an equal mass, with the obvious result a sprightlier truck. Fuel economy is lower, though, on the EXT with an EPA mpg estimate of 13/17 city/highway.
The Mark LT is a full-size truck, make no mistake. It rides like a truck, rocking and rolling over pavement heaves and mid-corner ripples. This is a consequence of a relatively high center of gravity that plagues pickups and SUVs, but we wonder how much the old-fashioned live rear axle and heavy duty leaf springs contribute. Especially when we didn't experience similar dynamics on a recent ride in a Cadillac EXT, which employs a live rear axle but with trailing links, coil springs, Panhard rod and automatic load leveling. The Mark LT tracks around sweeping freeway on-ramps about the way we expect a full-size pickup to track: Initially, it understeers, where the front end wants to slide. Lift off the throttle and the relatively lighter back end teases with hints of oversteer, where the back end gets loose and starts to come around.
Steering was about par for a pickup, with decent on-center feel and reasonably responsive turn-in; most certainly, there's no dartiness in the Mark LT's directional stability depth chart.
Braking was solid and linear. Even with the front-end dive that hard braking induces, we experienced no rear wheel lockup, thanks to Electronic Brake-force Distribution.
The Mark LT is rated to tow up to 8600 pounds with four-wheel drive, 8900 pounds with two-wheel drive. Maximum payload is 1460 pounds with four-wheel drive, 1620 pounds with two-wheel drive.
The 2006 Lincoln Mark LT is a worthy successor to the ill-fated Lincoln Blackwood. One might even argue, it's what the original Blackwood should have been. There's no denying its F-150 origins, but Lincoln has done a quality job in endowing the Mark LT with enough creature comfort to earn it a place on any dealer's showroom floor.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Carmichael, California.
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