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.
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.