The Lincoln brand carries strong images of dark, classically elegant Town Cars and Continentals. But this strength is also its curse. Too many people find it easy to lampoon these stodgy overweight designs. And that seems to be where the brand is stuck-a great history with a questionable future. Even the high-end "Mark" series name, which has defined special Lincoln vehicles over the past 60 years, hasn't been applied to anything very special-lately. But, the company says there is a plan, and at the Detroit Auto Show this year, Lincoln/Mercury rolled out the first of several vehicles (due between now and 2009) that the company says will re-energize the brand. So, along with the Lincoln Zephyr, a new Mark was unveiled-heavens, a pickup truck.
The 2006 Lincoln Mark LT is based on the newest version of the Ford F-150, a fact that makes its pedigree suspect, I thought, as I started my week of testing. In fact, both come out of the same new Dearborn Truck Plant.
So (you are wondering), is this truck just a dog wearing a silk bib?
Let me put your mind at ease right off-in the same way that an SVT Lightning is not an ordinary F-series truck, neither is the Mark LT, despite sharing the same underpinnings. I found the LT has enough genuine uniqueness to form its own character, and it should be quite at home in the Lincoln stable.
Take the chrome, for example. Whereas chrome is considered passe by more than one manufacturer, the LT makes good use of it as a defining feature. Of course, there is the trademark waterfall grille surrounding the Lincoln logo (which is illuminated from the rear when the lights are on), but there is also a hefty band of chrome that wraps the entire length of the truck. The 18-inch tires also run on chrome-plated wheels with the Lincoln star embossed at the center. Chrome surrounds the taillamps, and at the center is another illuminated Lincoln star. Door handles, box rails, the running board, and the exhaust-pipe tips are all awash with chrome, and on this truck it looks alright. A good thing, really, 'cause the price for looking this good is set at around $40,000.
Inside, cream-colored leather (called light parchment) covers the seats, center console, door panels, steering wheel, and headliner. A combination of French pleats and saddle stitching adds refinement to the supple material. Throughout the truck, console borders are finished in a silver-sterling matte color. This finish is consistent throughout, tying together the various interior elements. The gauge cluster features a nice Lincoln signature feature, white dials lit with white light. Other standard interior features include one-button memory function for the driver seat, power adjustable pedals, side-mirror settings for two drivers, sheepskin floor mats, heated seats, and steering wheel controls for radio, cruise, and temperature.
The center stack (with a bright textured aluminum finish) houses the music system, HVAC controls, lighter, and an ashtray big enough for cigars. But all these features are dressed in the same leather and sterling-silver finish. The rear seat is as plush as the front, and with the available ceiling-mounted DVD and CD entertainment system, the only noise you hear from the backseat is the kids shushing you as they watch their movie.
The LT's interior is sumptuous, but it's not all perfect. The rear-seat cupholders, at the rear of the front-seat armrest, are in a bad spot. The first time I swiveled in my seat, my elbow knocked my son's soda can flying. On the dash, the set-up and retrieval buttons for the onboard information systems are obscured by the steering wheel. At first I couldn't find them; afterward, I figured out how to feel for them. Worse yet was the guilt I felt every time I got in with my muddy shoes on, or dripped my coffee on, those beautiful sheepskin mats. This gut reaction, over several days: If the LT was only about looking good, I'd have no use for it-I don't need to feel any guiltier about tracking dirt into my truck then I'm already made to feel for doing the same thing at home.
But, with it sharing the same traits as the latest-generation F-series, I experienced a fully functional truck with a towing capacity of 8,900 pounds and a payload capacity of 1,620 pounds.
Weekends are when I ferry equipment I'm testing back and forth from my cottage, and the LT handled that chore with ease. I only towed about 3,000 pounds, but the LT's long wheelbase and wide stance made for a nice stable tow platform, and the four-wheel disc brakes with ABS offered good stopping bite-loaded or trailering.
Another hint at the fact that the LT is not just meant to look pretty is that the hitch package is standard equipment. This standard Class IV hitch has separate four- and seven-pin connections, and the package also includes a 72-amp battery, upgraded radiator and transmission oil cooler. For power, the LT uses the Ford engine, a 5.4L three-valve Triton V-8 that makes 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. The engine is ample for towing and has the benefit of reasonable fuel consumption. The transmission is an electronic four-speed automatic with O/D lockout. The 3.73 rear gear ratio is good for highway driving, and a standard limited-slip axle works with the 4WD system to distribute torque to the ground evenly.
The 4WD model I drove uses Ford's shift-on-the-fly transfer case that allows switching from two- to four-wheel drive at speed. It also has a low-range setting that, when engaged, activates an Electronic Throttle Control feature that changes the ratio of low-range accelerator response. This lessened throttle response smoothes out the surging normally associated with rough-surface crawling.
The LT's cab has four full doors and seating for five; this leaves 5 1/2 feet for the cargo box. My tester had the optional bed-extender cargo cage. In my case, I brought home a bunch of 8-foot rough-cut cedar planks that were firmly supported by (and tied to) the cage.
It was while we were loading the lumber that my son made a dramatic discovery. Standing in the bed, bouncing up and down, he immediately noticed a significant amount of give in the suspension. I was intrigued, so I stopped yelling at him long enough to notice he was right-he was getting 4 to 5 inches of compression on each bounce. I was sure the standard F-series truck was much stiffer than that. After checking the factory suspension specifications, I determined that my son's finely tuned method of measurement was indeed correct. Lincoln has softened the shock settings.
The suspension system is composed of a coilover shock, long-spindle double-wishbone front suspension. In the back, leaf springs are dampened by rear shocks that have been placed outboard of the framerails.
What Lincoln has done is combined a set of soft-gripping bushings on the front stabilizer bar and detuned the rear shocks to make the LT ride much more supple-right on the money in terms of how a Lincoln should ride. Driving empty or with the trailer, there was a noticeable difference, an enjoyable one with one exception: The downside of softening up the rear shocks is that the truck is more prone to wheelhop on dirt/washboard surfaces.
We'll give this truck another shakedown in a few months' time. Look for this Lincoln---a Lincoln?---in our 2006 Pickup Truck of the Year test, in the January 2006 issue.
Vehicle/model: 2006 Lincoln Mark LT
Base price: $40,500
Engine: 5.4L Triton V-8
Valvetrain: SOHC; three valves/cyl.
Transmission: 4R75W four-speed automatic OD
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed
Low-range ratio: 2.56:1
Axle ratio: 3.73:1
Crawl ratio: 27.1:1
Suspension/axle (f): IFS; double wishbones, coilover shocks
Suspension/axle (r): Solid axle, leaf springs
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Brakes: Four-wheel discs; two-piston calipers
Fuel economy (mpg): N/A
Wheelbase (in.): 138.5
Length (in.): 223.8
Width (in.): 78.9
Height (in.): 73.5
Minimum ground clearance (in.): 8.2
Approach/departure angles (deg.): 21.5/22.1
Base curb weight (lb.): 5,370
GVWR (lb.): 6,390
Payload (lb.): 1,620
Max towing capacity (lb.): 8,900
Fuel capacity (gal.): 30