Debate continues over whether or not Lincoln and Cadillac belong in the truck business. The former has been around since 1917, the latter was founded 100 years ago. And if you don't count the Escalade and Navigator SUVs or the odd custom-bodied special here and there, each has managed to last this long without building trucks. Why now?

Simple: Times change, as do people's wants, tastes, and needs. At the moment, the market wants trucks and sport/utilities to the tune of one out of every two new vehicles sold. And, like it or not, Lincoln and Cadillac are in business to move metal and earn a profit. So while '55 Continental Mark II and '59 Eldorado convertible collectors may feel the very notion of rigs like the Blackwood and Escalade EXT is blasphemy, they're here. With the aforementioned profit notions clearly in view. If people want, like, and buy them, they'll be proven as good product ideas. If they tank, well then, the collectors were right all along.

For the sake of this exercise, we're not here to further debate brand heritage or talk philosophy: We're here to drive, test, evaluate, and pick a winner. Both lux trucks are new for '02 and clearly stem from developments of Ford's and GM's full-size pickups. But there are distinct differences in their platforms and how they handle cargo--or don't. And that defines what each is ultimately about.

You don't have to squint to see the Blackwood's commonality with the Ford F-150 SuperCrew. It employs a full-size cab with four front-hinged doors, though its separate 56.3-in.-long bed is different from that of the Ford. The cabin's rear bulkhead is fixed, as is its rear window, and there's no access to the bed area from inside. Its claim-to-parking-lot fame is the way that bed is decked out: Ya got yer plush carpeting, yer aluminum trim, and ya got yer neon lights, too. The topper, in this case, is the topper: the Blackwood's nicely finished hard tonneau cover is power-operated and opens and closes via a key fob remote. Your neighbors and car-club buddies will be blown away, and your golf clubs will never be happier. 0/00

The EXT, on the other hand, evolved from GM's full-size sport/utility platform (Tahoe/Yukon/Escalade). The full-size-cab-with-four-front-hinged-doors part is the same, though the rear bodywork flows into the sides of a non-detached bed structure with a 63.3-in.-long floor. Its trick feature is GM's patented Midgate. This device functions as a hinged rear bulkhead and allows the load floor to be expanded to a full 97 in. Fold the rear seats forward, then remove the rear window via a quick-release latch. The window stows neatly in the Midgate, which then folds down, creating that extended floor. If you wish, you can also leave the rear window in place with the Midgate lowered or remove the window with the Midgate up for more fresh air.

Doesn't this whole setup--virtually the same as on Chevrolet's new Avalanche--sound like a recipe for squeaks, leaks, and wind noise? Yes--but GM has effectively engineered all the above right out of it. This setup is functional, versatile, and cleverly executed. Unlike the Lincoln's street-rod-inspired bed, the EXT's is set up for heavy-duty use, with rubberized floor matting and two lockable side stowage bins. Unlike those on the Blackwood, they are accessible from outside the bed and are also at least twice as large as the Lincoln's. The Cadillac's bed is approximately 20 in. tall--a full 5 in. taller than the Blackwood's, and that means a lot in terms of additional overall volume.

Cadillac tops the cargo area off with three independently removable tonneau cover panels that lock into the bed, and each other. They're made of an aluminum-sandwich and composite material not unlike that used for the flooring of passenger aircraft and are weight rated at 250 lb each. The rear tailgate is lockable. Cadillac calls this integrated cargo-management package the Utility Enhancement System. Cutesy marketing-inspired name aside, it's absolutely slick, and it all works together well.

Both the EXT and Blackwood come with but one powertrain, but they each represent the top offering in Ford's and GM's light-duty truck line. Lincoln's 5.4L/300-hp DOHC InTech can be thought of as part Triton truck engine, part SVT Cobra V-8. Its 355 lb-ft of torque arrives at a useful 2750 rpm, and the Blackwood's sole transmission choice is a four-speed automatic. This combination is ultra-smooth, quiet on the cruise, and hustles the 5700-lb 'Wood 0-60 in a wholly reasonable 8.4 sec.

Cadillac sticks with a more traditional take on the Great American V-8, and its 6.0L Vortec is certainly one of them. It cranks out 345 hp, also backed by a four-speed automatic. The EXT's 380 lb-ft torque peak is greater than that of the Blackwood, but is delivered at a much higher 4000 rpm. It all combines to grunt the Caddy's 5750-plus lb to 60 nearly four-tenths of a second quicker at 8.0 sec flat, which is impressive considering the additional powertrain losses created by our EXT tester's all-wheel-drive system.

The Lincoln powertrain feels slightly smoother, yet the Cadillac's transmission hunts less and finds the right gear more. But both powertrains are excellent. The EXT's full-time AWD is transparent in operation; there are no low range, transfer case, or any such trucklike notions, and it will certainly be welcome by those who live in wet climes.

Styling? Always the question of personal taste, and neither is going to evoke a '61-'63 Lincoln Continental or a Cadillac V-16 of the '30s. Ford styling chief J Mays isn't one for "gingerbread," hence the Blackwood does without roof racks, running boards, or the EXT's flying buttress panels. We're not sure it couldn't live without the fake wood on the bed sides either--but then it wouldn't be a "Black-wood," would it? That said, it's nicely done, and the aluminum strips in between the veneer panels are well executed. The EXT is either bold or garish, depending upon what you like. It's not as well proportioned, and its jewelry and cladding are overstated by a lot. Choose the Escalade EXT in metallic white, champagne, or black. Choose the Blackwood in, well, black.

For some, the verdict will come down to brand loyalty; Lincoln and Caddy owners seldom think of crossing that line, although the right product can sway anyone's patronage. And in this instance, price is a tossup.

From a styling standpoint--and almost more important, from a style standpoint--the Blackwood scores big. It's a smoother, cleaner, altogether less clunkified look; cool as many street rods, and the detailing and finish of the trunk are just too trick. The EXT's big face, overdone badging, plasticky trim, and overwrought cladding just ain't as cool.

As a tool, however--even a wood-and-leather-trimmed, get-me-to-the-country-club-by-tee-time tool--the Cad carries the day. And we say "tool" is how these vehicles must be evaluated, because if you just want a luxury sedan, there are at least a dozen better choices--unless you need to carry plywood or tow a 7000-lb boat.

Of this pair, the EXT is more powerful and offers the choice of two- and all-wheel drive. It can handle real-live cargo--and lots of it--something the Blackwood just wasn't intended to do. The Caddy hauls more, tows more, and seats more. The innovative Midgate allows flexible management of people and stuff, all in reasonably well-equipped luxury and quiet. It's just better as a truck. And whatever badge they wear, that's what the Lincoln Blackwood and Cadillac Escalade EXT are. Right?


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