On balance, Ford Motor Co. says its '02 Lincoln Blackwood is more LS sport sedan than Navigator.

The key word is balance. Richard Parry-Jones, the automaker's group vice president-global product development and quality, demanded that the niche vehicle — a curious crossbreed of luxury sedan and pickup truck — handle like Lincoln's acclaimed LS and ride like Navigator, the brand's giant sport/utility vehicle (SUV).

This required engineers from program partner Magna International Inc. to undertake balancing acts on several fronts. Not the least of which was Blackwood's rear. It features a 5-link, load-leveling hybrid suspension system.

Asked why this layout was chosen over truly independent rear suspension, the likes of which produced dramatic results on Mercury Mountaineer and Ford Explorer, Lincoln Mercury President Mark W. Hutchins says matter-of-factly: “Our team felt that this was the best suspension we could go to.”

It blends conventional leaf spring technology, albeit updated, with state-of-the-art digitally controlled air springs. The result reduces operating friction and improves ride comfort, Lincoln says.

Blackwood's single parabola-shaped spring distributes loads more efficiently than bundled springs and offers resistance in direct proportion to the stress applied. At rest, they carry the unloaded Blackwood while its air springs — flexible vertical cylinders mounted atop each leaf — operate at minimum pressure.

Sensors on the rear axle monitor the vehicle's movement and, when necessary, prompt the suspension controller to activate a compressor in the engine compartment. The compressor then feeds air evenly to both air springs, enabling Blackwood to maintain optimum ride height — quietly and seamlessly, Lincoln claims. Ground clearance is lowered to a meaningful 7.9 ins. (20 cm) compared to 9.5 ins. (24 cm) in Navigator.

“The suspension was carefully engineered to optimize its nearly 50/50 weight balance,” Lincoln adds. That's no small feat considering Blackwood has a 300-hp 5.4L V-8 up front and an empty box in back.

Further helping Blackwood stay on an even keel are its urethane jounce bumpers. Unlike rubber, their micro-cellular construction allows for an exponential compression-to-resistance ratio. The greater the former, the greater the latter, Lincoln says.

As a result, Blackwood drivers — except when hauling “exceptional” loads — should never experience the teeth-clenching clunk of axle striking frame when potholes get in the way.

Rounding out Blackwood's balance sheet are its staggered rear dampers. The top of the left damper is angled to the axle's rear, while the top of the right damper leans toward the front. This sets up a push-pull dynamic intended to provide better control when irregular roads create longitudinal stress.