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2021 Cadillac Escalade vs. Lincoln Navigator: American Luxury SUV Icons Compared

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2/5/2020 Motor Trend Staff

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is here, and America's appetite for spendy SUVs—make that mankind's global appetite for them—appears to be insatiable. For decades the king of the ute world was Land Rover's Range Rover. Then in May 1997 Lincoln launched a tinseled-up Ford Expedition called the Navigator, and the market's affinity for it forced Cadillac to hastily smear some extra lipstick on a GMC Yukon Denali and launch the Escalade. Now that nearly every top luxury car brand has either released or announced a new SUV of its own, the established luxe-ute purveyors are scrambling to trowel on even more luxury and ostentation. Witness the Land Rover Range Rover SVAutobiography P525, the Lincoln Navigator Black Label, and now the 2021 Cadillac Escalade—available for the first time in Sport or Luxury trim. So which of the two storied American brands is likely to prevail in the inevitable comparison test expected this summer? Let's handicap their odds.

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a close up of a car: 2021 Cadillac Escalade vs 2020 Lincoln Navigator © Motor Trend Staff 2021 Cadillac Escalade vs 2020 Lincoln Navigator

2021 Escalade vs. Navigator: Power and Performance

Lincoln's most recent powertrain upgrade leapfrogged Cadillac, boosting output of its twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 to 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque and routing it all through a new 10-speed automatic transmission. For 2021 Cadillac is ceding the high power and torque ground to Lincoln by retaining its 420-hp, 460-lb-ft 6.2-liter small-block V-8 (albeit now with dynamic fuel management and auto stop/start). That V-8 will, however, now bolt up to a 10-speed transmission that shares its essential design with the Ford/Lincoln 'box, but with independent tuning, specification, and manufacture. Our quickest current-gen eight-speed Escalade essentially ran neck-and-neck with a more heavily optioned Navigator that weighed nearly 300 pounds more. The new Escalade's independent rear suspension and added feature content may well add enough weight to offset any acceleration advantage its two new gear ratios provide, so let's call this a wash. Cadillac will eventually offer a 277-hp, 460-lb-ft turbodiesel inline-six engine in the new Escalade that will surely slow it down but deliver impressive fuel economy.

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2021 Escalade vs. Navigator: Trailer Towing Capability

a car parked in a parking lot © Motor Trend Staff

The new Escalade gets all the trailer-towing gear its Chevy/GMC brethren offer, including nine camera views (including reverse trajectory view), extended side blind zone alert, trailer-lights test, trailer theft alert, auto park brake, trailer tire pressure monitoring, plus myCadillac app trailering profiles. Lincoln offers many of these along with a feature that trumps Cadillac—Trailer Backup Assist. This lets you steer a reversing trailer using only a rotary knob on the console. GM has yet to divulge tow ratings for any of its new full-size utes, but we expect the Cadillac's to meet or slightly exceed Lincoln's 8,100-8,700-pound ratings.

2021 Escalade vs. Navigator: Passenger and Cargo Space

We're astonished that Cadillac has ceded the packaging and ride advantages of an independent rear suspension to Lincoln for 19 years, but at long bloody last that space-consuming live axle has been canned. This change, and the 4.9-inch wheelbase stretch on the shorter Escalade, combine to substantially narrow the gap in passenger volume that existed between the short-wheelbase Escalade and Navigator. Most of the interior dimensional differences are now small enough to go unnoticed, except for third-row legroom. Here Lincoln retains an advantage of 7.4 inches in the short-body Navigator and 5.7 inches on the stretched model, which erases Cadillac's slight advantage in front- and middle-seat spaciousness. Cadillac's total passenger space still comes up 17.8 cubic feet smaller in the standard length; it's 9.0 cubes smaller when comparing the stretched versions. It's interesting to note that the third-row seat dimensions are identical in the short and long Lincolns—and roomier than either Cadillac. Cadillac smites Lincoln in cargo capacity, however, accommodating 19.6 to 24.5 cubic feet more stuff with all seats down, 15.2 to 19.6 more cubes behind the middle row, and 6.2 to 6.8 more in the wayback.

2021 Escalade vs. Navigator: Features and Amenities

Each of these trucks serves as its brand's flagship and rakes in epic profits, so few expenses have been spared on either, and both come seriously loaded. Cadillac is claiming some industry firsts—not just Navigator-trumping segment firsts—for this 2021 Escalade. The most obvious of these is its 38 combined inches of curved OLED ultra-high-def, high-contrast screens. Super Cruise is another industry-leading feature, delivering true hands-off-the-wheel driver assistance on 200,000-plus miles of highway under proper conditions. The system adds lane-change assist for 2021 (and Super Cruise will not be offered on GMC Yukon Denali or other platform mates). Cadillac will also be the first automaker to offer a branded premium audio system from microphone and headphone specialists AKG (a Harman company). Actually, make that two systems, with the baser one featuring 19 speakers and the uplevel setup packing 36 (!) speakers into the new Escalade's innards. We'll need to do some back-to-back listening with the Navigator's 14- and 20-speaker Revel audio systems (also by Harman) to crown a jams champ. The new Cadillac Escalade wins the rear-seat entertainment battle with available 12.6-inch screens besting Lincoln's 10.0-inchers. All 2021 Escalades ride on 22-inch wheels; base Lincolns make do with 20s. Soft-close doors are optional at Cadillac and not available on the Lincoln. Lincoln's Perfect Position seats adjust 30 ways; Cadillac's seats are less adjustable.

2021 Escalade vs. Navigator: Luxury/Craftsmanship

As transaction prices have risen, both companies have seriously upped their interior design and execution games. Lincoln accomplished a quantum leapfrogging of Cadillac with the level of perceived quality and craftsmanship of its 2018 Navigator. It offers three elaborate color schemes for the top Black Label trim level: Yacht Club blue with white piping and whitewashed teak trim; Chalet with Espresso and Alpine leather accented by Silverwood trim; and Destination in Mahogany red leather featuring diamond stitching and khaya wood trim.

Now it's Cadillac's turn. Four extra-fancy interiors include Very Dark Atmosphere/Brandy, a two-tone interior featuring faceted quilting—a unique pattern requiring a custom stitch pattern that looks sort of like a diamond with a drop shadow. It's accented by fineline Brandy wood. Next up are monochrome Jet Black and Jet Black with Bittersweet (maroon), each of which feature Mondrian quilting on the seat inserts. Picture aligned vertical double-stitches, inside of which are rectangles of different sizes divided by either double or triple stitches. Centered and inset within each of these is a rectangle of dot perforations. But the ne plus ultra interior is Gideon/Whisper Beige (picture mocha and cream) with linear marquetry wood trim. Remember the Escala show car from Pebble Beach 2016? That interior debuted the Escalade's curved OLED screen and featured liberal use of a beige fabric that looks like expensive suit material. The top Escalade interior apes the Escala's quite faithfully. Several species of wood are used throughout the eight different Escalade interiors, including one that appears to involve gluing stacks of long matchsticks at various angles and slicing through them so that they end up looking like woven carbon fiber.

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Trust us, both Cadillac and Lincoln are delivering serious wow factor. Budget plenty of showroom time at both dealers before you pick a favorite.

More 2021 Cadillac Escalade

BASE PRICE

2021 Cadillac Escalade/ESV

$77,500-$102,000 (estimated)

2020 Lincoln Navigator/L

$77,120-$101,265
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 8-pass, 4-door SUVFront-engine, RWD/AWD, 7-8-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINES 6.2L/420-hp/460-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8; 3.0L/277-hp/460-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve turbodiesel I-63.5L/450-hp/510-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5,650-6,350 lb (est)5,700-6,050 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 120.9-134.1 in122.5-131.6 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 211.0 x 81.0-81.1 x 76.4-76.6 in210.0-221.9 x 78.8 x 76.1-76.4 in
HEADROOM, F/M/R 42.3/38.9/38.2 in39.5-41.8/37.9-40.0/37.3-37.4 in
LEGROOM, F/M/R 44.5/41.7/34.9-36.6 in43.9/41.1/42.3
SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R 65.5/64.6/62.7-62.8 in65.2/65.1/64.2-64.3
PASSENGER VOL, F/M/R 71.4/60.6/45.2-47.4 cu ft65.4-69.2/58.7-61.9/55.1-55.3 cu ft
CARGO VOL, Beh F/M/R 122.9-144.7/72.7-92.9/25.5-41.1 cu ft103.3-120.2/57.5-73.3/19.3-34.3 cu ft
0-60 MPH 5.5-8.0 sec (MT est)5.6-6.8 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet tested16/21-22/18-19 mpg
ON SALE IN U.S. Summer 2020Currently
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