New vehicle pricing has settled into an upward trend that is steep enough to make almost anyone’s head spin, but that hasn’t stopped some automakers from shooting for the stars. Buyers are getting more for their money in most cases too, and while many vehicles skirt the line between luxury and mainstream, the latest full-size SUVs from two of America’s Big 3 carmakers are nothing short of opulent.
Let’s take a look at how the 2019 Lincoln Navigator and 2019 Cadillac Escalade stack up:
Lincoln nailed it when they redesigned the Navigator for 2018, and while the 2019 model is a carbon copy, the year-old refresh was significant enough for the SUV to remain competitive this year. Past models felt like gussied-up Ford Expeditions, but now the Navigator finally feels like it has reached the heights we’d expect from a $100,000 luxury SUV.
The experience inside the Navigator is one of being coddled and isolated from nearly everything happening outside the vehicle. The 30-way adjustable, heated, ventilated, and massaging thrones that grace the Navigator’s front row are in a league of their own. They’re a unique design that uses a hard “frame” with support pads that adjust with either the door-mounted controls or with the infotainment unit’s on-screen controls.
Second-row comfort and convenience in our Black Label tester was just as impressive. The captain’s chairs are heated and instead of the usual pass-through space between them, there is a large center console with climate and audio controls. Combined with the rear-seat entertainment system, rear seat passengers in a Navigator get to have all the fun.
All of the gadgetry’s wow factor is lost on young children however, who end up pressing too many buttons and either blasting themselves with heat or changing the radio station. Families may also find that the rear entertainment screens, while large and bright, are attached to the seat backs right at foot level for kids in car seats. With no way to detach them, you’re stuck adjusting the front seat to avoid having footprints (or worse) on the screens. There’s also no simple way to stream video onto the screens, as the built-in media player does not support DVDs and the Lincoln app doesn’t offer a clear-cut way to stream from a connected smartphone over WiFi. A couple of iPads would do the job much more efficiently.
Just like its slightly less-refined sibling, the Ford Expedition, the Navigator sports a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that makes 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Lincoln’s sound insulation and the cocoon-like experience of the big SUV all but nixes the engine noises, but performance remains impressive. The Navigator can tow up to 8,600 pounds and run 0-60 mph with a time just south of six seconds. Read that again: less than six seconds. In a vehicle the size of a small school bus, that’s not just impressive – it’s nearly unnecessary.
If we were awarding bling points here, the Escalade would win – by a large margin. Though more truck-like than the Navigator in all the ways that count (ride, mainly), the Escalade isn’t lacking anything in the luxury department.
Cadillac’s biggest and most expensive vehicle has aged well but is more than due for an overhaul. The Escalade was last totally refreshed for the 2015 model year, and while there have been minor updates since, it’s clear there are some areas that need attention.
Body-on-frame construction has its advantages, mainly in the towing and hauling areas, which sounds out of place on a luxury vehicle – until you consider that the Escalade shares its platform with the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. The utilitarian underpinnings shine through most in the Escalade’s ride and composure, where there’s much more of the Suburban and Tahoe’s truck-ness than most probably expect out of a vehicle that reaches $100k.
That’s not to say that the Escalade is without its charms. Even base models come with more leather than a Pidgeon Forge gift shop (Tennessee joke), and while higher trims come with upgraded upholstery, the entry level seats are covered in the real thing (nothing synthetic here). The front seats are heated and cooled by default, and some may even prefer the plush padding in the Escalade over the supreme adjustability offered by the Lincoln.
Cadillac’s infotainment system, known as CUE (Cadillac User Experience), is a few steps behind the SYNC 3 system that Ford adapted for use in the Lincoln, but the 8-inch screen (a 12-inch is optional) is bright, colorful, and easy to see in a variety of lighting conditions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard here, as well as a Bose sound system that also helps with active noise cancellation.
Which one is best? There’s an argument to be made in both directions. While there’s enough to keep Cadillac buyers happy and certainly no lack of luxury features, the Lincoln’s recent updates set it apart from the Escalade. The Navigator is more user friendly and (for now) offers a better experience from a technology and driving feel standpoint. As these things go, Cadillac is expected to roll out a new Escalade for the 2020 model year, which will likely level the playing field – if not flip it entirely.
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