You’ve probably seen this comparison a hundred times by now but what makes this one different is the engine that’s under the hood of the Escalade. It’s a diesel engine. So does that help or hinder the Caddy against its biggest rival?
Engine – Yes, there is a 3.0L inline-6 cylinder Duramax diesel engine powering this Cadillac Escalade. It’s the same 3.0L engine that is found in GMC & Chevrolet trucks & full-size SUVs. It produces 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque (207 kW & 624 Nm). The engine is fantastic for what it is. It is very smooth but more responsive than other diesel engines. It doesn’t make the Escalade feel any more sporty – the standard 6.2L V8 feels a bit more sporty – but it gets the big SUV off the line with ease. It allows for a max tow rating of 8,000 lbs in 2WD configuration and 200 lbs less in 4WD configurations.
But of course the point of putting a diesel engine in an SUV is to save on fuel. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade 4×4 with this Duramax engine is rated for 12 L/100km (19.6 MPG) in a city and 8.9 L/100km (26.4 MPG) on a highway.
The Lincoln Navigator on the other hand has a 3.5L twin-turbocharged V6 engine. It is capable of producing 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque (336 kW & 691 Nm). Between the two SUVs, this engine is more exciting. Accelerating from a stop or overtaking another vehicle on a highway is effortless. It also makes some pretty good noises as well. With this engine & drivetrain, the Navigator can tow 8,300 lbs.
Of course fuel economy is not as good as the diesel in the Cadillac. The 2021 Lincoln Navigator 4×4 is rated for 15 L/100km (15.7 MPG) in a city and 11.5 L/100km (20.5 MPG) on a highway.
Transmission – Both full-size SUVs have a 10-speed automatic. Fun fact, this transmission was jointly developed by Ford & GM. In both vehicles the transmission is smooth and quick to react to driver inputs. If anything though, the shifting is slightly smoother in the Cadillac than in the Lincoln.
Braking – Both vehicles are big and heavy but the brakes can handle all the mass. In everyday driving situations that is. These big “barges” are not meant for canyon carving. On city streets, neither require much force from your right foot to bring them to a stop. However, the brake pedal in the Cadillac feels a bit more firm than the one in the Lincoln.
Handling – It’s best to go slowly and smoothly around corners in these two SUVs. After all, they are big & heavy full-size SUVs that lean in corners & pitch when braking. But there is a difference between the two. The steering feels a bit sharper in the Escalade. The adaptive dampers also resist more body roll than in the Navigator. This may not be an Escalade V or Blackwing, but it definitely drives a bit better than the Lincoln when the mood takes you.
Ride Comfort – Both of these “luxury barges” are supremely comfortable on city streets & highways. But just like the handling dynamics, there is a difference between the two. Hitting a particularly large pothole in the Lincoln Navigator will make the SUV bounce and oscillate a little bit more than in the Cadillac Escalade. The Caddy’s adaptive dampers do a fabulous job of quickly settling the large body after hitting a large bump in the road.
Interior Space – Between the two, there’s hardly any difference when it comes to passenger space in the front seats. On paper, the Lincoln has more headroom than the Cadillac but in reality, they feel the same. Seat comfort is good in both for my body type but some may like the Navigator’s “Perfect Position” 30-way adjustable seats. Personally I find them a bit too finicky and can never find the “Perfect Position”. But try them for yourself in a Lincoln showroom before buying.
The 2nd rows of this particular Cadillac Escalade are bench seats but captain’s chairs can be equipped. There is enough legroom and headroom for my 6’4” stature but the Navigator has more space in the 2nd row. In addition to the captain’s chairs on this demo vehicle, it also has a large center console. You can control the audio from the console and it has a couple of cup holders and a fairly substantial storage area underneath it as well as in it. In both SUVs the 2nd rows can slide and recline for added space & comfort.
Accessing the 3rd row is easy in both vehicles. In the Cadillac, there’s a lever on the side of the 2nd row seats that you pull twice to tumble the seat forward. However, once you move it back upright, it status in its most forward position rather than the position it was in prior. In the Lincoln, it’s one lever and the seat tilts forward to allow for a large pass through to the 3rd row. But unlike the Escalade, the seat can be moved back to its prior position. Once in the 3rd row, you’ll find that the Navigator has more legroom than the Escalade. Headroom is similar in both. The Lincoln’s 3rd row seats can also recline electronically with buttons on either side of the seats. If you plan on putting people in the 3rd row more often, both SUVs come in longer versions with more cargo capacity & 3rd row space.
Speaking of cargo, The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is the clear winner. Behind the 3rd row it has 722 L (25.5 cu-ft) vs the Navigator’s 593 L (20.9 cu-ft). With the 3rd row folded via buttons in both, the Escalade has 2,064 L (72.9 cu-ft) vs 1,800 L (63.6 cu-ft) in the Navigator. And finally with all rows folded, again via buttons in both, the Cadillac has 3,426 L (120.9 cu-ft) vs the Lincoln’s 2,925 L (103.3 cu-ft) of cargo volume.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Overall, both SUVs are quiet from inside the cabin. Wind and road noises are subdued in both. However the difference is with the engine noises. In everyday driving situations, the Navigator’s V6 is quieter than the Cadillac’s turbo diesel. Under normal acceleration or overtaking another vehicle on a highway, the diesel engine makes quite a racket. Plus, the Lincoln’s V6 sounds better than the diesel engine.
Odds and Ends
Pricing – The 2021 Cadillac Escalade starts at $90,348 CAD ($76,195 USD). Barring any accessories, this fully loaded Sport Platinum trim costs $131,838 CAD ($109,865 USD). By comparison the 2021 Lincoln Navigator starts at $97,000 CAD ($76,705 USD) and a fully loaded Navigator will cost you a mere $107,000 CAD ($92,290 USD). In America, there is also the Black Label trim that starts at $98,655 USD.
Gadgets – These being top spec trims of their respective models, they come equipped with every feature in the options list. But while they are equal, one is more equal than the other. I think you know which one I’m talking about.
Both SUVs have the traditional features that you’d expect from 6-figure vehicles such as soft leather upholstery, heated, ventilated, & massaging front seats, heated 2nd row seats, heated steering wheels (but in the Lincoln you have to turn it on through the infotainment system), power side steps, panoramic sunroofs, surround view cameras (though the Escalade’s are clearer and larger), head-up displays, a full suite of advanced driver and safety aids, wireless phone charging, rear entertainment systems which let you play TV shows or even game consoles in both (not equipped on this particular Navigator), and finally gimmicky exterior lights. Ok, I actually do like the puddle lights of the Escalade and the illuminated Lincoln badge.
But the Cadillac Escalade has more tech than the Navigator. It has a curved OLED screen for the infotainment system & driver display. The graphics and resolution are excellent in all lighting conditions. There’s also a little touchscreen to the left of the steering wheel for the trip computer and different gauge displays. The Escalade can also be equipped with night vision that will easily and quickly pickup and highlight pedestrians and animals before the headlights shine on them. There’s also augmented reality for the navigation system. This overlays turn-by-turn navigation arrows over a camera feed in the driver display to let you know which road to take. And in the center console, you’ll find a little fridge for your champagne.
But the most impressive gadget on the Cadillac Escalade is Super Cruise. It’s a hands-free, semi-autonomous driving aid that works on over 320,000 km of highways throughout Canada & the United States. It keeps track of where you look to make sure that you’re paying attention because this is NOT a full autonomous driving system. If you look away from the road for too long, it’ll warn you to pay attention again. When you are paying attention, the system works perfectly. It keeps the SUV centered in the lane and it smoothly accelerates or slows down if a faster or slower vehicle is in front. The system can also change lanes on its own. Just turn on the indicator when there’s a clear spot to either side of the SUV and it’ll perform the lane change without any intervention from the driver. It is a fabulous system and hopefully more and more highways will be added to it so that it works on more roads.
It should be noted, though, that the Lincoln navigator will receive a mid-cycle update for the 2022 model year. These updates will include a larger 13.2-inch touchscreen, Sync 4 infotainment, wireless Apple carPlay & Android Auto integration, and ActiveGlide, Lincoln’s version of Super Cruise.
Interior Design – The 2021 Lincoln Navigator has the more traditional looking cabin of the two SUVs. Lots of leather all over the dashboard and door panels along with wood trim on the center console and dash. It uses physical buttons and knobs for the climate control and radio. The Escalade, on the other hand, is much more modern looking. Of course the centerpiece is the curved screen but it also has subtle ambient lighting across the dashboard and door panels. It has physical toggles for the climate controls and a few physical buttons and knobs if you want to control the infotainment system without touching and getting the screen smudged with fingerprints. The leather is just as soft as in the Navigator but the wood trim looks better in the Lincoln.
Exterior Design – The traditional vs modern design theme continues on the outside. The Navigator looks like an evolution of previous generations while the Escalade looks bold with its sharp edges. Both have exterior approach lights but the Cadillac takes the win with emblems that are projected onto the ground. There’s also a little emblem pointing to where you need to kick to open the tailgate so that there’s no guesswork.
Warranty – Both luxury SUVs are covered by a 4 year / 80,000 km new vehicle warranty as well as a 6 year / 110,000 km powertrain warranty. For more information on Canadian Lincoln warranty, click here. For USA Lincoln warranty, click here. For more information on Canadian Cadillac warranty, click here. For USA warranty, click here.
So back to the original question. Does the diesel engine in the Escalade help or hinder it against the Navigator? First thing’s first, this is a great engine. If you have long commutes or generally take a lot of long trips, it’ll save you a lot of fuel. But my biggest problem with it is the fuel that it’s running on and the sounds it makes. A diesel engine doesn’t invoke a premium feeling in a 6-figure, luxury SUV. From the outside, the engine does not try to hide the fact that it’s a diesel. For me, it just doesn’t work. A hybrid powertrain would have made much more sense because you’d have the torque and fuel savings of a diesel but without the noise.
On the flip side, the 2021 Lincoln Navigator is showing its age a bit next to the Escalade. Even with the infotainment & ActiveGlide updates for the 2022 model year, it is trailing behind because the Escalade rides a bit better, drives a bit better, and still has more tech. But the Navigator is a solid all-rounder with slightly better fuel economy figures than those of the Escalade with the 6.2L V8. But just as I said about the Escalade, think of how much better the fuel economy savings would be if the Navigator had the powertrain of the Aviator PHEV. It would also get a boost in the torque figure.
So between the two, I’m still not sure which one I would pick because they both have their own pros and cons.
Thank you to Cadillac Canada for providing the vehicle. www.CadillacCanada.ca
Thank you to Lincoln Canada for providing the vehicle. www.LincolnCanada.com