We drove an $103,000 Cadillac Escalade and a $90,000 Lincoln Navigator to see which large SUV we liked better -- and the winner was clear

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderThe Lincoln Navigator.
  • The CadillacEscalade and the LincolnNavigator are Detroit’s kings of the large SUV segment.
  • We sampled the ageing Caddy and the all-new Lincoln.
  • Believe it or not, even through the Navigator is clearly superior, I preferred the throwback Escalade.

Ford has endured some ups and down over the past year, but it’s hit a home run with the redesigned Lincoln Navigator, the large-and-in-charge full-size luxury SUV.

The vehicle is so much in-demand that the company can’t build them fast enough.

Navigator was really the first big luxury SUV, debuting in the 1990s. But not long after, crosstown Detroit rival Cadillac also jumped into the game with the Escalade.

Despite Navigator’s recent surge, Escalade is still the segment leader. The SUV went into production in 2014 for its third generation, so it’s longer in the tooth than the new Navigator.

With that in mind, we pitted the Navigator – with which we were already mighty impressed – against the Escalade. Read on to find out who ended up the victor.

Photos by Hollis Johnson unless otherwise indicated.

Our well-optioned 2018 Lincoln Navigator arrived in a 4×4 Reserve trim level and tipped the price scales at $US90,000.

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Read the review.

It looked sharp in an “Ingot Silver Metallic” paint job. And I mean really sharp. It’s a challenge to make anything this big look sleek and stylish.

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The Navigator really announces itself with its bold grille and front fascia: the grillework itself replicates the shape of the famous Lincoln star badge — which, by the way, lights up.

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The Lincoln Navigator is large and in charge from every angle. The vehicle is over 18 feet long and over six feet wide. The new SUV is 200 pounds lighter than the previous generation, but it can still top out at over 6,000 pounds.

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The sheer intrinsic mass and bulk of the SUV presented a design challenge for Lincoln – one that was successfully overcome by taking a great big box and looking for any opportunity to make it sleeker.

As my colleague Ben Zhang said, Lincoln really thought through the interior to make the Navigator stand out against the Escalade and to deliver on Lincoln’s brand promise of “quiet luxury.”

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Our tester had an “Ebony” interior with lovely wood accents. The driving position was commanding.

The piano-key shifter means no stick or knob to deal with, decluttering the interior. The 10-speed automatic also offers paddle shifters.

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On the 0-60 mph dash, we were looking at something like six seconds.

There are plenty of three-row SUVs out there, but the Navigator is a TRUE eight-passenger hauler. Adults won’t feel cramped in the third row.

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A technology called “Lincoln Play,” according to the brand, “allows passengers to stream content wirelessly with compatible mobile devices to one of the 10-inch adjustable screens mounted on the rear of the front seats.”

The screen can also show independent content, and media can be input using wired connections, such as through USB or HDMI ports.

Lincoln also offers 4G LTE WiFi connectivity, which can handle 10 devices, according to the carmaker.

The twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 engine cranks out 450 horsepower. Lincoln didn’t provide us with fuel-economy estimates, but we observed something like 18-20 mpg combined city/highway. That’s not bad for an SUV this big and heavy. With 510 pound-feet of torque, the Navigator is no slouch at towing: Lincoln says it’s best-in-class, capable of hauling 8,700 pounds.

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As with the previous Navigator, cargo capacity is vast. Drop the third row of seats, and you almost have a pickup truck.

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The central infotainment touchscreen runs Ford’s SYNC 3 system. The navigation in the Navigator was unflappable, and we ventured from the suburbs of New Jersey to Brooklyn.

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As usual, we spent a good deal of time with the lovely audio system, which features SiriusXM satellite radio as well as the usual USB/AUX ports and Bluetooth connectivity for devices.

Our tester came with a 20-speaker Revel Ultima sound system, a $US1,000 upgrade that’s definitely worth it.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also available.

On to the $US103,000 Caddy Escalade, in Platinum ESV trim!

Matthew DeBord/BI

I reviewed the Escalade in 2014 and have revisited it on several occasions.

The colour was “Dark Granite Metallic,” which was nice, but not as hypnotic as the Navigator’s paint job.

Matthew DeBord/BI

Our tester was an extended-wheelbase version, meaning that the cargo area with the third-row seats up was going to be notably larger than the Navigator’s.

The Caddy’s design is familiar – and far less sleek than the Lincoln’s. The idea here is to be unabashedly large and in charge. We’ll see if a future redesign dials it back a bit.

The Escalade has a 420-horsepower, 6.2-litre V8 engine under the hood, with power piped through a 10-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle can tow up to 8,100 pounds. Fuel economy comes in a 14 mpg city/21 highway/17 combined.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The 0-60 mph time is about the same as the Navigator’s – under six seconds – but it comes via a growl of power from the large V8, versus a more suave delivery in the Lincoln.

The rear ends of SUVs are usually not terribly appealing, and the Caddy drops this one to the Lincoln.

Matthew DeBord/BI

While the Navigator has taken just about everything away that might distract the driver, the Escalade uses more conventional instrumentation. And by the way, that column shifter is widely disliked — but I love it.

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The second row was quite roomy, with seat-back and flip-down entertainment.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The third row isn’t as accommodating to grownups as it is in the Navigator, but it gets the job done.

Matthew DeBord/BI

Thanks to the extended wheelbase, the cargo area is vast, even with the third row deployed.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The Cadillac Cue infotainment system is among the best in the industry. But you also have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available, as well as a 4G LTE wireless connection providing WiFi support through OnStar, GM’s communications and connectivity setup.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The Bose Centerpoint audio system was lovely – not quite at the same level as the Revel system in the Navigator, however.

And the winner is the Escalade!

Matthew DeBord/BI

Look, let’s be clear – the Navigator is fresh and new and generally quite awesome, and Lincoln deserves to be selling scads of them. Objectively, it’s a superior vehicle. You don’t even have to get into the quietly luxurious design and appointments that Lincoln has used to frame up the SUV.

You could pick the Navigator over the Escalade based on the driving comfort and enhanced passenger space served up by the Lincoln’s independent rear suspension, versus the Caddy’s bone-jarring setup (essentially, a bar of iron connected to the rear wheels). I was, after all, able to transport six adults to various locations in the New York-New Jersey area in the Lincoln, and nobody complained.

But I’m going to be unapologetically subjective here and say that I just still like the Escalade better. If you want, contrast this with my attitude in the battle of the Caddy and Lincoln full-size flagship sedans, where despite the views of my colleague Ben Zhang, I favour the Lincoln Continental over the Caddy CT6.

Some of this is due to my preference for big V8s in my big SUVs. The Navigator’s turbo V6 is powerful and capable, but the Escalade’s motor is a satisfying beast. It is more crude than the Navigator’s. But it somehow makes me feel more alive.

Weirdly, when Caddy redesigns the Escalade to maintain its lead over the Navigator (assuming Lincoln hasn’t surged to the top by then), I’d be willing to bet that I won’t like the Escalade as much. The 2018 model has a throwback quality, while the new Navigator charts a brave course into the future.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy the current Escalade and its arrogant charms while I can.

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