The 2021 Cadillac Escalade arrived late last night, and we all know what that means: It’s comparison time. Specifically, we’re pitting the new Escalade versus the 2020 Lincoln Navigator. The sales gap between the long-time competitors has grown dangerously close for Cadillac ever since the revolutionary new Navigator came out for the 2018 model year. In 2019, the Navigator was only about 4,000 units down from the Escalade. Cadillac intends to widen that gap back up with a new truck, and now it’s time to see if it’s brought the right goods to the party.
With the redesigned model that now features an independent rear suspension, these two are more alike than they’ve been in a long time. The Escalade was stuck with the less space-efficient solid rear end up until now, as GM hadn’t yet made the switch to IRS that Ford long-ago did. Now that it has, these two are super similar from a dimensions perspective. Cadillac was playing catch-up in this fight, so it knew exactly where it needed to aim to come out victorious in a specs battle such as this one.
A quick note on the chart below. Both of these models have a “regular” and “long” version. The Escalade’s long variant is still named ESV, and the Navigator’s long version is simply named L. In the dimensions section, we distinguish between the two with a “/” — the “regular” length version is on the left, and the “long” version is on the right side of the slash. The numbers are below:
The Lincoln Navigator still reigns supreme when it comes to power, as the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 is high on both horsepower and torque. GM’s small-block V8 comes close, but ultimately falls short by 30 horsepower and 50 pound-feet of torque to the twin-turbo V6. Cadillac does have an ace up its sleeve, though. It comes in the form of the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six engine. Lincoln hasn’t dropped the PowerStroke diesel into the Navigator (and we'd be shocked if it does), so Cadillac has a unique offering in this segment now. The diesel will be optional on the Escalade, but it has less horsepower and the same amount of torque as the V8. We expect the big advantage for the diesel will come in fuel economy, an area where the Silverado Duramax diesel currently outpaces the full-size truck competition.
Both of these big SUVs come standard with 10-speed automatic transmissions. Intriguingly, it’s the 10-speed automatic that was co-developed between Ford and GM. We’ll be interested to drive these vehicles back-to-back to see who did the best tuning job with their respective engines. As expected, both vehicles are offered in either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. On top of that, both are offered with electronic limited-slip differentials as options. We’ll call this section a draw, on account of the Navigator leading the way in power and the Escalade leading the way in variety — that diesel is mighty tempting.
Size and interior space
Here’s where the Cadillac makes its largest strides against the Navigator. Since GM went with an independent rear suspension setup, the Escalade is now much larger with significantly more interior space than before. A Cadillac marketing rep even mentioned to us that if they made it any larger, it’d need some extra lights to comply with regulations. Point being, this sucker is huge. On the exterior, the base Escalade and base Navigator line up nearly toe-to-toe. Step up to the Escalade ESV and Navigator L, and the Cadillac rings in as the biggest. It’s longer in overall length by 5.0 inches and stretches the wheelbase out another 2.5 inches. In theory, that larger footprint should result in some extra interior space.
The numbers show us that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. A base Escalade has more legroom in the first and second rows, but not in the third row. The margin of victory in the first couple rows is minimal, but the Navigator has 1.2 inch more legroom in the third row. This flip-flops when the extended versions are compared. The ESV's third row gains space, which means it takes a 0.5 inch lead over the Navigator L that retains the same third-row legroom as the regular-length version.
Cargo capacity is another story entirely. The Escalade wins in every possible category. With the third row in its upright position, it beats the Navigator by 6.2 cu-ft in the regular-sized SUV and by 8.6 cu-ft in the extended versions. Similar victories are had with the third row lowered and with all seats lowered. Both vehicles get to take advantage of a lower loading floor with the independent suspension design, but GM is able to eke out a bit more space for stuff than Lincoln was. When you’re moving your kid to college, those few extra cubes could make all the difference. We’ll give the victory to the Escalade for this section as a whole. They’re extremely similar when it comes to passenger space, but the Escalade’s larger size helps it win the cargo capacity war. Will that encourage Ford and Lincoln to make their next full-size SUV even bigger? Most likely, but size is huge in this segment.
Cadillac was kind enough to provide us with a full rundown of features and technologies that will be offered with the 2021 Escalade. Now we can compare it with what the Navigator offers. Lincoln makes a 10-inch infotainment screen standard running Sync 3 software. It’s solid tech, and we’ve grown to like this version of Sync. However, Cadillac aimed to disrupt the screen wars with the 2021 Escalade. As a result, all 2021 Escalades will have a curved 16.9-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system. It looks stunning in person, and it definitely outclasses the Navigator’s infotainment.
To keep the screen game going, Lincoln also uses a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. Meanwhile, the Escalade uses a 14.2-inch digital instrument cluster that takes advantage of the same curved OLED tech used for the infotainment system. On top of this, the Escalade also has a 7.2-inch touchscreen to the left of the instrument cluster to complement it. It makes sense that the newer car has superior screen technology, and nobody else is putting curved OLED screens in their vehicles yet. Perhaps Cadillac will start a trend.
Another important luxury feature is the competency of the driver assistance tech. Cadillac is offering its next-gen Super Cruise technology on the 2021 Escalade. That’s something Lincoln doesn’t have an answer for. You get a well-executed adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping system, but it doesn’t come close to measuring up to the hands-free highway driving that Super Cruise offers. We don’t have a price on Super Cruise in the Escalade yet, but it was a $5,000 option on the CT6.
The last area of tech we’ll dive into is audio. Cadillac is making a lot of noise (see what we did there?) about its new partnership with AKG. We haven’t sampled the audio yet, but a 36-speaker system engineered by a studio recording company could be downright blissful. The standard AKG audio system is a 19-speaker setup, which is probably already overkill on the ears. Lincoln uses Revel audio for its high-end audio system — it’s a 20-speaker setup. Cadillac has added a couple fun features to its 36-speaker system, too. The front passengers can have their own sound zones, so the driver can have the music at one volume while the passenger listens at another. Also, Cadillac uses mics to relay the driver’s voice over the audio system to passengers in the back (something currently found in Honda and Toyota family vehicles). Without listening to them side-by-side, we can’t pick a winner here. However, both vehicles are making top-notch audio a priority, and that’s something we can all get behind.
We’re extricating ourselves from this section thinking that the Escalade did pretty well. Without pricing on options and features to compare with, though, it’s impossible to declare a winner just yet. We’ll leave you with these final thoughts. The Escalade is tremendously more competitive than before. So much so, that buying one over a Navigator doesn’t appear foolish anymore. A final verdict will have to wait for driving impressions, but the American full-size luxury SUVs are closer now than they’ve been in a very long time.
How they compare in pictures