Not so long ago, lumbering body-on-frame SUVs roamed the streets with an unquenchable thirst for gasoline and chrome.
Amongst these prehistoric beasts, the Cadillac Escalade was Tyrannosaurus Rex, perched atop a throne made of motoring luxury, space and excess. For 2015 there is an all-new ‘Slade looking to continue its reign as King of the big American luxury SUV.
But there’s always been one key rival trying to overthrow the Escalade since 1997, the Lincoln Navigator. It too has received substantial updates for the 2015 model, but are they enough to dethrone the Escalade?
Similarities Abound, Differences Poke Through
On the surface the Escalade and Navigator are fairly similar. Both can be had in two body styles, as either the smaller Navigator and Escalade, or the larger Navigator L and Escalade ESV. The two SUVs can seat up to eight passengers, come with DVD entertainment systems, two or four wheel drive and 460 lb-ft. or torque.
But the way that torque number is achieved by very different means. While the Cadillac continues to use a big 6.2-liter V8, Lincoln installed the widely popular 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 in the Navigator. Even though the torque ratings between the two engines are the same, the Navigator’s is available at lower RPM. On the road, this low-end torque advantage is noticeable as the Navigator pulls effortlessly at any speed, even with an extra 200 lbs. to carry around compared to the Escalade.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Cadillac Escalade Review
Once speeds climb, the 40 extra horsepower produced by the Escalade’s V8 begins to be felt. And when it comes to sound there’s no contest; the 6.2-liter is much more pleasant to the ears. If you plan to tow though, the Lincoln has a distinct advantage because rear-wheel drive models are rated to tow 9,000 lbs., or almost 1,000 lbs. more than the Cadillac.
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Fuel economy is pretty close between the two as well. Official ratings are pegged at 14 MPG city and 21 MPG highway for an all-wheel drive regular length Escalade. By comparison, the all-wheel drive standard length Navigator drops one mile per gallon on the highway, but gains one in city driving. When we did a real-world fuel cycle loop, the cylinder deactivation on the Escalade helped secure it a slightly more attractive 15.6 MPG average compared to the Lincoln’s 15.2 MPG. And, that was with the larger Escalade ESV against a regular wheelbase Navigator. Had the two SUVs been the same length, we figure the observed fuel economy gap would have increased.
Comfort and Space
For driver and passenger comfort, the Navigator holds the edge. The front seats are plusher and the suspension swallows road imperfections better than an asphalt scraper. The Cadillac isn’t exactly a rough ride, but it can’t match the Navigator’s smoothness, even when the adjustable magnetic ride control suspension is set to Tour mode. On the other hand, the Escalade is more responsive and handles better, but these are as far from performance vehicles as you can get so it’s sort of a moot point.
Despite the vehicle’s similar size, the Navigator offers more space in most places. The rear cargo area, with 18.1 cubic feet for regular wheelbase models and 42.6 cubic feet for long wheelbase ones, is larger than their equivalent Escalade counterparts. And then there’s third-row seat comfort. The Lincoln’s aren’t just more spacious, also more comfortable as well. Anyone stuck sitting in the Escalade’s third row for a long ride will probably be pretty cranky because they offer all the comfort of a wood bench. But the second-row seats, which will see much more use, do hold a slight advantage over the Navigator.
|Vehicle||2015 Cadillac Escalade||Advantage||2015 Lincoln Navigator|
|Engine||6.2-liter V8||–||3.5-liter twin-turbo V6|
|Transmission||Six-speed Automatic||-–||Six-Speed Automatic|
|Fuel Economy (US)||14 MPG City, 21 MPG Highway||Escalade||15 MPG City, 20 MPG Highway|
|Fuel Economy (Canadian)||16.8 L/100 km city, 11.7 L/100 km hwy||Escalade||16.2 L/100 km city, 11.8 L/100 km hwy|
|Cargo Space||15.2 cu. ft.||Navigator||18.1 cu. ft.|
|Second-Row Legroom||39 inches||–||39.1 inches|
|Third-Row Legroom||24.8 inches||Navigator||37.7 inches|
|Starting Price (U.S.)||$73,965||Navigator||$62,495|
|As-Tested Price (U.S.)||$89,755||Navigator||$75,890|
|Starting Price (Canadian)||$83,245||Navigator||$76,960|
|As-Tested Price (Canadian)||$99,910||Navigator||$86,560|
Cutting Edge vs. Familiar
The differences in design – both interior and exterior – are much more clearly defined. Even though both SUVs wear new exterior styling for 2015, the Navigator’s refresh didn’t dramatically alter its look and in our eyes. In other words, it already looks dated, especially beside the cutting-edge Escalade.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Lincoln Navigator Review
Inside the styling of the two SUVs becomes a matter of personal taste, but there are some design elements we question in the Navigator like how high the dashboard hump is in front of the passenger and how the cheap door-mounted tweeter covers made it into the production model.
Locked in a close battle so far, the Escalade pulls ahead when in the technology department. Features like lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control that are optional on the Escalade are nowhere to be found on the Navigator. The Cadillac also feels more like a high-end SUV flagship product thanks to high-tech features like the digital gauge cluster and the heads-up display. If you live in a colder climate, it’s also important to note the Escalade comes with a heated steering wheel as standard equipment, unlike the Navigator.
Of course getting more in the Escalade will also cost more. Base models start at $73,965 after destination charges while an Escalade Premium 4WD comes in at $89,755 as equipped for this comparison. That’s quite a bit more than the Navigator that begins $62,495 and arrived for this test at $75,890 as equipped.
So that raises an important question: is the Escalade worth an $11,000 to $14,000 price premium? In our minds, the answer is yes. The Navigator may be cheaper, but it feels old and we can’t help but wonder if grabbing a slightly used model is a better option. The Escalade, on the other hand, looks and feels like a new, modern take on the mammoth luxury SUV. At least for now, GM still builds the grandCaddy of body-on-frame family transportation.
2015 Cadillac Escalade
2015 Lincoln Navigator