2021 Cadillac Escalade vs. 2021 Lincoln Navigator: Compare SUVs

Cadillac’s latest Escalade comes out swinging this year with a wall of OLED screens, proven V-8 power, and a fancy air suspension system. Is this all enough to knock the luxurious Lincoln Navigator from its American SUV throne?

The difference comes down to how you want your luxury full-size SUV to coddle you. While the 2021 Lincoln Navigator delivers a calm yacht club-like experience, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is stuffed with the latest technology.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2018 Lincoln Navigator

2018 Lincoln Navigator

2018 Lincoln Navigator

2018 Lincoln Navigator

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is new yet familiar. The redesign retains crisp, sharp lines but the front end gets horizontal headlights for the first time since the first generation launched more than 20 years ago. No one will question if this is an Escalade with its tall, blunt front end and distinct vertical taillights. The Navigator isn’t lacking presence, either. The largest Lincoln isn’t as blunt or bold despite its huge grille, but it’s sleek with straight lines across the roof and belt lines that make it resemble a scaled-up Range Rover. Black Label models make a statement with available 22-inch turbine-style wheels.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Inside, the Navigator treats its occupants to a rich, calm interior with available blue leather, white trim, and 30-way front seats. In keeping with Lincoln’s nautical theme, the Navigator’s cabin would be at home in a yacht club. The slim digital gauge cluster shows everything one needs and nothing one doesn’t; it’s simple, clean, and elegant. The 10.0-inch infotainment touchscreen rises from the center of the dashboard like an iPad. Chrome knobs, switches, and buttons give a sense of old-world luxury in a busy modern world.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

This is all nearly the opposite of what one will find in the Escalade, which features a wall of curved OLED displays with 4K resolution that add up to over 38 inches of screen on the dashboard. It makes the Navigator’s touchscreen infotainment system look like it’s 8-bit. A row of silver buttons operate the climate control system and a BMW iDrive-like scroll wheel sits behind the console-mounted gear selector. While the Navigator tries to simplify, the Escalade puts tech front and center as the showcase of its interior.

Both the Navigator and Escalade feature seating for up to eight passengers when one options the second-row bench seat, though only seven people will fit with second-row captain’s chairs. There’s plenty of space, even in the adult-sized third rows. The only people who will complain about the Escalade’s seats are those who have experienced the Navigator’s available 30-way power front thrones, which put the Escalade’s seats to shame with near infinite adjustability and available massagers.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Escalades are powered by either an old school 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 with 460 lb-ft of torque that gets an EPA-rated 17 mpg combined or a 277-hp 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6 with 460 lb-ft of torque that gets 27 mpg on the highway or 23 mpg combined. Navigators take a smarter, more modern approach with a 450-hp 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 with 510 lb-ft of torque that gets 19 mpg combined.
Both the V-8 and inline-6 in the Escalade offer smooth power with plenty of grunt to move in any situation, but the twin-turbo V-6 in the Navigator is the more modern, and more powerful, option. It also runs on gasoline, which is cheaper today, while being more efficient than the Escalade’s V-8.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Both SUVs send power to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is an option for both, but only the Escalade can be had with a 2-speed transfer case for a bit more confidence at a steep boat ramp or hill to get that added confidence of a torque multiplier. Navigators are slightly more capable at hauling with the ability to tow up to 8,700 pounds to the Escalade’s 8,200-pound rating.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

This year, the Escalade plays catch up to the Navigator’s independent rear suspension. Navigators and their adaptive dampers soak up most road imperfections while being smooth and composed, but its body motions are slightly less controlled than the Escalade and its available adaptive dampers and air suspension. The Escalade rides slightly firmer and almost more truck-like, but body roll is more controlled around corners.

Every Escalade and Navigator comes with essential safety technology including automatic emergency braking and active lane control. Navigators go a step further with adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors, which are standard on higher-line Escalades but optional on lower-spec models. Escalades offer night vision, which is a slick trick that will highlight creatures of the dark before they become roadkill.

Navigators cost $77,480 and the Escalade costs just $10 more, which adds up to a lot of money for either. Each can be optioned to over $100,000, but both come very well equipped with standard power features, automatic climate control, digital gauge clusters, large touchscreen infotainment systems, and leather upholstery.

We give the 2021 Cadillac Escalade a TCC Rating of 7.2 out of 10 that trails the 2021 Lincoln Navigator’s 7.4.

The Navigator’s simple swagger and calming interior has just enough modern technology to soothe instead of overwhelm the senses. It gets the edge, but for tech-forward shoppers, the Escalade dazzles.

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