Lincoln and Cadillac’s New SUVs: Head-to-Head

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America’s two luxury car brands are going to battle in one of the market’s fast-growing segments: the three-row, family-style SUV.

Both Cadillac and Lincoln sat on the sidelines in recent years as German and Japanese competitors steadily increased their seven-passenger SUV sales. Now General Motors’ and Ford’s upscale divisions are angling for their share and hoping to redefine American luxury as more buyers supersize their vehicles.

The Cadillac XT6 and Lincoln Aviator start in the $50,000s to challenge new and established models from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and others. Full-size SUV sales comprise an increasingly significant portion of business for most of these brands.

For years, Cadillac and Lincoln have built the truck-based Escalade and Navigator, which also have three rows, but consumer demand is high for larger vehicles that handle with agility more akin to a car. Sales of premium full-size utility vehicles rose 17% between 2015 and 2018 and are expected to grow another 54% by 2022, according to figures from IHS Markit.

The segment now includes stalwarts such as the Acura MDX and three-row versions of the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and Lexus RX crossovers. BMW has joined the fray earlier this year with its new X7, and Volvo is launching a redesign for its XC90 full-size SUV.

They all come awash in leather, carbon fiber, suede, and wood trim with a generous helping of the latest dashboard technology.The Cadillac XT6 and Lincoln Aviator feature in-demand accoutrements for family carpools such as a power-folding third-row seat and half a dozen USB ports.

Starting at $52,695, the 2020 Cadillac XT6 fills the space in the brand’s lineup between the $42,690 midsize XT5 utility vehicle and $76,490 Escalade. For Cadillac, suffering straight three years of U.S. sales declines, it’s part of an “aggressive launch strategy” that will see the launch of a new model every six months through 2021.

Lincoln, which spent two years transforming its SUV lineup, has rebadged its midsize crossover as the $52,195 Aviator. The SUV will also be offered as a $69,895 plug-in hybrid that can travel an estimated 18 miles on a battery charge before switching to its 450-horsepower engine.Its range-topping Black Label trim offers luxuries on par with any of its German competitors, such as premium leather upholstery and wood grain trim.

Both brands are seeking to recapture their former, mid-century luster. Cadillac is also launching its first twin-turbo V8 engine, the Blackwing, on its flagship CT6 sedan. (However, it’s not clear whether Cadillac will discontinue that nameplate next year.) Meanwhile, the brand, which recently returned its headquarters to Detroit after decamping to New York, is refining its SuperCruise advanced driver assistance system and serving as the lead platform for GM’s electric vehicle program.

Analysts say the belated entry to the market will not hurt the brands, which have already demonstrated credibility in the full-size SUV segment with the success of theCadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit.

“In the recent past, the focus has been on expanding the compact and mid-size segments,” Brinley said. “With those segments becoming saturated, the focus is shifting to full-size entries, which typically see lower volume but an opportunity for higher margin.”