american luxury automakers have been without serious players in the large mid-size suv class for a long, long time. the lincoln mkt was never a hit, given its ungainly styling and awkward interior packaging. and if you wanted a big mid-size cadillac suv, you were out of luck — it didn't exist. you could buy an srx two-row crossover, which eventually became the xt5, or a big ol' escalade truck. elsewhere, the mercedes-benz gls, infiniti qx60 and acura mdx filled this gap. for 2020, the americans are back with two new models aimed at the big mid-size, three-row luxury crossover suv class: the 2020 cadillac xt6 and the 2020 lincoln aviator. while we won't get behind the wheel of these new money wagons for a few more months, we compared the two at the 2019 chicago auto show to see how they stack up in a few key areas.
luxury appointments: aviator
both the 2020 xt6 and the 2020 aviator are aimed at the same buyer — affluent consumers looking for style, performance and space. but just sitting in the two trucks reveals two very different levels of execution. in short, the aviator blows the xt6 away in terms of opulence, style and interior amenities. everything from the leather to the chrome to the wood to the buttons and controls on the aviator feels on par with the best in the industry. i wouldn't hesitate to match the lincoln aviator up against the latest 2020 mercedes-benz gle, a vehicle i hold as a benchmark for modern luxury interiors. the xt6, on the other hand, feels a generation behind. it still features the touch-sensitive controls being phased out by the brand. cadillac leather quality is acceptable, but not remarkable. the wood trim is nice, but the controls are ordinary, and the multimedia system is nothing special. the overall feel is one of a premium vehicle — not a world-standard luxury brand.
interior comfort: tie
up front, there's plenty of space in either the xt6 or the aviator, but the aviator definitely has the advantage in its 30-way perfect position power adjustable seats. both have power-folding third rows (the xt6 makes it standard) and tilt-and-slide second-row seating. and while the third rows in both suvs aren't exactly spacious or welcoming for full-sized adults, the lincoln's front-seat advantage is balanced out by its small second-row seats where the xt6 has the advantage. the lincoln's captain's chairs are oddly small with narrow backs that aren't entirely comfortable. there's no issue in the xt6's second row, however, making interior comfort a tie.
styling : aviator
if we were talking about your average family suvs, this would be less of an issue, but given that these are luxury vehicles and status symbols, exterior styling and appearance are a real purchase consideration. i think the cadillac is attractive, with its angular lines inspired by the cadillac escala concept car, but it shares its front-wheel drive platform and proportions with the gmc acadia. the aviator shares a platform, too, with the new rear-wheel-drive 2020 ford explorer, but it looks nothing like the more mundane ford. it's long and sleek with the short front overhang and long rear proportions only a rear-wheel-drive vehicle can have. it has presence and style that the caddy lacks.
let's start with what's under the hood: in the xt6, it's gm's stalwart 3.6-liter v-6 that's in everything from the 2019 chevy blazer to the buick lacrosse, and it makes no more power in the cadillac than it does in the gmc acadia (310 horsepower, 271 pounds-feet of torque). the aviator has a standard twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter v-6 making 400 hp and 400 pounds-feet of torque, or an optional plug-in hybrid version making 450 hp and 600 pounds-feet of torque. that's right — the top aviator will have more than double the torque of the top xt6. inside, the aviator can be had with a 28-speaker revel premium audio system; the cadillac bose performance series system has half as many (increased speaker count isn't always an advantage, however, so we'll have to test and see). the aviator is available with a new automatic self-parking system that activates by pressing and holding one button, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and the ability to use your phone as the vehicle's key. the xt6 has a new "jog" function rotary controller for its multimedia system. there's no contest here: the aviator trounces the xt6 in terms of on-board technology.
normally, we look forward to comparing two new vehicles out on the street in a head-to-head contest, but we're afraid that this is going to be a lopsided test. pricing may be a key factor. cadillac's smaller xt5 starts around $40,000 and goes up to $70,000 loaded, so we expect the xt6 to come in a bit higher at both ends. the aviator starts at $52,195 including destination fee, and will top out with a loaded black label grand touring hybrid version at just less than $92,000, presumably much more than the top xt6, and rivaling the escalade and lincoln's own navigator in terms of price. whether the new aviator is good enough to command such price tags will be a big question in our testing.
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