The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? Well, almost. To say there's been, and continues to be, a Lincoln versus Cadillac luxo rivalry is obvious. But who would've imagined it'd ever come to this? Not even Motor Trend dreamed we'd be comparing truck-based luxury vehicles when we documented this natural comparison several times during the '70s (see Editor-in-Chief C. Van Tune's "Historical Perspective"). Of course, this feud goes back even farther than a mere three decades, but lately the term "luxury vehicle" has begun to manifest itself in different products, namely trucks and SUVs.
When Lincoln launched the Navigator in '98 (a variation of the '97 Ford Expedition; itself derived from the F-Series pickup), people laughed-until they saw the sales numbers and profit margins Ford soon enjoyed. Less than a year later, GM quickly rebadged its GMC Yukon Denali as the '99 Cadillac Escalade. Its sales figures and profits also steadily climbed, and everyone finally took notice.
Keep in mind both Cadillac and Lincoln plan to bridge the gap and reverse this evolution by producing the missing links they skipped over: Both makers have revealed luxury pickup truck versions of their successful SUVs, the Escalade EXT and the Blackwood, available by next year. While the Escalade is effectively all-new this year, the Navigator has remained largely the same since its introduction, while Lincoln has refined equipment levels here and added options there to keep it fresh in this ever-growing segment.
In the simpler, more definitive era of 1970, our Motor Trend predecessors eloquently said of their test subjects, the Continental Mark III and the Eldorado: "Where material wealth reposes beyond well manicured lawns and shrub-lined drives, faint nuances of afternoon tennis and evening cocktail parties by the pool float delicately on the air. That's when you see them parked in the drives, at dusk. A symbol of how and how well a man has it made, his car is a mobile status beacon flashing the word to one and all." Ah, things really haven't changed after all. Of the '02 Cadillac Escalade (technically, there is no '01 model) and the '01 Lincoln Navigator, we ask the same question we did back then: Who's King of the [Luxury SUV] Hill?
This task of elevating one rolling status symbol over another nowadays can be approached more scientifically than when Nixon was President. We wouldn't presume to say what a vehicle says about you; that's for you to decide. What we can do is aim our observations, testing data, and day-to-day experiences to focus on several key elements that we feel are the must-have pieces in the lux/utility puzzle: Attitude, Power, Positioning, Human Engineering, Details, Vision, Sound Systems, Handling, and Off-Road Prowess.