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2020 Lincoln Corsair vs. Buick Enclave vs. Cadillac XT6

What is a luxury SUV, anyway?

Todd LassaWriter, Photographer

The 2020 Lincoln Corsair most certainly is not in the same category as the other two models here, the Buick Enclave and Cadillac XT6, but these vehicles represent the heart of the burgeoning crossover SUV market. The Corsair is in the hot two-row, four-cylinder compact utility segment, and more precisely, the extra-hot premium/luxury side of that segment. Meanwhile, the Enclave and XT6 serve well-off consumers who need, or want, seating capacity for six or seven people.

None of these three SUVs are pretend sports cars, unlike too many of the pricier SUVs on the market. Rather, they each have roughly the same approach to the ride-handling balance equation: they're soft enough to smooth out most rough roads, but firm enough to avoid body wallow, especially when cornering. The downside is that each comes with too-large wheels, 20-inches all around on all three. These wheels and their ungainly unsprung weight sometimes feel like they're the ones leading the SUVs around, and as good as they look filling the wheel wells, there's also the prominent passenger head-toss effect when driving up or down the parking lot entrance of Automobile's Detroit Bureau.

2020 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve

Auto critics far and wide generally agree Lincoln got its crap together, and turned things around in the past two or three years, after then-Ford CEO Alan Mulally nearly killed the marque in 2010. The 2020 Lincoln Corsair's interior fit-and-finish, and the quality of its padded leather dash, eclipse what General Motors has been able to do with Cadillac and Buick.

The Corsair shares its compact, transverse-engine platform with the new Ford Escape, though the lux brand has its own sheetmetal and its own vibe. There's none of the Escape's mainstream value-brand ride, and the Corsair's look is as distinctive as it gets in this segment. The SUV's overall size feels just about right for urban/suburban commutes and parking lots. If you buy the notion that car-based crossovers are distinguished from true SUVs by their overall height, then this is without a doubt a crossover, and it is easy to appreciate its near-perfect step-in height.

The Corsair does reveal a tad bit of its Ford Escape roots under full-throttle launches into traffic, with noticeable squat and that crucial half-moment as you wait for the front wheels to share power with the rears. My tester's optional 2.3-liter turbo-four (a 2.0 turbo is standard), which shares its general architecture with the base Mustang EcoBoost engine, can feel a bit harsh with turbo lag/stumble at times. But this is an issue with most small, modern turbocharged engines. At least there's an eight-speed automatic to smooth things out, and not a continuously variable transmission.

My two big complaints have to do with the audio-infotainment system. The Revel stereo is one of the best-sounding hi-fi systems you can get in a car or truck, but the digital bugaboo might have you wishing for the return of transistor AM radios in cars: With hands and fingers nowhere near radio controls, the stereo at times hiked its volume significantly before ramping it down itself after a few seconds—a rather irritating experience.

One issue that ostensibly was driver-error is that I hit the Alexa voice command button inadvertently a good half-dozen times in my week with the Corsair. Yes, my fault, but then I found the voice command button on the inside of the steering wheel just north of 9 o'clock where I like to put my thumb; talk about a poor location for it.

2020 Buick Enclave Essence AWD 1SL

There was something refreshing in taking delivery for a week of an Enclave that, not only wasn't an Avenir, starting $11,800 higher, it wasn't even a Premium, at a $6,400 price hike. The Enclave Essence comes with perforated leather seats, but not with a standard navigation system.

The navigation option would have added $1,395 to the Enclave Essence's bottom line, but all the kids tell me these days they don't bother with an embedded nav so long as there's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And there was, and the entire infotainment system on an 8-inch center screen was easier to use than either the Lincoln Corsair's or the Cadillac XT6's.

Skimping on the trim level also deprived me of a 10-speaker Bose audio system, power folding third-row seats, forward-collision alert, and massaging front seats. Too bad about the Bose and the magic fingers, but otherwise, this Enclave's spec sheet feels just about perfect, a vessel for carrying a half-dozen people and towing up to 5,000 pounds (if ordered with the $650 Trailering Package, which the test vehicle did not have) without having to reach for the a-pillar grab-handle to pull myself inside. It's not a natural step-in height like the Corsair's, but it's easy enough considering the interior capaciousness. Most importantly, the front passenger seat gets power lumbar control along with the driver's seat.

Without six passengers or a 5,000-pound trailer, the Enclave moves out into traffic smoothly and adequately, its 3.6-liter V-6 and nine-speed automatic well-matched to the Buick's size and heft. There's no noticeable difference in the level of quiet compared with the Cadillac XT6, both running on the same basic architecture.

Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury AWD

The preceding paragraphs preview my impressions of the Cadillac XT6, which would make a good Buick--if it was a bit less expensive, and if its design wasn't quite so creased.

No question, the exterior design can sway the most jaded car critic's opinion. There's also no question the older Buick design--an evolution of the original Enclave design that was unveiled as a concept about a decade-and-a-half ago--is much more pleasing to these eyes than the XT6's, which doesn't wear the latest Cadillac Escala design language particularly well.

To be clear, the Cadillac XT6 does not line up directly with the Buick Enclave. The XT6 is on the shorter, 112.7-inch wheelbase of the midsize transverse-engine SUV platform, 7.2 inches shorter than the Enclave's. It's 5.5-inches shorter overall compared with the Buick, which puts some added distance compared to the all-new 2021 Cadillac Escalade full-size, longitudinal-engine SUV, which has much better proportions for this new design language. This makes you wonder how much better-looking the next-generation Buick Enclave and Cadillac XT6 could look on an SUV version of the Cadillac CT4/CT5's rear-wheel-drive-based platform, just as the Ford Explorer/Lincoln Aviator went to a future Mustang's architecture.

Aside from all of this, the Cadillac XT6 is as quiet, smooth and reasonably powerful as the Buick, which is the point. If you absolutely need to spend $70-large (minus the usually considerable dealer spiffs) on a three-row GM model, you can always tick the "Avenir" box on your Enclave order sheet.

The XT6 Premium Luxury does come with semi-aniline leather seating in all three rows, plus leather instrument panel, console and door trim, and a microfiber synthetic suede (it's just as good as the real stuff, they say) headliner. However, my tester's interior was jet black, and its interior simply didn't pop like the Lincoln's. If you're going to let a brood of kids (or in my case, colllies) jump all over the leather seats anyway, buy the Buick.

Overall Impressions

I know, the Lincoln doesn't fit; it's much smaller than the Buick and Cadillac. But considering these three together raised some minor revelations.

The Corsair is yet the latest example of how Ford has resurrected Lincoln, elevating it from what was a Buick competitor a few short years ago to a true Cadillac competitor again. The compact SUV hits all the right luxury buttons for this segment, save for its less than refined 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. But it had me yearning for a Lincoln compact sedan, or even a hatchback, which could do everything the Corsair can do (remember, if you're in a Northern metro area, you don't need all-wheel drive, you need a set of winter tires).

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The Cadillac XT6 leaves me with similar impressions. When, perhaps if, the consumer world shifts back from SUVs to cars again, perhaps all Cadillacs, save the Escalade, will be cars. Fifty years ago, when rich people needed a station wagon to park next to their Caddys or Lincolns in their suburban garages, they might shop a Buick Estate Wagon against a Chrysler Town & Country or Mercury Colony Park. Ten years from now, we'll need SUVs like the Enclave, but we won't need one each from every luxury brand.

 

2020 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICES $45,825 (base)/$60,110 (as tested)
ENGINE 2.3L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/295 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 310 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 21/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 180.6 x 76.2 x 64.1 in
WHEELBASE 106.7 in
WEIGHT 3,900 lb

 

2020 Buick Enclave Essence AWD 1SL Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICES $45,195 (base)/49,055 (as tested)
ENGINE 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/310 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 17/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 204.3 x 78.8 x 69.9 in
WHEELBASE 120.9 in
WEIGHT 4,568 lb

 

2020 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury AWD Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICES $55,690 (base)/$70,890 (as tested)
ENGINE 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/310 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 271 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 6-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 17/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 198.8 x 77.3 x 70.2 in
WHEELBASE 112.7 in
WEIGHT 4,644 lb
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