A progressive increase in the frequency and intensity of drug use is one of the major behavioural phenomena characterizing the development of addiction. The nature of the drug-induced adaptations involved in this escalating drug intake remains unknown. Some theories propose that this escalation is due to a progressive decrease (tolerance) in the reinforcing or incentive effects of the drug. Alternative views posit that with chronic use the reinforcing or incentive effects of drugs increase, by a sensitization or a learning mechanism. In this report, we address the question of whether escalating cocaine intake is paralleled by an increase or a decrease in the reinforcing and incentive effects of the drug. Using the experimental model of intravenous drug self-administration with a within-session dose–response paradigm, we first studied the course of cocaine intake over 14 sessions in rats. After acquisition of cocaine self-administration, cocaine intake progressively increased at each dose tested. Then rats, previously allowed to self-administer cocaine during either six or 29 sessions, were compared in three different tests of the incentive and reinforcing effects of cocaine: cocaine-induced reinstatement of self-administration, cocaine-induced runway and cocaine-induced place conditioning. As compared with rats briefly exposed to cocaine self-administration (six sessions), rats with the longer experience (29 sessions) exhibited a higher intake of cocaine paralleled by a higher responsiveness in the cocaine-induced reinstatement and runway tests. Both groups of rats were similarly sensitive to the rewarding effects of the drug as evaluated by the threshold dose of cocaine inducing place conditioning. Our results demonstrate that escalating cocaine intake is paralleled by an increase in the motivational properties of the drug in the absence of apparent signs of tolerance to the reinforcing or incentive effects of cocaine.