2021 Cadillac Escalade review: Hugely impressive


Smaller than a barn, but honestly not by much.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

It’s been satisfying to watch the Cadillac Escalade grow over the last decade or so. I don’t mean literally, though its dimensions are truly prodigious (especially in the ESV trim you see here). I’m instead talking about how the Escalade has matured and evolved from a stately but familiar SUV into something truly premium.

Making that evolution more impressive is that, on the surface, not all that much has changed since the last revision. This ESV model is a thumb short of 19 feet long and one set of golf clubs shy of 6,000 pounds, all wrapped around basically the same 6.2-liter V8 as in the previous generation, still putting down a healthy 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

LikeStrong V8 powerImpressive cabin techAll the good stuff comes standard

Don’t LikeMiddling fuel economyA few cheap plastics inside

Even when motivating something this prodigious, that motor proves plenty, accelerating smoothly and cleanly slicing through the attached 10-speed auto. It even sounds nice when pressed, deep and purposeful without being annoying. It’s a thirsty thing, though, a fact that should come as no surprise. The EPA says you should expect 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. My mostly rural driving scored me 15.3 mpg, just shy of the official 16 mpg combined rating. Keep in mind those gallons must be of 91 octane fuel, further boosting the running costs. (If fuel economy is a major concern, perhaps consider the Escalade Diesel.)

The Escalade brakes just as competently as it goes, and while the pedal feel can be a bit lacking, the long throw means you can get exactly as much stopping power as you need. The new, independent rear suspension also means a smoother, more compliant ride for those in the back. Important details, these, for a rig destined to haul as many dignitaries as this one surely will.

And what luxurious appointments await for them, a reinvented interior that’s far more polished than anything I’ve seen in Caddy’s biggest boy before. Sure, individual features aren’t quite as posh as, say, a Mercedes-Benz GLS or BMW X7, but there’s a different sort of luxury to be found here, one that emphasizes volume and spaciousness.

Quite a view.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

That’s not to say the details are lacking. Hallmark of this latest Escalade is the series of massive, curving OLED panels that sweep cleanly from gauge cluster to infotainment. OLED not only enables the subtle shaping here but also means inky blacks and huge contrast of the sort you just can’t get out of ye olde LCDs. The overall effect is not only expansive but genuinely premium looking and feeling. It’s a huge step up over the outgoing experience.

Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are here, wirelessly even, but you’ll have to rely on the integrated navigation if you want to take advantage of one of the Cadillac’s new trick features: augmented-reality navigation. In this mode, the car uses a high-resolution, forward-facing camera and paints the footage from that onto the gauge cluster. When it comes time for a turn, the car superimposes a big, hovering arrow over the image to literally point the way. It’s overkill for leisurely trips across country roads, but I could absolutely see it being a godsend on trickier jaunts through twisty city confines. After all, when you’re piloting something this huge, you’ll want all the help you can get to avoid having to make an extra U-turn.

That mega gauge cluster can also be toggled over to show the Escalade’s night vision system, which not only gives a comprehensive vision into the darkness but kindly highlights and warns about pedestrians or wildlife along the way. My road always, always has deer this time of year, and the Escalade never failed to slap a big yellow box around them. However, as a $2,000 option, you’re paying a hefty premium for that warning.

This makes other reconfigurable gauge clusters look a bit… basic.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The Platinum-trim Escalade seen here comes with a whopping 36-speaker AKG sound system. Of all the cars I’ve tested over the years, I’ve never been so quick to dial down the bass as I was on this one. Suffice to say this system has plenty of power to fill that massive cabin.

Given the volume of that cabin it should come as no surprise that there are some cheap feeling plastics to be found if you look hard enough, but the overall effect of the Escalade’s new interior is undeniably refined from stem to stern. I will say the white — sorry, whisper beige — carpeting outfitted on this ESV is perhaps not the best choice for a car that will see winter duty, and the loud Zebra wood pattern doesn’t win high marks among the Roadshow crew, but there are six different woods and many interior configurations from which to choose.

It’s all illuminated by a massive, panoramic glass roof the size of a small pool that makes even the way back feel less claustrophobic. And, since the rear of this car is indeed way back there, the digital rear-view mirror is a welcome addition, which uses the camera at the back to give you a clear, crisp view of what’s behind. Trying to rely on the traditional mirror is a little like using a compact to look over your shoulder down a subway car.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The overall effect of the Escalade’s new interior is undeniably refined from stem to stern  

On the outgoing Escalade, some of the massive styling details made it look a little like a train on the outside, too. The new one is more modest in nearly every respect. Though the grille is still big enough to give an X7 envy, the chrome has been toned down a bit. The stacked headlights have been replaced by subtler, more slender units that squint out from on top of Cadillac’s vertical signature illumination.

The massive, 22-inch polished wheels are exactly the right scale to go with the ESV’s proportions while the strong shoulder crease running the length of the SUV adds some much needed character to the side profile. About the only styling detail I don’t like here are the garish LEDs on the ($1,750 optional) power retractable running-boards, but they are certainly effective at ensuring those steps don’t catch you in the shin when they pop out.

Usually at this point in a review of a car that costs in excess of $100,000 I’d have mentioned many more options than I have here, and that’s because the Platinum trim on the Escalade includes just about everything you could want. As it should, considering the starting price of $107,290 (including a $1,295 destination charge) for the all-wheel drive model. The Escalade you see here has an additional $5,210 in options (like $700 for a decidedly powerful armrest cooler), bringing the total price to $112,500.

Best measure carefully before bringing this big boy home.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

A base, RWD Escalade ESV Luxury starts at $80,490 including destination, and for that you’ll be giving up niceties like Magnetic Ride Control suspension, lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking. The latter is optional on the $87,290 Premium Luxury and standard on the Platinum and above. Otherwise, the majority of the Escalade’s comprehensive safety suite is standard on even the base trim, but if you want the best hands-off driver assistance system on the market, Super Cruise, you’ll have to pony up an additional $2,500.

So that’s a lot for sure, but then this is a lot of SUV and, this year more than ever, it feels well worth it. It’s miles ahead of sister SUVs like the GMC Yukon in terms of luxury and, though the Escalade is not as posh as a Mercedes-Benz GLS nor energetic as a BMW X7 nor cosseting as a Lincoln Navigator, it has a unique flavor of luxury that is all its own.


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