What the Cadillac Escalade has managed to achieve in its 20-plus year lifespan is incredible. It’s one of the highest sellers at Cadillac, it’s one of the pioneers of the luxury SUV game and it has achieved almost godlike status among rappers and movie stars; Tony Soprano drove one, after all! You could make the argument that it, almost singlehandedly, kept Cadillac on the map through some lean years.
Now, though, Cadillac is coming off its best sales ever in Canada, and it’s celebrating by releasing an all-new Escalade that manages to move the bar even further.
Typically, when a new SUV like this gets launched, you’re expecting a big powertrain adjustment that, in this day and age, is likely electrified. Except, even though they did have an Escalade Hybrid from ’08-’13, there’s none of that here. Instead, they’ve kind of gone to the opposite end of the fuel-saving spectrum with a diesel engine joining the 6.2-litre V8 with cylinder deactivation technology that returns from the previous model. The latter is the engine I had in my tester.
We’ll talk more about this lux-truck’s powertrain in a moment, but now, we turn to what really differentiates the latest Escalade from the previous model – its front-end styling, and its interior.
Ask any car designer, and nine times out of 10, they’ll say that pickups and full-size SUVs are some of the toughest vehicles to make unique when it comes to styling. A basic two-box shape tends not to offer a huge amount of design flexibility.
That leaves the front and rear facias, the 22-inch wheels (which, it has to be said, looked a little chintzy on my tester) — and that’s about it when it comes to opportunities for uniqueness. So, what Cadillac’s done for 2021 is eschewed the vertical headlights that have been an Escalade staple as of late in favour of some horizontal items that are more in-keeping with the XT6 that debuted just a year before this new Escalade. Might not sound like much, but even with the return of the big Caddy grille, you know that this Escalade is an evolution. Oh, and they still have the full-height taillights, also an Escalade staple and one would not wish to change. So, they didn’t, though they are a little edgier than previous.
While that all may be evolutionary, the interior is more of a revolution and that boils down to one significant feature – the infotainment system.
In researching this article, I felt like I found more YouTube videos on the OLED infotainment than the vehicle itself. That’s because this thing is absolutely spectacular.
From its curved screen, to its nested displays, to its 38 inches of display area, this is a futuristic tour de force that will have anybody likening Cadillacs to old-money luxury think twice.
The display itself showcases your infotainment, your gauge cluster, augmented reality navigation (whereby a look at the gauge cluster displays an image of what you’re seeing through the windshield, just with added animations and symbols to guide you along your route), and night vision (unavailable if too much ambient light is sensed) so that almost every base is covered. Even the touch-sensitive buttons either side of the gauge cluster don’t bother me as controls of this type typically do; it all flows so seamlessly and slickly that it’s a pleasure to operate. If that’s not enough for you, there’s also a heads-up display and digital rear-view mirror. This is if not the best system available, anywhere, it’s one of the top five for sure.
The rest of the cockpit is typical Caddy fare; rich materials abound – my tester is the top spec Platinum version, after all – and the panel gaps are all nice and tight. The leather seating is finished in dark maroon with a beautiful, tiled pattern on the seats that looks almost like hardened clay – or a Moscow Mule tumbler. Whatever suits your fancy. The second row is roomy enough – and each individual captain’s chair can slide fore and aft – but the bottom cushions are a little on the flat side. That’s only really an issue through the kind of fast turns most Escalades will be spending very little time on.
While the rear exterior styling may not have changed too much, the rear seats have, and it has everything to do with the rear suspension.
What used to be a solid axle with five-link setup has been swapped for a more compact fully independent set-up which means the third row of seating can be mounted lower and further back, providing more room overall. Add the fact that here’s also self-levelling air suspension and magnetic dampers, and you have one comfortable cruiser.
Power from the 6.2-litre V8 comes in at 420 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheel via a 10-speed automatic, operated by an electronic shift lever and not the button select system that the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon get. Not sure why that is, but it is.
Once you get past the inertia that a 2,500-kilo vehicle presents, the powertrain is a buttery smooth one, moving you along at a mighty clip that’s befitting of a big V8 like this. You just get the sense that there’s a deep-well of power that you never really get to the bottom of.
Surprisingly, for such a large vehicle, the steering is actually quite reactive, responding to inputs with grace. In fact, there’s so much response that you’re glad to have the self-levelling suspension doing its thing because if not, you get the sense that the body would be rolling all over the place since so much turn-in comes from even moderate steering inputs.
Again, though, this is all secondary to the fact that this latest Escalade is a properly luxurious, pampering and powerful take on Caddy’s most famous of SUVs, and you can be sure that once again, this Escalade’s going to have legions of fans.