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- Highs Luxe interior, high-tech features abound, the debut of the hot-rod V-series variant.
- Lows Outrageously priced high-end models, gas-guzzling V-8 powertrains, similarly priced rivals offer more badge envy.
- Verdict The Escalade is the modern American luxury vehicle writ huge.
The Cadillac Escalade has long served as the brand’s flagship, its huge size and aggressive looks broadcasting its extroverted, red-blooded American take on luxury. Despite being based on the same underpinnings as the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban and the GMC Yukon, the Escalade makes a solid case as a competitor to other large luxury SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and Mercedes-Benz GLS-class. That’s because the big Caddy features the brand’s most advanced technology and most luxurious features. Its cabin is lined with wood, leather, designer fabrics, and satin-finished metals. A large, curved display sweeps across the dashboard, serving as both gauge cluster and infotainment center. A host of driver-assistance features are available, including Cadillac’s excellent Super Cruise system, which combines adaptive cruise control with a hands-free driving mode. Buyers can choose from a strong 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 or a diesel-powered inline-six, and this year Cadillac adds a wild high-performance V-series model with mega horsepower to the Escalade lineup. Time will tell if the new hi-po Escalade is an elephant that can dance, but given the brilliant athleticism of Cadillac’s recent Blackwing-powered sedans, color us hopeful.
Where This Vehicle Ranks
What's New for 2023?
This year marks the birth of the first V-series Escalade. The high-performance Escalade V is likely to be powered by a 682-hp version of the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine borrowed from the 10Best award-winning CT5-V Blackwing sedan. It also rocks a menacing, blacked-out exterior appearance. The V model comes standard with all-wheel drive and sports six-piston Brembo performance brakes with red-painted calipers. The Escalade’s air suspension has been retuned to enhance handling in the V model. The Escalade V will go on sale in the summer of 2022 and will sit atop the Cadillac lineup with a $149,990 starting price.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
To deck out the Escalade with its best features, go for the Premium Luxury Platinum trim. It adds semi-aniline leather, 16-way power-adjustable front seats with massage, soft-close doors, and an AKG audio system with 36 speakers. It also comes standard with a self-parking feature, a head-up display, and adaptive cruise control. For performance fireworks, of course, there’s a one-letter answer: V.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Cadillac's biggest SUV is powered by a standard 6.2-liter V-8 engine that makes 420 horsepower and can deactivate half of its cylinders when cruising to save fuel; a 3.0-liter diesel inline-six is also available. A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines, and buyers can choose from rear- or all-wheel-drive setups. As with its siblings, the current- generation Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon, the Escalade rides on an independent rear suspension that provides additional third-row legroom, which was compromised in the previous solid rear-axle model. Higher-end trims also offer an air suspension with adaptive dampers. At our test track, the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV with the V-8 engine sprinted to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds. The 277-hp diesel engine doesn’t deliver nearly the straight-line performance of the standard V-8, but for some buyers that compromise is worth the improved fuel economy and punchy 460 lb-ft of low-end torque. For those Escalade fans with a need for speed, only the V will do. It’s powered by a beastly supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 making 682 horsepower, which Cadillac claims is enough power to blast the big SUV to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. During our initial test drive, we were impressed with the V-8's power and its baritone burble. The modifications to the SUV's suspension make it handle better than the standard SUV, but the Escalade still doesn't feel as nimble as rivals such as the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 or the BMW Alpina XB7.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Rear-wheel drive Escalades are rated at 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, and 17 mpg combined; adding all-wheel drive drops each of those numbers by 1 mpg. Opting for the turbo-diesel engine makes a big difference, with EPA estimates as high as 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test route, an all-wheel drive Escalade with the optional diesel engine returned 26 mpg. For more information about the Escalade's fuel economy, visit the EPA's website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
As the flagship of the Cadillac lineup, the Escalade ups the ante on in-cabin luxury. Faux leather is used in the base Luxury trim, but all other trims receive the real deal, with Platinum models getting soft semi-aniline hides. Leather-covered dash and door panels, aluminum speaker grilles, and adjustable interior ambient lighting provide an upscale appearance. Like the outgoing model, both a standard and long-wheelbase model are offered, the latter of which yields more legroom for third-row riders and additional cargo space.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Cadillac has tricked out the Escalade in the electronics department. The main showpiece is the digital dashboard, which is comprised of three curved OLED displays that layer on top of one another to create a cool 38-inches of combined digital real estate, some of which serves as the driver's gauge cluster while the rest projects the CUE infotainment system for the driver and passenger. The collection of displays is reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz GLS-class's giant monolithic infotainment setup, but the Escalade's stacked setup creates depth and looks better integrated than the Benz’s. Other tech features include an augmented-reality navigation system and an available rear-seat entertainment package that includes two 12.6-inch displays with streaming capability. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration and a Wi-Fi hotspot are also standard. Audiophiles will be in for a treat no matter which Escalade model they choose. Cadillac has partnered with Grammy-award winning audio and acoustics company AKG to develop the Escalade's standard and optional sound systems. A 19-speaker Studio Sound system is standard on the Luxury, Sport, and Premium Luxury models, but Platinum trims get the AKG Studio Reference system with a whopping 36 speakers.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Cadillac is set on making its flagship SUV a showcase for driver-assistance technology, and in addition to making many of the most popular active-safety features standard, Cadillac also offers its excellent Super Cruise adaptive-cruise system, which enables hands-free driving. For more information about the Escalade's crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with front and rear pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control with hands-free driving mode
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The 2023 Escalade offers the same standard warranty package as the rest of the Cadillac lineup. Its powertrain warranty stretches for longer than rivals such as the GLS-class and the BMW X7, but the BMW's complimentary scheduled maintenance plan is far better than the Caddy's.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 6 years or 70,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for the first visit
2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD
front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED
$112,965 (base price: $83,490)
pushrod 16-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
376 in3, 6162 cm3
420 hp @ 5600 rpm
460 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
Suspension (F/R): control arms/trailing arm; Brakes (F/R): 13.5-in vented disc/13.6-in vented disc; Tires: Bridgestone Alenza A/S 02, 275/50R-22 111H M+S TPC Spec 3156MS
Wheelbase: 134.1 in; Length: 227.0; Width: 81.1; Height: 76.5 in; Passenger volume: 180 ft3 ; Cargo volume: 43 ft3 ; Curb Weight: 6270
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.9 sec
100 mph: 15.4 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.3 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.3 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.2 sec
1/4 mile: 14.5 sec @ 97 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft dia skidpad: 0.71 g
Standing-start accel times omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 14 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 16/14/19 mpg
2021 Cadillac Escalade Duramax Diesel
front-engine, rear- or rear/4-wheel-drive, 7- or 8-passenger, 4-door wagon
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
183 in3, 2993 cm3
277 hp @ 3750 rpm
460 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
Wheelbase: 120.9 in
Length: 211.9 in
Width: 81.1 in
Height: 76.7 in
Passenger volume: 172 ft3
Cargo volume: 26 ft3
Curb weight (C/D est): 6000–6200 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 7.7–7.9 sec
100 mph: 23.9–24.1 sec
1/4 mile: 15.9–16.1 sec
Top speed: 110 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 22–23/20–21/26–27 mpg