Automotive

Review: 2021 Cadillac Escalade hits true luxury, but needs marketing

Review: 2021 Cadillac Escalade...
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a huge step forward for the storied luxury SUV
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a huge step forward for the storied luxury SUV
View 15 Images
The rear seat entertainment unit in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade features smart ideas like navigation that can be sent forward to the driver
1/15
The rear seat entertainment unit in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade features smart ideas like navigation that can be sent forward to the driver
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is bigger, bolder, and far more luxurious than is the outgoing generation of the SUV
2/15
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is bigger, bolder, and far more luxurious than is the outgoing generation of the SUV
No, there is no EV equivalent to the 2021 Cadillac Escalade – so don't even ask
3/15
No, there is no EV equivalent to the 2021 Cadillac Escalade – so don't even ask
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade adds considerable cargo space and third row legroom to the new model
4/15
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade adds considerable cargo space and third row legroom to the new model, with the extended option adding even more
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a huge step forward for the storied luxury SUV
5/15
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a huge step forward for the storied luxury SUV
With almost 40 inches of screen space on the front dash of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, technology definitely takes the fore
6/15
With almost 40 inches of screen space on the front dash of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, technology definitely takes the fore
A small, phone-sized screen next to the instrument cluster in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade acts as a control for the cluster and for driver head-up displays
7/15
A small, phone-sized screen next to the instrument cluster in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade acts as a control for the cluster and for driver head-up displays
The new 2021 Cadillac Escalade features a beautiful AKG Studio stereo system in all trim levels
8/15
The new 2021 Cadillac Escalade features a beautiful AKG Studio stereo system in all trim levels
2021 Cadillac Escalade
9/15
The full-featured infotainment display in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade allows control of nearly all aspects of the SUV's comfort and entertainment options
The multi-point camera system available in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade allows for virtual and real-time looks at several points for easier maneuvering, parking, and visibility
10/15
The multi-point camera system available in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade allows for virtual and real-time looks at several points for easier maneuvering, parking, and visibility
Luxury materials in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade are augmented by ergonomic touches to make the cabin more livable and usable
11/15
Luxury materials in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade are augmented by ergonomic touches to make the cabin more livable and usable
The second row captain's chairs in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade are just as adjustable and comfortable as the front row's seating
12/15
The second row captain's chairs in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade are just as adjustable and comfortable as the front row's seating
Cargo space in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is more than adequate, even with the third row deployed
13/15
Cargo space in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is more than adequate, even with the third row deployed
The fully digital instrument cluster in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade can be configured any number of ways, for every piece of information the driver could need
14/15
The fully digital instrument cluster in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade can be configured any number of ways, for every piece of information the driver could need
Cadillac's Super Cruise semi-automated driving tech is available in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade
15/15
Cadillac's Super Cruise semi-automated driving tech is available in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade
View gallery - 15 images

Cadillac has completely redesigned the Escalade for the 2021 model year. Far from the Gangster Paradise design of the previous couple of generations, the new Escalade is truly luxurious and on par with anything from the European makes – including price point.

At a glance

  • Bigger and more passenger-friendly than the previous Escalade
  • Stronger dynamics and smart engineering throughout
  • Cadillac has a marketing problem to overcome
  • Very comparable to the European options that dominate the high-end SUV market

For the 2021 model year, the Cadillac Escalade gets longer on the outside and bigger on the inside. It also gains a host of new technologies – some of them flagships for the Cadillac brand – including the huge digital display that spans from left of the steering wheel all the way through to the infotainment screen at the center of the dash. The SUV is built on the same platform as the Chevrolet Suburban and the GMC Yukon, but adds Caddy’s signature luxury elements to the deal.

Several key engineering changes to the 2021 Escalade are important to its new design and feel. A fully independent rear suspension, a first for the big Caddy, means more third row and cargo space. The well-vetted and loved 6.2-liter V8 that has powered the Escalade for several years is joined by a purring V6 turbodiesel option that brings more towing and better highway mileage with it.

The venerable 6.2L V8 outputs 420 horsepower (313 kW) and 460 pound-feet (623.6 Nm) of torque. This pairs with a 10-speed automatic transmission in a rear-wheel-drive bias and optional four-wheel-drive drivetrain. The new engine is a variant of General Motors’ 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbodiesel, putting out 277 HP (206.6 kW) and 460 lb-ft of torque.

The same 10-speed automatic and 4WD option are also found with this engine. The fuel economy difference between the two engines is stark, however, with the gasoline V8 being rated at 20 mpg on the highway while the diesel is rated at 27 mpg (11.8 and 8.7 l/100km). It’s worth noting that the V8 requires premium fuel as well. Towing is rated at up to 7,700 lb (3,493 kg).

With almost 40 inches of screen space on the front dash of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, technology definitely takes the fore
With almost 40 inches of screen space on the front dash of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, technology definitely takes the fore

Beyond the engines, the new Escalade also features a much more premium interior. The front dashboard is ruled by a 16.9-inch infotainment screen that melds with a 14.2-inch instrument cluster – yet the front dash is so dominant that these large screens are smoothly embedded without overpowering the design.

To get a scale of just how large and in charge the Escalade is, behind the front seats, there are 121 cubic feet (3,426.3 l) of usable cargo space with all other seating folded down. When all five (or, optionally, six) of the rear seats are up, there is still 25.5 cubic feet (722 l) of cargo behind the third row. The ESV model of the Escalade adds even more space to that (roughly 20 cubic feet/566 l). A huge number of standard equipment features further bolster the Escalade’s appeal, including the tri-zone climate, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the beautiful 19-speaker AKG Studio sound system.

From the outside, the 2021 Escalade is massive ... yet it’s somehow pulchritudinous to the eye, with its mixture of truck-like square-bodied muscle and its flowing body lines and mesh grille. Useful touches like the rear glass opening for access to the cargo without opening the liftgate, the pop-out side steps when opening the doors to enter or exit, and the lowering suspension upon parking, are ergonomic accommodations to the SUV’s huge size. For perspective, the hood of the Escalade meets the author mid-chest.

Once inside the Escalade, that bulk doesn’t translate into ponderous drive dynamics. Despite its size, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade handles smoothly and confidently, and its myriad technologies help with parking and daily drive tasks. In the Premium Luxury or above trims, Cadillac’s semi-automated driving system (Super Cruise) is an option, as is a heavy-duty trailering package and rear-seat entertainment system – so are smooth touches like soft-close doors and an adaptive air suspension.

Luxury materials in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade are augmented by ergonomic touches to make the cabin more livable and usable
Luxury materials in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade are augmented by ergonomic touches to make the cabin more livable and usable

Confronting Cadillac with the new Escalade is a problem. The luxury brand has long been rivals with the Lincoln brand and has done well, comparatively. Caddy has now moved the Escalade into the more competitive upper luxury market, where brands like Mercedes-Benz have long been dominant. As such, Cadillac will need to up its marketing game.

This new Escalade has a starting price of US$76,195, which is not far from the top-end price of the Escalade in its previous generation. Our Premium Luxury Platinum model, however, pushed the price tag into six-digit territory, at $109,000 and change with options and delivery. Yet compared to a similarly-equipped G-Class, at roughly $20,000 more, the Escalade seems a bargain. The greatest difference is that buyers will pay for the Mercedes-Benz name and design, whereas they are not as likely to pay a premium for the Cadillac nameplate ... especially with high-end options from GM’s other brands like GMC, whose Yukon Denali, while understated, is largely on par with the Escalade on most fronts. Convincing buyers that the Cadillac is a truly higher-end option will be an uphill climb.

For us, having driven the Mercedes G- and GLS-Class, we would put our money on the Cadillac anytime. Where the Mercs offer classic design (G) and contemporary luxury (GLS), they also offer excellent road-going ride quality and top-shelf infotainment. The Cadillac, while not comparatively competitive on those two fronts, is a good, close second at a lower price. It also includes American-style luxury with beautiful inlays, design elements, and top-end materials choices.

The ergonomics of the Escalade, especially in daily use, are also superior to the Mercedes offerings in most respects. In short, for sportier and more Euro-style, high-end luxury, the Mercedes and AMG options are where it’s at, but for a more relaxed feel and luxuriousness, the Cadillac hits the mark very well. And at a lower price point.

With all of that, it’s interesting to see Cadillac entering the higher-end luxury markets. The 2021 Escalade is definitely a solid step in that direction. It’s beautifully executed, and at no point does its price tag seem overblown for the machine being delivered.

Product Page: 2021 Cadillac Escalade

View gallery - 15 images
5 comments
5 comments
guzmanchinky
"pulchritudinous" I had to look that up, very nice! I like this new design, but I would still choose the Mercedes. Why? Because if you look up the lengths Benz goes to in order to ensure your safety (I'll bet the rollover roof strength on the Benz is MUCH higher than the Yukon, which typically only meets federal minimums) you would be amazed at how much goes into making those German vehicles some of the safest in the world, way past what is required. Just look at the Camaro convertible, which doesn't even have pop up rollbars (because they aren't required) compared to a Mercedes convertible and you realize that at GM it's still (mostly) about glitz and bling instead of quality and safety...
Demosthenes
I like this excellent aerodynamic and fuel-saving design
Don McGinn
Not at all on par with high end European SUV’s. A very American interior, too much plastic showing. And the exterior! Gaudy, ugly, and lacks any class.
BlueOak
Is there a more obscenely ugly grille? I think not. Go with the just as nice but more tastefully styled GMC or Chevy versions and have money left over for some water toys.

Regarding the German variants - sure if you only own it under warranty. But the out of warranty residual values for German vehicles tell the truth - you’ll likely spend as much keeping it running over the time you own it as you paid for it, used.
John Smith Jr.
The Escalade is the best selling vehicle in its class so I'm not sure why Aaron is convinced that marketing is lacking. True luxury automakers are aware of the competition but will not include the competition in the ads and commercials for fear giving competition awareness as well. I've seen ads and commercials of the Escalade more so than most models within Cadillac.

The Escalade is one of the vehicles for fastest turnaround of sales on dealer lots because dealers can't keep up with demand and has a $102K transaction price on average.

Anyone who thinks the Escalade can't compete on the level of G Class & GLS Class is an idiot.

However, it is interesting to know what is the Slade's conquest sales.