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