What Is It?
Earlier this year, Cadillac introduced an all-new Escalade — the flagship full-size SUV of GM’s luxury brand. More than 20 years ago, the Detroit-based automaker made a brilliant move creating the Escalade — a luxurious version of GM’s full-size SUV. Since that time, Escalade has been among the best-selling luxury SUVs in America, introducing new technology while continuing to increase sales. With the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, GM’s luxury brand enters the fifth generation of this iconic vehicle with fresh styling, new powertrains and a range of innovative, high-tech features.
Cadillac provided a 2021 Escalade Platinum Sport 4WD painted in Crystal White Tricoat. As the top-level trim of the Escalade, the Platinum Sport comes feature-rich even in its most basic form. That said, the test vehicle was also equipped with night vision, power-assist steps, a consoler cooler and a heavy-duty trailering package for a total MSRP of $113,065. Competitors to the Escalade include the Mercedes-Benz GLS, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570, Infiniti QX80, BMW X7 and GMC Yukon Denali.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade gets all-new exterior styling, but there will be no mistaking it for anything else thanks to a distinctive grille style and shape that has become synonymous with the Cadillac lineup. For this new Escalade, designers gave the grille massive proportion and adorned it with a large Cadillac crest at the center. The vertical lighting motif continues into the new model with thin LED running lights; however, the slim headlights now sit horizontally, flanking the top of the grille.
Many SUVs and crossovers have morphed into swoopy, coupe-like designs, but the Escalade remains true to the original with squared-off corners, horizontal lines up front and at the rear, with a slight slope of the roof ending at a roof-mounted rear spoiler. Pronounced fender arches and standard 22-inch wheels further enhance the bold styling.
At the rear of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, signature vertical taillights span the height of the vehicle, enhanced by a three-dimensional appearance. The large Cadillac logo at the center of the tailgate — and a dual exhaust integrated into the lower fascia — complete the look.
Although the Escalade carries classic SUV lines on its exterior, inside it sports the latest technology and high-end materials. The centerpiece of the big SUV’s dashboard is a large, curved OLED display that boasts twice the pixel density of a 4K television, making it bright and easy to read. The big display is actually three screens: a 7.2-inch touchscreen on the driver’s left that acts as an information center; a 14.2-inch driver display behind the steering wheel; and a very larger 16.9-inch infotainment screen on the driver’s right.
With its large display screens that definitely give the 2021 Cadillac Escalade a high-tech feel, the big SUV’s interior features luxurious materials befitting a Cadillac. Seats are trimmed in full semi-aniline leather and have heating, cooling, 16-way power adjustment and — our favorite — a massage function. Elegant wood trim adorns the dashboard, doors and center console to complement the Whisper Beige interior.
And although the feature list is too long to enumerate in its entirety, one of our favorite items in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a center console that doubles as a refrigerator. With space for up to six water bottles, the unit operates in two modes — as a refrigerator that maintains a frosty 41 degrees, or as a freezer that can hold at 23 degrees — a perfect spot for keeping ice cream or other frozen treats rock-solid cold on a hot day.
The ability to charge phones wirelessly has become somewhat commonplace in new vehicles; however, the charger in the Escalade is worth noting. Rather than a pad that allows the phone to slide around during spirited driving, the Escalade has a pocket in the center console that locks the phone in place while charging.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is one of those rare vehicles in which sitting in the rear seat is arguably better than sitting up front. Large bucket seats get trimmed in soft leather and are heated for ultimate comfort, and rear-seat passengers get their own climate controls as well as dual USB-A and USB-C ports.
Rear-seat passengers can pass time with a new entertainment system that employs two 12.6-inch independent touchscreens. The screens can display navigation routes as well as games, music or streaming video via HDMI or USB inputs. The screens also have the ability to mirror Android mobile devices.
More Room in Back
The 2022 Cadillac Escalade gets built with new architecture on a new chassis that helps increase interior space in this already large SUV. The new engineering and design permit 40 percent more legroom in the third row and almost 70 percent more cargo space behind the third row. This increased volume is especially noticeable for those folks relegated to the third row — the seat is easily accessible and offers surprising legroom and headroom, with none of the claustrophobia often associated with an SUV’s third row.
Big Cargo Space
And even though it feels like a luxury car inside, the Escalade still has all the attributes and capabilities of a large SUV. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade has plenty of cargo space for trips to the home improvement store or for multiple bags and cases on a long road trip. The third row folds easily to handle larger items.
Under the Hood
The tester Cadillac Escalade we drove was equipped with a 6.2-liter V8 engine producing 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Power gets sent to the road via a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission. When properly equipped, the V8-powered Escalade can tow up to 8,000 pounds.
On the Road
There’s no hiding the fact that Escalade is one of the largest SUVs on the road, although its manners are more in keeping with a luxury sedan rather than a big truck. The driver sits up high and has excellent visibility both forward and rearward, aided by a digital rearview mirror. The Escalade’s ride is quiet and smooth with most road and wind noise pleasantly blocked —replaced by sounds emanating from the high-end audio system.
With a big V8 powerplant under the hood and automatic four-wheel drive, the Escalade moves quickly off the line with strong acceleration. The big SUV is perfectly content to cruise on the freeway at 70-plus mph, although it does consume fuel. During our time in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, the trip display revealed and average city / highway consumption of around 14 mpg. The Escalade’s steering is firm and precise with decent road feedback, and this Caddy holds its own when the road gets a little twisty. That said, quick handling is not the Escalade’s forte, nor is it really designed for sporty driving.
We had the opportunity to take the 2021 Cadillac Escalade for some light off-roading and pleasantly discovered it is more up to the challenge than anticipated. The air suspension can raise the SUV’s overall ground clearance by a few inches to easily handle rougher terrain, and the full-time four-wheel drive provides excellent traction.
With its bold exterior design and luxurious high-tech interior, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade delivers the attributes expected of a modern-day Cadillac. At the same time, the Escalade boasts plenty of utility with a powerful V8 engine, as well as a spacious interior with plenty of room for passengers and cargo. For buyers seeking luxury-car features and the utility of a full-size SUV, there aren’t many vehicles on the road that can match the capabilities of a Cadillac Escalade.
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