2021 Cadillac Escalade intimidates with size, ingratiates with tech

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As I approach the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, I’m almost intimidated. It’s massive. At 17 feet, 7 inches long, it’s almost eight inches longer than the 2020 model, with a bold shield grille that comes up to my chest. This monster SUV is an overt statement of wealth and it doesn’t apologize for its assertiveness.

Intimidation turns to invitation when I open the driver’s door and spot the welcoming environment highlighted by quilted leather seats, a suede headliner, swaths of wood veneer, and 38 inches of curved OLED dashboard screens. Redesigned for 2021, the Cadillac Escalade full-size SUV offers more of everything: attitude, luxury, technology, style, and space.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

The Escalade has become the de facto style and lifestyle leader for the brand, and Cadillac wasn’t taking any chances on losing the momentum it has gained over the last 21 years. The new Escalade is better in every way than the model it replaces, except for price, which is up at least $1,000 depending on the model, and it can reach past $110,000.

The biggest changes come inside where the Escalade gets state-of-the-art infotainment screens, better materials, and more space due to the increased length and a new independent rear suspension.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

The game changer is the massive wall of OLED screens. It consists of a 16.9-inch center touchscreen, a 14.2-inch digital instrument cluster, and a 7.2-inch touchscreen to the left of the steering wheel. All are curved for better driver access and flow into each other to create an organic, layered look. The crisp screens boast twice the resolution of a 4K TV and the blacks are so dark the screens don’t need to be hooded. The screen on the left shows trip computer information, and the instrument cluster screen can display a navigation map as well as a camera view of the road ahead overlaid with augmented reality directions when a navigation destination is programmed. 

With its size and functionality, plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, this system is at the forefront of infotainment technology. The center screen’s control interface reacts quickly through the touchscreen or the center rotary dial. The controls are intuitive, the map and camera views in the instrument cluster are helpful, and the large screens leave the 10-inch screen in the Lincoln Navigator in the dust.

Occupants also enjoy more space, and the third-row seats can fit adults. Cadillac expands third-row leg room by as much as 10 inches with the Escalade’s extra length and almost five-inch longer wheelbase. The third row also gets more spacious because the switch to an independent rear suspension eliminates interior wheel wells that sap passenger space. With these changes, the third row has decent leg room for adults and it can grow with the second-row pushed forward, but the three seats in back are best for kids or two adults. 

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

The second row comes standard with heated captain’s chairs that are as comfortable as the front seats, and buyers can get an optional second-row bench that expands seating capacity to eight. With the available rear seat entertainment system, second-row riders can also access the navigation system and send suggested destinations to the driver.

The driver gets a standard heated steering wheel and position memory, and front seat massagers are available. Everyone in the car can also enjoy the standard 19-speaker audio system or the available 36-speaker version, both branded AKG. The premium system in my tester delivers clear, crisp, distortion-free sound that lets me hear elements of my favorite music I never knew were there.

I take advantage of as much of the comfort as I can, turning the seat massagers to “knead” and streaming my favorite Rush songs (RIP, Neil) through the high-resolution Tidal app.

I also enjoy what is clearly an improved ride. My Premium Luxury Platinum trim tester has all the suspension goodies to control the weight and improve the comfort of this nearly 6,000-pound body-on-frame SUV, including the available magnetic dampers and four-corner air suspension.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

The magnetic dampers team with the new independent rear suspension to make the ride smoother than ever, despite standard 22-inch wheels. The air springs help prevent excessive lean through corners, a Herculean feat given this SUV’s overactive pituitary gland. Cadillac also offers four-wheel drive teamed with low-range gearing and an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential that apportions the power for best grip.

But the Escalade’s ride and handling excel due to the vehicle’s standard equipment. The well-tuned electric-assist power steering is stable and pleasantly direct, without the play on center we’ve come to expect from GM’s big trucks and SUVs. Without the suspension trickery, the Escalade would still ride well due to the new independent rear suspension and generous tire sidewalls. The Escalade is far from sporty, but the changes made for 2021 provide as much control of all that mass as can be expected. I would like more difference in ride quality between the Tour and Sport modes, though.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

The standard V-8 engine is among the least tech-oriented elements of the new Escalade, but it performs like a champ. It’s GM’s tried-and-true overhead-valve 6.2-liter V-8, and it stands pat at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. In this luxobarge, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: provide willing power when needed and stay in the background the rest of the time. The same can be said of the standard 10-speed automatic transmission, which shifts with stealth until I stab the throttle to call up quick downshifts. The Escalade can hit 60 mph in about six seconds and pass with gusto on the freeway. Again, Sport mode does little to make the powertrain response more noticeable.

Even in its base form the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is well equipped. It starts at $77,490, and comes standard with 12-way power-adjustable front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, heated first- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, driver’s seat memory, tri-zone automatic climate controls, remote start, power-folding second-row seats, wireless device charging, and a hands-free liftgate. It also gets a healthy set of safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, front and rear parking sensors, active lane control, and a surround-view camera system. Buyers have to spend up to the $86,890 Sport trim to get the magnetic dampers, and even then the air suspension is an additional option.

The Escalade’s calm interior and controlled dynamics are relaxing, but I’m intimidated once again when I look at the sticker price of my tester. This 4WD Platinum model’s $104,290 starting price is far out of reach for most buyers, and the $6,275 in options push it further away at  $110,565.

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade may be expensive, but if you’re unrepentant about your desire for luxury, space, technology, and capability, it’s the best truck-based SUV America has to offer.



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