The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a full-size, three-row luxury SUV. Now in its 22nd year of production, the new Escalade enters the first year of its fifth generation of production as an all-new SUV. Cadillac offers a choice of a gasoline V8 engine or a turbodiesel inline 6-cylinder, rear-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive, and available Super Cruise true hands-free driving. Pricing for the 2021 Cadillac Escalade starts around $77,500.
The Escalade is designed to be imposing, and it is. Cadillac offers the Escalade with eight exterior paint choices, including a deep blue and a bright red. However, any color choice except black will cost you extra, and some cost over $1,000.
The Escalade uses a platform shared with other General Motors SUVs, but Cadillac manages to put plenty of its own brand DNA into the Escalade. From the strong, yet dignified trapezoid grille to Cadillac’s signature vertical taillights, there’s no doubt when you’re looking at an Escalade versus a sister brand.
The big news for 2021 is literally big. Cadillac added eight inches to the 2021 Escalade’s length, making the new model the largest and longest SUV Cadillac has ever produced. Cadillac highlights the sheer size of the new Escalade with 22-inch wheels. The Escalade also puts on an automatic LED light show when the driver approaches the vehicle, flashing all the lights in an entertaining sequence. No one said “understated elegance” was the goal.
The make-or-break of any luxury vehicle is the interior, and the Escalade strives to compete with every other offering in its class. The busy dashboards of previous generations are all gone, replaced by a clean, high-tech driver module. The dashboard and infotainment and control center are all melded into a single panel with 38 inches of combined OLED displays. If that wasn’t enough, Cadillac made the screens an industry-first curved display oriented around the driver’s view, a feature worthy of a science fiction film.
All the audio options are good, but Cadillac takes the Escalade over the top with the available AKG Studio Reference system. This setup includes 36 speakers, including speakers in the front headrests and in the headliner. The front passenger even has a volume control for their own seating position.
There are too many interior options to list them all, but real wood and fine leather define the main touch surfaces. Front seats may be both heated and ventilated, with a variety of massage functions. Second-row seats may also be heated. Even the third-row seats are comfortable, with 10 more inches of legroom thanks to the Escalade’s new longer body. Buyers can choose from a three-passenger second-row bench seat or twin captain’s chairs. With all the rear seats folded, the basic Escalade offers 94.2 cubic feet of cargo area, or 120.9 cubic feet if you get the extra-long Escalade ESV model.
One feature that bears mentioning is the soft-close door technology. Families will love this because no matter how hard someone tries to slam an Escalade’s door, the SUV will catch it and close the last inch smoothly and quietly.
The base drivetrain for the 2021 Escalade is the top drivetrain on all other related GM SUVs. The 6.2-liter V8 engine (420 horsepower/460 lb-ft of torque) is standard equipment on all Escalade models. Fuel economy is about average for the class at up to 21 mpg, depending on configuration.
For the same price, buyers may also choose the 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel (277 hp/460 lb-ft of torque). This engine offers improved fuel economy while producing the same torque output as the V8. With the Duramax, the Escalade can achieve up to 27 mpg.
Cadillac offers the Escalade with standard rear-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive on all trim levels. Practically speaking, drivers are not likely to notice a big performance difference between the V8 and the diesel, or between rear-wheel and four-wheel drive owing to the 10-speed automatic transmission that keeps the Escalade in the best possible gear at all times.
The first thing drivers will notice about the Escalade is its size. There’s no getting around the fact that you’re driving one of the biggest SUVs on the market. The size makes the Escalade more than a little challenging in tight, urban traffic, but it also gives the SUV its best driving experience. The Escalade feels completely solid on the open road, with excellent traction in wet or frosty weather.
Another revolutionary new feature for the Escalade is independent rear suspension. All prior Escalades have had a solid rear axle like a truck. Using flexible axles on each side, the Escalade now easily smooths out the bumps and delivers a comfortable, confident ride, even in the third row.
The model we drove was equipped with four-wheel drive and GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension. That technology constantly adjusts the shock absorption to current conditions. Magnetic Ride Control allows the Escalade to glide over bumps. Optionally, you can also get an air-ride suspension package that allows you to raise the Escalade up for off-road use or lower the SUV by up to two inches to assist people getting in and out.
The new-generation Escalade can be ordered with Cadillac’s advanced Super Cruise driver-assistance tech. Super Cruise combines advanced lane keeping with adaptive cruise control to give the Escalade very limited self-driving capability. The rules of Super Cruise are simple: you can take your hands off the steering wheel and the Escalade will follow traffic in its lane. But the Escalade watches the driver to make sure that he or she is watching the road at all times. Super Cruise won’t change lanes and if it can’t find the lane the Escalade will transfer control back to the driver. Still, it’s as advanced as any driver assistance technology available today.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade comes in a variety of trim levels and price points. The 6.2-liter V8 gasoline engine is the default; choosing the 3.0-liter turbodiesel is a no-cost option available on all trim levels. Each trim level builds on those below it:
- Luxury (starting around $77,500 RWD/$80,500 AWD): This is the base model, independent rear suspension, curved OLED dash screens, 19-speaker audio, HD surround-view camera system, and more.
- Premium Luxury (starting around $84,500 RWD/$87,500 AWD): Adds panoramic sunroof, camera-based rearview mirror, full-color head-up display, a safety package with blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping features, and automatic parking assistance.
- Sport (starting around $86,500 RWD/$89,500 AWD): Builds on Premium Luxury with a gloss-black grille and a performance package including an electronic limited-slip differential, Magnetic Ride Control, and an integrated trailering package.
- Premium Luxury Platinum (starting around $101,500 RWD/$104,500 AWD): Adds a leather-wrapped dash, console, and door panels, along with 16-way adjustable front seats with heat, ventilation, and massage. The 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference audio system is also included, as well as a rear-seat entertainment system.
- Sport Platinum (starting around $101,500 RWD/$104,500 AWD): Comes with all that, and a set of special 22-inch, 12-spoke wheels.
Add $3,000 to these prices for the extended Escalade ESV, which gains 26.7 additional cubic feet of luggage space.
If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price an Escalade on Cadillac’s official web site.
Without a doubt, the new suspension is the Escalade’s best feature. The advanced technology on the dashboard and the Super Cruise self-driving are all great, but the independent rear suspension, Magnetic Ride Control, and air suspension features make the most difference in the driving experience over prior generations.
The Escalade is all about the biggest and best, so why not choose the model with all the goodies? Between the Premium Sport Platinum and Premium Luxury Platinum, we’d prefer the Sport version for style. The Magnetic Ride Control and limited-slip differential integrate with the 4WD system to make this Escalade a great all-weather ride. Plus, the integrated trailer package is handy if you need to pull your boat or toy box. Finally, we’d choose the Duramax turbo-diesel engine for its great all-around power and fuel economy.
Cadillac has put everything the industry knows about safety into the Escalade. If you check all the option boxes, you’ll have complete driver assistance with blind spots and lane changes, reversing, and a head-up display with night vision assistance. The advanced navigation system includes an augmented reality system that puts a camera view of the road ahead overlaid with direction instructions, and it even plays “right turn” and “left turn” instructions through the speakers on that side of the Escalade to subliminally communicate the correct movements.
An Escalade of any kind is a bold statement. It is not for the person who wants to blend in, but rather for the individual who wants to announce his or her presence. This is a top-tier luxury SUV that is bigger and more audacious than any direct competitor. The price walk starts out higher than average, but among luxury SUVs the Escalade is a great deal. Comparing features, the Escalade is often less expensive than the competition, so it’s also a choice for the budget-conscious luxury buyer. Finally, with ample seating and cargo/towing capabilities, the Escalade is a great choice for well-to-do families.
The newest Escalade favors revolution over evolution, showcasing the latest in advanced driver assistance, connectivity, and comfort technology. With limited self-driving capability, available night vision, and a comprehensive infotainment package, the Escalade is arguably the most advanced full-size luxury SUV on the market today. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a benchmark of technology and functionality for the luxury SUV industry. Cadillac left nothing on the drawing board for this next-generation vehicle. With several industry-exclusive features and state-of-the-art developments, Cadillac went for the knockout blow. The 2021 Escalade will not be exceeded in luxury or technology by any competitor this year.
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Photos courtesy of Cadillac and Jeff Zurschmeide