2021 Cadillac Escalade Review | Living large and larger
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a heavyweight mammoth that is unapologetically bold and quintessentially Escalade. Its general shape and design still plummets from the same tree as a Chevy Tahoe or Suburban, but there’s no mistaking this SUV’s new look for anything but a bejeweled, bold and brash Cadillac. That said, it does take advantage of all the lovely new engineering enhancements made throughout the GM SUV lineup, including the latest-generation magnetic dampers and a new air suspension system. Combined with the long-awaited independent rear suspension design, these pieces bring the Escalade’s ride up to par with the most comfortable and luxurious SUVs on sale today.
In addition to the ride improvement, Cadillac’s new interior is a tech and luxury fortress befitting its price. The new triple OLED screens scream luxury, and the design makes it competitive with Lincoln’s gorgeous Navigator once more (a far more comfortable and usable third-row seat helps in that regard, too). Under the hood, there’s an interesting new powertrain option with this generation of Escalade: a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six that brings decent fuel efficiency (23 mpg combined at its best) to a class of vehicle that typically achieves horrendously low figures. In total, with more space, more efficiency and vast improvements in every other category, the 2021 Escalade is poised to stand toe-to-toe with other luxury behemoths.
What’s new for 2021?
The Escalade is all-new for 2021. It’s the model’s first big redesign since the 2015 model year.
What are the Escalade interior and in-car technology like?
The Escalade doesn’t quite achieve the same elevated sense of fashion as Lincoln does with the Navigator, but it nevertheless makes a statement with its tech-forward take on luxury. The 38 inches of curved OLED screens we covered in our Escalade infotainment review dominate the dash in a brazen display of opulence. Large swaths of wood trim stretch across the dash horizontally and also adorn a substantial part of the center console. Your color and design options are plentiful, but it all depends on trim. The purple Dark Auburn is fantastic, and the light-and-airy Whisper Beige is another great option (pictured below). Real wood trim in various colors and patterns can be had, and varying levels of leather and suede coverage are available. Even at its best, though, Lincoln’s Black Label interiors are still a cut above in terms of style and distinctive color options.
There are three screens in total: a 16.9-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, a 14.2-inch instrument cluster and a 7.2-inch touchscreen to the left of the cluster. All three are gorgeous OLED displays. It’s a new take on GM’s infotainment system as a whole. You’ll still be swiping side-to-side through an iPad-esque display of apps, but the UI is totally rethought and appears fresh. Icons are big and easy to press. Nothing is hidden off-screen at any point. It just makes good sense. There are physical buttons and controls for things like the volume knob and frequently used apps like Navigation or Media. Plus, a scroll wheel on the center console provides a second method of navigating through it (Cadillac even designed a dedicated UI that it switches to when you use the wheel). Both wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto come standard, too.
How big is the Escalade?
Huge. Like, it won’t fit in lots of normal garages huge, especially if you get the extended Escalade ESV that measures 226.9 inches in overall length — that safely makes it the largest SUV in production today, even longer than the Suburban and Yukon XL. The concept of the ESV is the same as always this year. It’s the Suburban-ized Escalade, whereas the regular Escalade is equivalent to a Tahoe. Even the small one isn’t small, though. Like its new Chevy and GMC siblings (not to mention the Navigator and literally every other competitor), the Escalade now has an independent rear suspension design, which substantially increases cargo capacity (10.3 cu-ft more with the third row up), lowers the lift-over height, and provides a considerably more spacious third row (a whopping 10.4 inches more than before). Third-row space is still down versus the Navigator, but it offers more space behind the seats as a compromise.
The ESV (pictured below in both Sport Platinum and Premium Luxury Platinum trims) doesn’t offer any extra seating space (a testament to the regular Escalade’s size increase), but it does greatly improve cargo capacity. Each configuration offers significantly more space than the non-ESV, with the most astounding difference being room behind the third row; it skyrockets from 25.5 cubes to 42.3 cubes. That puts the ESV into and above minivan territory. Fully-spec’d with the diesel engine and four-wheel drive, the ESV weighs in at 6,182 pounds. It’s a lot of truck to swing around, but it can also move more people and their things than most vehicles on sale today.
What are the Escalade fuel economy and performance specs?
The Escalade’s base engine is the 6.2-liter small-block V8 that serves as the upgrade for both the Tahoe and Yukon. It makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, then channels that power through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Either rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive versions are available. Fuel economy tops out at 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive. Opting for four-wheel drive drops each of those figures by one mpg to 14/19/16 mpg.
GM’s 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six is also available. It pumps out a very diesel-like 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque to the 10-speed automatic. Fuel economy is hugely improved to 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive. A similar 1 mpg hit in all categories is felt when you go with four-wheel drive. The EPA estimates that you’ll save $950 per year on fuel costs if you opt for the diesel. Plus, unlike the other full-size GM SUVs, the Escalade’s diesel engine is available as a no-cost option, making it even more appealing.
We’ll also note that fuel economy figures for the ESV are all identical to the standard-length Escalade.
What’s the Escalade like to drive?
The 6.2-liter V8 is a gem of an engine. It’s powerful and flexible, and the 10-speed makes great use of its strengths. Some of the V8’s bellow makes it into the cabin when you really step into the throttle, but it remains out of mind for the most part. The Escalade never feels quick like its European counterparts do with their upgrade engines, but it’s also no dog. As delightful as the Escalade’s powertrain is, that’s not its stand-out feature; that honor goes to the suspension.
All but the base model Escalade can be equipped with Cadillac’s fourth-generation Magnetic Ride Control. Air suspension requires a Platinum model (be it the Sport or Premium Luxury versions; choose your own adventure). The combination of the two is exquisite, and it’s only over particularly bad pavement that the 22-inch wheels and body-on-frame construction combine to remind you that independent rear suspension alone is not a cure-all for the shortcomings of a truck chassis. We haven’t driven an Escalade without Magnetic Ride Control and the Air suspension, but there’s no doubt that the switch to an independent rear suspension quiets head toss and eliminates some of that truck feeling all on its own. For the time being, just know that the fully upgraded suspension rides like a dream and is astronomically better than the previous Escalade’s ride.
We haven’t driven an Escalade diesel either, but the engine is the same as what we tried out in the Suburban diesel. It felt at home in that SUV, and its ability to remain quiet and unnoticeable should make it a worthy choice in the Escalade, too.
Here’s how the Escalade measures up to its biggest competitor on paper: The Navigator.
How much is the 2021 Escalade price and what features are available?
Like Cadillac’s other offerings, the 2021 Escalade has a split trim hierarchy. Above the base Luxury model, you can choose one of two paths: Premium or Sport. The Premium Luxury and Premium Luxury Platinum are your more traditional, flashier options, with lots of chrome and a rich, warm interior. The Sport and Sport Platinum are for those who prefer a more modern, subtle aesthetic, with blackout exterior trim and more subdued interior finishes.
A base Luxury with rear-wheel drive will run you $77,490, including the $1,295 destination charge. Add $3,000 for four-wheel drive for both this and every other trim. Standard equipment includes 22-inch alloy wheels, auto-retracting assist steps, LED headlights and taillights, heated auto-dimming mirrors, power liftgate, auto wipers, leatherette upholstery (black only), heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, wireless phone charger, tri-zone climate control, interior ambient lighting, 19-speaker AKG audio system and the full triple OLED screen setup with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto.
You can find a full breakdown of the various trim levels plus specs and local pricing here at Autoblog. All of the base prices for each trim are listed below — just add $3,000 to each price to get the final with four-wheel drive.
Premium Luxury: $84,290
Premium Luxury Platinum: $101,290
Sport Platinum: $101,290
What are the Escalade safety ratings and driver assistance features?
The 2021 Escalade has a number of driver assistance and safety features as standard equipment. These include automatic emergency braking w/front pedestrian detection, forward collision and rear pedestrian warning, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree camera.
There are a ton more safety features that are available as you climb up the trim ladder and tack on options. The Premium Luxury adds lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, an auto parallel/perpendicular parking system, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. The Premium Luxury Platinum and Sport Platinum add full-speed automatic emergency braking, reverse automatic braking and adaptive cruise control. Night Vision (a heat map display in the instrument cluster) is an extra $2,000. And finally, if you want Cadillac’s excellent Super Cruise hands-off highway driving assistant, it’ll cost you an extra $2,500.
Only the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration performed crash tests on the new Escalade so far. The government agency awarded it a four-star overall safety rating. It performed best in side crash tests (five-star ratings), but only received a three-star rollover rating and four-star front crash rating.