by Jay Traugott
The Cadillac Escalade has been the defining vehicle in the luxury brand's lineup since it first appeared on the scene in 1999. Although that first-generation model was little more than a rushed rebadge job of the GMC Yukon, Cadillac quickly established itself as the leader of full-size SUV luxury. Unlike many SUVs, the Escalade has always retained body-on-frame construction but this latest generation is, without question, its biggest leap forward to date.
Meet the completely redesigned 2021 Cadillac Escalade. It's as bold as ever from the outside. Inside, however, is where things get particularly interesting. For the first time ever, the Escalade's interior is completely different than its corporate cousins, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Cadillac knew it had to make the fifth-gen Escalade a standout in a segment that's seen a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. New technologies, greater refinement, and increased passenger and cargo space are just a few highlights.
6.2-liter V8 Gas
Cadillac knew not to mess too much with the Escalade's instantly recognizable exterior. Although it rides on a new platform, the 2021 Escalade can't be mistaken for anything else. Up front, the SUV receives Cadillac's new signature vertical lighting element featuring sleek, horizontal headlamps. The vertical taillights contain a unique light signature along with three-dimensional layers and finishes with more detailed etching. All new Escalades come standard with 22-inch wheels.
For the first time ever, the new Escalade will offer the brand's Sport trim, which adds a black mesh grille and black trim across the body. The other trims, Luxury, and Premium Luxury, both receive a bright Balvano finish. Once again, the Platinum trim is the range-topper, featuring unique interior and exterior details.
The 2021 Escalade has an industry-first curved, paper-thin OLED screen as opposed to the typical rectangular screen. The result is a cabin design that integrates technology and many handcrafted details. This tech includes three screens: a 7.2-inch diagonal touchscreen, a 14.2-inch cluster display, and a 16.9-inch infotainment screen. As for the decor, the new Escalade boasts stainless-steel speaker grilles, ambient lighting, eight color and trim choices, and a selection of custom perforation and quilting patterns. Soft-close doors are a must-have optional extra.
Cadillac added another industry-first piece of tech: AKG audio technology. The standard system features 19 speakers and a large subwoofer powered by a 14-channel amplifier. There is an optional system with a grand total of 36 speakers powered by three amplifiers with 28 channels. Other notable interior features include Studio 3D Surround and Audio Rendering for navigation.
Overall interior and cargo space have also increased. There's now 40 percent more third-row legroom (more than 10 inches) and 68 percent more cargo space behind the third row. Rear seat passengers also benefit from a pair of 12.6-inch touch displays making up the entertainment system.
Unlike any previous Escalade generation, the new SUV offers something else entirely new, this time under the hood: a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine with 460 lb-ft of torque. The standard engine is the naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower. Both engines are paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. A trailering package is standard on all models, though the more advanced Trailering Integration Package is optional.
Engineers were also instructed to drastically improve overall ride and handling, more possible than ever thanks to the new independent rear suspension. Additional systems were necessary, however. Among them Magnetic Ride Control, a damping system utilizing sensors to read the road and adjust the damping rate of the shocks nearly instantly. The result is reduced vertical body motion, body roll, and vibrations. The available air suspension is also new and works directly with Magnetic Ride Control. It provides load-leveling and ride-height adjustments continuously at each wheel and automatically adjusts itself for optimal aerodynamics. An electronic limited-slip differential is also optional.
The Super Cruise semi-autonomous driver assist technology is one of the 2021 Escalade's most impressive technologies. It allows for hands-free driving on over 200,000 miles of highways in North America using LiDAR map data, GPS, and a network of cameras and radar sensors. Super Cruise has also been improved with automated lane change. Drivers will also receive vital information from the system when it detects it's unable to carry out certain tasks. In other words, human drivers are still a must.
Other advanced driver-assist and safety features include optional Augmented Reality-enabled navigation, Surround Vision, a Rear Camera Mirror, and Night Vision.
The outgoing Cadillac Escalade begins at nearly $76,000 and goes as high as $100,000. We don't expect the 2021 Escalade to cost any less, and will invariably carry a higher price tag. But at the same time, buyers will be receiving a far more advanced and refined luxury SUV than before.
The large luxury SUV segment has seen a resurgence lately, led in part by the Lincoln Navigator, the Escalade's long-time rival. Other competitors include the Infiniti QX80, Toyota Land Cruiser and its luxury twin, the Lexus LX. Foreign rivals, such as the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS are also in the Escalade's sights.
Official pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date towards the end of this year. 2021 Cadillac Escalade production will take place at GM's Arlington, Texas assembly facility.