2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade First Drive Review: The American Road King

First introduced in 1998 as a rebadged version of the GMC Yukon, the Cadillac Escalade has evolved to become a staple of the American SUV market. Whether it's being used to pick someone up from the airport or transport a large family while hauling a trailer, the vast majority of Americans have spent some time in an Escalade. Now in its fifth-generation, the 2021 Escalade arrives as the biggest leap ever for the now-storied nameplate.

Still sharing a platform with the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon, which are also brand new for 2021, the Escalade offers more space than any other SUV currently sold in the United States, beating rivals like the Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570, and Infiniti QX80. This year, Cadillac has paid additional attention to make sure its new flagship is more than just a Chevy or GMC with extra leather. There is so much new technology onboard, you might mistake the new Escalade for something with four rings or a three-pointed star on it. CarBuzz spent a few days driving a 2021 Escalade ESV 4WD Sport and in that short time, we learned that this is no longer the ultimate American SUV; it's one of the best SUVs, period.

Read in this review:

2021 Cadillac Escalade Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Escalade?

The fifth-generation 2021 Cadillac Escalade is an all-new version of one of the defining full-size luxury SUVs on the market. Along with completely revised exterior styling, the latest Escalade boasts a thoroughly modernized cabin featuring highlights like a 38-inch curved OLED display, Super Cruise hands-free driver-assistance technology, an available 36-speaker sound system, and augmented reality navigation. Dimensionally, the latest Escalade is eight inches longer and marginally wider than the model it replaces, while the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV has a considerable length of 226.9 inches. It's a totally different vehicle underneath the skin as well, with a new independent rear suspension promising a far better ride and handling balance. A new Air Ride adaptive suspension system is available. Power is derived from a 6.2-liter V8 engine with 420 horsepower and, for the first time, a 3.0-liter turbodiesel with 460 lb-ft of torque.

Pros and Cons

  • Styling from the Escala Concept
  • Ultra-luxurious, high-tech cabin
  • More passenger and cargo space than before
  • Improved ride quality
  • Available torque-rich turbodiesel engine
  • Impressive range of driver-assist technologies
  • Massive size makes it tricky in tight spots
  • Don't think of it as an off-roader
  • It's expensive
  • The V8 is thirsty
  • Missing a few features found in rivals

Best Deals on Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Luxury
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$76,195
Premium Luxury
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$82,995
Sport
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$85,595
Premium Luxury Platinum
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$99,995
Sport Platinum
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
$99,995

Escalade Exterior

Size matters and that applies to the Cadillac Escalade more than the majority of other vehicles on the road. It's instantly recognizable as an Escalade, which is perhaps its greatest stylistic achievement, but the details have been smartened up nicely. The headlights, which were inspired by the stunning Escala Concept, are now smaller horizontal LED units and they flow into the giant grille. On Luxury/Premium trims, the grille is studded with a chrome finish, while Sport/Sport Platinum versions have a black mesh grille. Lower down are dramatic vertical lighting elements that further emphasize the upright stance. The rear styling hasn't changed too much, although, along the sides, the beltline that kicks up towards the rear is a subtle touch that differentiates this model from its predecessor. All versions ship with a hands-free power liftgate and most have a panoramic sunroof. 22-inch wheels are standard across the range, and it's saying a lot that they don't look that large since they're surrounded by acres of sheet metal.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Front View CarBuzz
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Dimensions

Good luck trying to maneuver the new Cadillac Escalade around a crowded parking lot without relying on the available 360-degree camera system. The official dimensions tell the story of the SUV's size, starting with a length of 211.9 inches, which is even longer than the already enormous Lincoln Navigator. Without the mirrors, it is 81.1 inches wide, while the height is a tall 76.7 inches. The wheelbase stretches to 120.9 inches. The stretched Escalade ESV has the same width and is marginally lower (76.4 inches), but it's much longer with a 134.1-inch wheelbase and a length of 226.9 inches. With such a large footprint, it's no surprise that the Escalade is a heavy beast. With the 6.2-liter V8 engine, the curb weight ranges from 5,635 pounds for the Escalade 2WD to 5,992 lbs for the Escalade ESV in 4WD guise.

  • Length 211.9 in
  • Wheelbase 120.9 in
  • Height 76.7 in
  • Max Width 81.1 in

Exterior Colors

On all trims, there is a choice of eight colors. It's no surprise that the sinister Dark Raven is the only shade that doesn't cost extra, because is there anything more appropriate (and intimidating) than a black Escalade? If anyone thinks there is, there are seven premium colors to choose from. The metallics go for $625 each and include Satin Steel, Shadow, Sandstone, Dark Moon Blue, and Dark Mocha. At $1,225 each, Infrared Tintcoat and Crystal White Tintcoat are also offered. It may be a pricey option, but we think Infrared Tintcoat is the best choice.

Escalade Performance

Two engines are available for the new Cadillac Escalade; these are a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbodiesel and a 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8. Both have the same torque figure of 460 lb-ft, but the V8 is more powerful with 420 horsepower compared to 277 in the diesel. The V8 provides the most potent acceleration off the mark, and we estimate that it'll zoom from 0 to 60 mph in just over six seconds. As before, the Escalade boasts superb towing capacity numbers, with even the least capable version managing well over 7,000 pounds. Your choice of rear- or four-wheel-drive will affect how much you can tow, with the 2WD standard-wheelbase Escalade managing a maximum of 8,300 lbs. However, the 2WD Lincoln Navigator can tow up to 8,700 lbs, so the Escalade isn't quite best-in-class in this aspect.

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Engine and Transmission

The big news for the 2021 Escalade is the addition of an available 3.0-liter six-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel engine, which unfortunately wasn't available for our test. This powertrain won't add anything to the cost of the Escalade, so customers are free to choose whether they prefer the driving characteristics of the turbodiesel over the more conventional 6.2-liter V8, which produces 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. The diesel's outputs are 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, so we expect the more potent V8 to deliver better acceleration in exchange for fuel economy. If you can't see the appeal of a diesel Escalade, just remember that diesel engines love sitting idle, and a lot of these cars see use for limo services.

Each engine comes paired with GM's outstanding ten-speed automatic transmission that is electronically controlled and features a tow/haul mode. It paired well with the V8 engine in our test vehicle, delivering smooth shifts and appropriate responsiveness. With so many gears, the 10-speed keeps the V8 happy in its powerband, and with so much torque on tap, it rarely needs to drop gears and rev out for passing maneuvers.

  • Engine
    6.2L V8 Gas
  • Transmission
    10-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    4X4, RWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

In the past, we'd compare the experience of driving an Escalade to captaining a yacht in rough waters. Obviously, you can't hop into the new Escalade expecting the poise of a BMW X7 or Mercedes-Benz GLS, but compared to the previous generation, the new model is in a different league. Our tester featured the optional Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, which combined with the Magnetic Ride Control Dampers, completely erases bumps. We even took the Escalade to an abandoned parking lot where there are literal craters in the asphalt, and we didn't feel a thing. Though it lacks the nimbleness and composure of its smaller German rivals, the air suspension does an adequate job controlling the Escalade's heft, so it no longer feels like a land yacht.

Most noticeably, the new Escalade sports an independent rear suspension with an electronic limited-slip differential. Compared to the live rear axle on the previous model, the independent setup won't send your kids crashing into the ceiling when you go over a speed bump. The limited-slip differential helps transmit power from the V8 down to the road, so you no longer need to exercise caution every time you plant the throttle. This is still a massive vehicle, but Cadillac's effortless steering makes driving it in tight parking lots feel like less of a chore. It's still tough to park, but an available HD surround-view system and Enhanced Parking Assistant make the task much less daunting.

Escalade Gas Mileage

The Escalade's big, powerful engines and considerable heft aren't a recipe for efficiency, but most customers will be willing to accept this compromise. For what it's worth, the 6.2-liter V8 will manage EPA-rated estimates of 15/20/17 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. With 4WD, these numbers dip to 14/19/16 mpg. In our real-world test, we averaged 13.5 in our ESV with 4WD. At the time of writing, economy figures for the 3.0-liter turbodiesel had not yet been announced, although it's expected to be much more efficient than the V8. The standard-wheelbase Escalade has a 24-gallon gas tank, so with the V8, it should manage gas mileage of 408 miles in mixed driving conditions. With its larger 28.3-gallon gas tank, the Escalade ESV has a potential range of around 480 miles.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    24.0 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 15/20 mpg
* 2021 Cadillac Escalade Luxury RWD

Escalade Interior

The changes to the latest Escalade's cabin are substantially more dramatic than the exterior redesign. It's a truly lavish environment with top-notch materials, loads of high-tech features, and much more passenger space than ever before. An industry-first curved OLED driver display dominates the dashboard and is beautiful to look at, but Cadillac smartly hasn't dispensed with physical controls for the ventilation system. A longer wheelbase and the implementation of an independent rear suspension work together to free up more cargo space and a 40-percent increase in third-row legroom. Leatherette upholstery and 12-way power-adjustable front seats are standard on the entry-level trim, along with heated seats in the first two rows, tri-zone climate control, remote start, and a hands-free power liftgate. Upper trims have soft-close doors, a panoramic sunroof, and an AKG Studio Reference sound system with an astounding 36 speakers.

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Seating and Interior Space

The Cadillac Escalade is amongst the largest vehicles available right now, with seating for up to eight individuals, or seven if you opt for the second-row captain's chairs. By switching to a new independent rear suspension, Cadillac managed to increase passenger space in all except the first row, which shrinks marginally compared to last year's model. In the standard-wheelbase model, 2nd-row passengers get 41.7 inches of legroom (an increase of 2.7 inches) while third-row occupants have 34.9 inches (an increase of 10.1 inches) to stretch their legs. Should you need even more space, the ESV increases third-row legroom to 36.6 inches (an increase of 2.1 inches from last year's ESV).

  • Seating capacity
    7-seater
  • Front Leg Room 44.5 in
  • Front Head Room 42.3 in
  • Rear Leg Room 41.7 in
  • Rear Head Room 38.9 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The base Luxury trim features leatherette upholstery in Jet Black along with Linear Tiger wood inlays. Moving up to the Premium Luxury introduces Mulan leather upholstery with perforated inserts in a choice of Parchment, Jet Black, or Brandy, with the latter costing extra but adding dark accents and faceted quilting to the leather. The Sport also comes with Mulan leather but features unique Zebra wood inlays. On the Premium Luxury Platinum and Sport Platinum, Opus semi-aniline leather seating comes as standard for the first two rows, with both featuring colors like Whisper Beige with Gideon accents, Jet Black, and Dark Auburn. Additional trim-specific inlays include Natural Figured Ash wood, Bitter Lace wood, Parchment Tamo Ash wood, Fine Line Brandy wood, and Linear Marquetry wood. Tasteful aluminum trim, top-class stitching on the door panels and dash, and contrast piping are further elements that mark the new Escalade's cabin out as something special.

Escalade Trunk and Cargo Space

The new Cadillac Escalade has taken a big step forward when it comes to cargo capacity, an improvement that can be partially attributed to the use of an independent rear suspension. While the previous Escalade had around 15.2 cubic feet of space behind the third row, the new one offers a much more generous 25.5 cubes. Behind the second row, this swells to a large 63 cubes, and with all the back seats folded, there are a cavernous 109.1 cubes to play with. The ESV is even roomier, with figures of 41.5 and 94.1 cubes behind the second and third rows, and 142.8 cubes when all the rear seats are folded. Along with the hands-free power-operated tailgate, a power-folding mechanism for the 60/40-split folding third row is standard. There is some underfloor storage in the cargo area as well.

Interior storage space is generous as well, with a standard front center console containing dual cupholders along with small/large storage bins. A refrigerated center console is available and can accommodate six 500 ml bottles. A large glovebox has a damped lid and is lined with felt, while second-row occupants get seatback map pockets along with pop-out cupholders. There are storage bins in all the doors and third-row occupants have accessible cupholders as well.

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Escalade Infotainment and Features

Features

As a full-size luxury SUV, even the base Escalade comes well-stocked with luxury and convenience items. It has 12-way power-adjustable front seats, heated seats in the first two rows, a heated steering wheel, and tri-zone automatic climate control. Added to these are second-row bucket seats with a power-release function, power-folding third-row seats, remote start, rain-sensing wipers, and a hands-free power liftgate. Cadillac hasn't skimped on safety with all versions benefitting from automatic emergency braking, forward-collision alert, front pedestrian braking, front/rear parking sensors, an HD surround-view camera system, and rear pedestrian alert. Higher-spec versions have adaptive park assist, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, 16-way power-adjustable front seats with massaging, soft-close doors, and a panoramic sunroof. A trailering package with an integrated brake controller, a trailering app, and hitch assist guidelines is available.

Infotainment

The Cadillac User Experience (CUE) from the outgoing Escalade was not well-loved, but the company went back to the drawing board to craft something brilliant. The new Escalade features the industry's first curved piece of OLED glass, totaling around 38 inches in the dash. A massive 16.9-inch touchscreen handles infotainment duties, while a rotating knob helps to avoid fingerprints and smudges. In front of the driver, a 14.2-inch display shows the gauges and other vehicle information, and using the 7.2-inch control panel, drivers can switch from standard gauges to a full map view, augmented reality camera, or available night vision. Not only does the Escalade pack standard fare such as Bluetooth and SiriusXM radio, but it also boasts wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. We were blown away by the base 19-speaker AKG sound system, so we can only imagine that the optional 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference stereo is one of the best in the world right now.

Escalade Problems and Reliability

J.D. Power's overall rating for the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is an excellent 84 out of a possible 100. This score takes into account quality, reliability, driving experience, and more. Over at the NHTSA, no recalls have yet been announced for the all-new Escalade, although it is very early in the SUV's life since it is a new generation.

If the big Escalade does let you down, Cadillac sells it with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, and roadside assistance for six years or 70,000 miles.

Warranty

  • Warranty Note:
    Preliminary 2021 Warranty \ 
  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    6 Years \ 70,000 Miles
  • Rust-Through:
    6 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Corrosion:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    6 Years \ 70,000 Miles
  • Maintenance Note:
    1 Year \ 1 Visit

Escalade Safety

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade has yet to be evaluated by either the NHTSA or the IIHS for crashworthiness.

Key Safety Features

The Cadillac Escalade is brilliantly equipped when it comes to safety gear, starting with a suite of seven airbags. This includes curtain airbags for occupants in all rows and seat-mounted side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. All versions also come with hill start assist, hitch guidance, electronic stability control, traction control, and tire-pressure monitoring. An array of driver-assist and awareness technologies includes front/rear pedestrian detection, front/rear parking sensors, an HD surround-view camera system, automatic emergency braking, forward-collision alert, and lane-keep assist. More expensive trims add features like adaptive parking assistance, a head-up display, a rear camera mirror, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert, adaptive cruise control, and reverse automatic braking. Night vision is available as an option, as is Super Cruise, a semi-autonomous system that allows for hands-free driving on compatible highways.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Cadillac Escalade a good car?

Since its inception, the Cadillac Escalade has always remained a recommendable car. None of the Japanese or European full-size SUVs could match the Escalade on storage space, especially behind the third row, which is an important measure for large families. With this fifth-generation Escalade though, Cadillac has positioned its flagship as more than just a last resort for when the competition isn't big enough. The improvements to the cabin, interior technology, and overall refinement now put the Escalade on an even playing field with pricier options like the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS without sacrificing what made it great in the first place.

This latest update outclasses the similarly-sized Lincoln Navigator and leaves the Lexus LX and Infiniti QX80 feeling like they belong in a different decade. Though it still retains its humble Chevy and GMC underpinnings, the Escalade separates itself enough from its GM siblings with exclusive technology, powertrains, and comfort. If you need to fit seven or eight people comfortably, tow a boat, or just want the largest and most luxurious SUV available around $100,000, we think the new Escalade is the new benchmark.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade?

Despite the many ways in which the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is improved over its predecessor, it isn't much more expensive. That said, this level of space and luxury doesn't come cheap. The base Luxury costs $76,195, and that's before tax, licensing, and registration costs, plus a $1,295 destination charge. Following this is the Premium Luxury at $82,995 and the Sport at $85,595. Topping the lineup are the Premium Luxury Platinum and Sport Platinum trims which, although styled differently, carry the same MSRP of $99,995. Upgrading to either 4WD or the long-wheelbase ESV will further inflate the price. On the base Escalade, 4WD will add a further $3,000 to the bill. The base Escalade ESV Luxury starts at $79,195, a $3,000 increase over the equivalent shorter model. A fully loaded Cadillac Escalade ESV Sport Platinum with 4WD and all the options ticked will cost over $120,000. Fortunately, the diesel option is a no-cost one to select.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Models

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is offered in a choice of five trims: Luxury, Premium Luxury, Sport, Premium Luxury Platinum, and Sport Platinum. Engine options include a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbodiesel with 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque and a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 hp/460 lb-ft. 2WD is standard but can be upgraded to 4WD, while a ten-speed automatic gearbox is the default transmission across the range. If the standard-wheelbase version isn't quite big enough, the Escalade ESV is longer by around 15 inches.

The base Luxury comes with 22-inch alloy wheels, chrome roof rails, a hands-free power liftgate, LED exterior lighting, and rain-sensing wipers. The cabin is finished in leatherette upholstery with 12-way power front seats, heated seats in the first two rows, tri-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, a 19-speaker sound system, and a vivid OLED display combining a 7.2-inch control panel, a 14.2-inch cluster display, and a 16.9-inch infotainment screen.

Next up is the Premium Luxury with upgrades such as a panoramic power sunroof, a cabin air ionizer, a head-up display, leather-upholstered seats with ventilation in front, lane change alert with blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Sport comes with gloss black exterior trim, such as for the bodyside moldings and roof rails, along with a unique finish for its 22-inch wheels. It additionally has trailer side blind-spot alert, magnetic ride control, and an electronic limited-slip differential.

The Premium Luxury Platinum is over $10,000 pricier than the preceding trim but adds a 36-speaker sound system, a rear-seat entertainment system, adaptive air suspension, adaptive cruise control, soft-close doors, 16-way power-adjustable seats with massage, and semi-aniline leather upholstery for the first two rows.

The Sport Platinum shares its comprehensive feature count with the Premium Luxury Platinum but differs with its Dark Android finish for the 22-inch wheels and gloss black exterior trim instead of chrome.

See All 2021 Cadillac Escalade Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

A high standard specification doesn't mean that the Cadillac Escalade can't be upgraded with numerous extras. One of the pricier packages on the base Luxury derivative is the Performance Upgrade Package at $2,795. It adds a performance air intake system and a cat-back performance exhaust system. Even more expensive is the Radiant Package - which could be named the 'Bling' Package - at $3,245 which adds chrome alloy wheels, a bright sport mesh grille with Galvano surround, and puddle lamps with the Cadillac crest.

The Premium Luxury adds a number of additional upgrades such as the Driver Assist Tech Package. The total cost of this upgrade is $6,350 but additions are soft-close doors, adaptive cruise control, an adaptive air ride suspension, magnetic ride control, and the Performance Package that includes an electronic limited-slip differential. A rear-seat entertainment system can be specified for $1,995 at this level and includes dual 12.6-inch LCD HD screens. If you want Cadillac's fancy Super Cruise hands-free system, it can only be had as part of several other upgrades that will add a hefty $8,850 to the final bill. However, on the top two trims, Super Cruise can be added on its own for $2,500.

On the mid-range Sport and the pricier Sport Platinum, the Onyx Package goes for $2,295 and adds gloss black 22-inch alloy wheels, monochromatic Cadillac emblems, a gloss black Escalade name badge, and puddle lamps with the Cadillac crest.

🚗What Cadillac Escalade Model Should I Buy?

Should you plan to use the third row frequently and need plenty of space behind it, the Escalade ESV is worth the price increase over the standard model. The base Luxury trim offers plenty of comfort features, but we think the Premium Luxury and Sport trims are worth the upgrade. We slightly prefer the Sport, which adds a more aggressive appearance plus the Magnetic Ride Suspension and a limited-slip differential. From there, we'd add the Driver Assist Tech Package for $3,660, which rolls in the Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, adaptive cruise control, soft close doors, rear automatic braking, and more. If you can show restraint without choosing any more options, you can get an Escalade ESV Sport for $93,540.

Check out other Cadillac Escalade Styles

2021 Cadillac Escalade Comparisons

Lincoln Navigator Lincoln
Chevrolet Tahoe CarBuzz
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Cadillac Escalade420 hp15/20 mpg$76,195
Lincoln Navigator 450 hp16/22 mpg$76,185
Chevrolet Tahoe 355 hp16/20 mpg$49,000

2021 Cadillac Escalade vs Lincoln Navigator

Just as towering as the Cadillac Escalade is the vast Lincoln Navigator, also available as the extended-wheelbase Navigator L. Both competitors can seat up to eight occupants in comfort and, although the new Escalade offers far superior third-row space than it did before, the Navigator has more legroom back there in standard guise. However, the Escalade has a lot more cargo space behind both the second and third rows. Both SUVs offer 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains, but the Navigator's twin-turbocharged V6 is more powerful with its 450 hp and 510 lb-ft being superior to the V8 Escalade's 420 hp and 460 lb-ft. The Navigator has a lovely cabin but the Escalade is vastly improved from behind the driver's seat with its vivid displays and the availability of high-tech features like Super Cruise. Both vehicles will make you feel like a king, but the new Escalade takes the crown here.

See Lincoln Navigator Review

2021 Cadillac Escalade vs Chevrolet Tahoe

Many shoppers will lust after the Escalade with its many gizmos and blingy detailing, but not everyone has over $70,000 to spend to get a full-size SUV. For these buyers, there is the much more affordable Chevrolet Tahoe which starts at under $50,000. It's also a new arrival for the 2021 model year and sports handsome styling, greater cargo space, and more room for passengers. It offers up to 122.9 cubic feet of cargo space, which is vast but still outdone by the Escalade ESV. The two SUVs share their V8 and six-cylinder turbodiesel engines, but the Tahoe also offers a 5.3-liter V8 with 355 hp and 383 lb-ft which helps to bring the price down. The Tahoe's cabin is far more upscale than before but can't match the Escalade for sheer opulence. Considering that a top-spec Tahoe with 4WD and the bigger V8 starts at a lower price than the base Escalade, the Chevy makes a strong case for itself. However, the new Escalade is the more desirable vehicle here.

See Chevrolet Tahoe Review

Cadillac Escalade Popular Comparisons

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