2021 Cadillac Escalade

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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:

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2021 Cadillac Escalade Changes: What’s The Difference vs The 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 2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
Premium Luxury
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
Premium Luxury Platinum
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
Sport Platinum
6.2L V8 Gas
10-Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive
See All 2021 Cadillac Escalade Trims and Specs

2021 Escalade Exterior

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

2021 Escalade Performance

Engine and Transmission

  • 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.

2021 Escalade Interior

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Seating and Interior Space

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

2021 Escalade Trunk and Cargo Space

2021 Escalade Safety and Reliability


  • 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

US NHTSA Crash Test Result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

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.

Check out other Cadillac Escalade Styles

2021 Cadillac Escalade Comparisons

Lincoln Navigator Lincoln
Chevrolet Tahoe CarBuzz
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Cadillac Escalade420 hp14/19 mpg$79,295
Lincoln Navigator 440 hpTBC$79,725
Chevrolet Tahoe 355 hp15/20 mpg$52,600

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.

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