The all-new Cadillac Escalade-V is priced to take on the Germans. Can it do so successfully?
Last week Cadillac unveiled the world's most powerful full-size SUV, called the Escalade-V.
There's a lot to like about the latest member of the V clan, though not all of it makes sense. It can swallow a whole family of seven and still set a quarter-mile time similar to that of a Golf R. (Yes, we know six additional people will slow it down, but allow us at least some hyperbole to make it more interesting.)
We also love the fact that it's unashamedly about excess. The only way this car could be more annoying to environmentalists is if its red brake calipers were painted with the blood of fluffy white bunny rabbits. The Escalade-V is a prime example of internal combustion going down swinging, giving one last middle finger to the EV that will eventually replace it.
We were expecting it to be outrageous but we weren't expecting the high asking price. Cadillac wants $150k for an Escalade-V, which means it competes against several highly-regarded full-size SUVs.
Let's see how it stacks up against the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, which is also a potent three-row SUV.
Cadillac's designer was only provided with a ruler, while Mercedes' artist was given a more substantial set of design tools.
The Caddy leans hard into its slab-sided SUV roots while the Merc tries to disguise its heft with curvier shapes and rounded edges.
We're not sure either car could be described as tasteful. The Merc's Panamericana grille is refined, but the lower air intakes are a bit much, while the Caddy's black mesh grille makes it quite apparent that it wants your weedy Nissan Sentra repmobile to get out of its way.
From the rear, both cars are pretty pleasing to look at. They have simple taillight designs and quad exhaust pipes that hint at the performance potential.
Overall, we prefer the design of the Cadillac, if only because Merc's styling is so generic these days. The entire line-up, including the new EQ cars, all appear to be the same exact vehicle but in a different size category.
"I'd like a Mercedes SUV, super-sized, please."
Quality-wise, the battle is one-sided. Though Caddy has improved its interiors over the last decade, it's tough going up against a Mercedes, even more so when it has an "S" in its name.
The quality of the Merc's interior is befitting of a car with a $130k + asking price, but we're not entirely convinced Caddy can justify asking $150k. Add roughly $30,000 to the price, and you're in Bentley Bentayga territory, and it's a cut above both these SUVs.
The Escalade-V's interior is ergonomically superior. Merc's touchpad is outdated, while Cadillac's iDrive-like system isn't half bad. The Mercedes comes standard with MBUX, an operating system built around voice activation. You say, "Hey Mercedes," followed by whatever you need.
We're not particularly fond of talking to cars, mainly because it's counterproductive. You say, "Hey Mercedes. I'm cold." So it increases the interior temperature but by how much? It seems to depend on the model. This to and fro is pointless, and it's much easier to simply use the separate shortcut buttons below the vents.
Though it can't quite match the Merc's materials, the Cadillac has a more pleasing interior.
Allow us one example to explain. Both cars have two large screens up front. One for infotainment purposes and one that serves as the instrument cluster. When it comes to layout, the two automotive companies tackle it differently, and Cadillac does a better job.
In the Mercedes, it's pretty evident that it's two screens mounted behind one piece of glass. It isn't enjoyable in the base models, even more so once you're asked to fork over more than $100,000.
The dual-screen setup in the Escalade is so much better. You get a clear digital instrument cluster mounted within a much larger screen. To even it out a little, there's a tiny screen on the left of the cluster. It looks much classier.
Who wins it? We'd go with the Cadillac for all of the reasons stated above. You can overlook the cheaper plastics hidden beneath eye level.
The Cadillac also makes it easier to tap into the performance potential via the special V-Mode button, neatly located above the shifter.
You can have the Escalade-V in two sizes - large and extra-large. Both are bigger than the Mercedes.
The GLS is an impressive daily runabout with a practical seven-seat layout. Space in the front and the second row is plenty, but the third row is too small for adults. With all three rows in place, the trunk only has 17.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Not bad until you look at the Caddy's figures.
A standard Escalade-V has 25.5 cubes behind the third row, while the longer ESV model has 41.5 cubes.
In the Mercedes, you'll often have to fold the third row flat to pack all the stuff needed to keep a large family operational. The Cadillac offers you the luxury of never worrying about space and whether you have enough of it. The answer is always yes.
The Benz is faster, getting to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 174 mph. Cadillac claims a 0-60 mph time of "less than 4.4 seconds," and no maximum speed was provided.
Does it even matter? These SUVs are stupidly fast and provide the kind of grin-inducing acceleration you only get when a giant lump of plastic, metal, and aluminum hurls itself at the horizon relentlessly.
Both cars have permanent four-wheel-drive, automatic gearboxes, and various driving modes. Though both also have V8 engines, they produce their impressive power outputs differently.
Cadillac took the old-school approach. It uses a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with a giant supercharger bolted on top. The result is 682 horsepower and 653 lb-ft of torque, so it can rightfully claim the most powerful full-size SUV title.
It can't claim to be the fastest because the Merc's engine is more advanced. The GLS 63 uses the well-known and beloved 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 as a basis. But even that's not enough; the GLS was officially the first AMG product to use the EQ mild-hybrid technology. The 48-volt mild-hybrid system fills the power gaps, helping this big family bus get away from the line quicker even though it doesn't have launch control.
Which is best? You'd be happy with either. The average person would not be able to tell the difference, so it comes down to which engine you prefer. If you enjoy the whine of a supercharger, get the Caddy. We prefer Merc's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8.
Both cars come standard with air suspension and a full suite of active nannies to ensure you don't scrape the roof. Mercedes calls its system AMG Active Ride Control, while Cadillac calls it Magnetic Ride Control 4.0.
These systems have the same goal: to keep the bulk in check by helping the car corner as flat as possible. This is made possible by adaptive damping, active power distribution between the axles, and electronic trickery that makes the driver feel like a hero.
You get various driving modes with aggressive-sounding names, but let's be honest. These aren't track cars. These are the vehicles you use to tow something to the track. There aren't enough brakes in the world, and you can't beat fundamental physics.
It's easy enough to get anything to go fast in a straight line. For reference, see the Mercedes-AMG G 63. Making it go around a corner is a whole different ball game.
If you want something to track, save some money. Buy a standard Escalade and a CT4-V Blackwing for the same price. Or, if you're leaning toward the Mercedes side, go for a base GLS and a used fourth-generation C-Class AMG.
We think Cadillac shot itself in the foot by slapping a $150,000 sticker price on the window of the Escalade-V. And that's before you factor in the dealer markup. There is no price listed for the German car because it's sold by order only. In 2021, the GLS 63 retailed for $132,100. Throw in an option or two, and you're also looking at $150,000.
One of these names is more prestigious than the other, and it's not Cadillac. The Cadillac also competes against a few other heavy hitters like BMW, Alpina, and Bentley.
Still, we are drawn to the Escalade-V because it's not an obvious choice. The experience provided by a supercharged V8 will soon be a thing of the past, and that's why we'd still buy into it while we can.
But we can't get over that price. Instead, we'd invest in a base Escalade for everyday practical duties and blow the rest of the budget on a CT4-V or CT5-V Blackwing with a manual gearbox.