Two titans of the SUV game go head-to-head.
Unless you've been totally ignoring all car news this week, you'll probably be aware that the Jeep Grand Wagoneer has finally been unveiled, and it's stunning. Not only are we talking about its handsome chiseled looks, but its tech and luxury are a major step up for the brand too. An all-new model, the Grand Wagoneer does what the Grand Cherokee never could by elevating the status of the Jeep brand into that exclusive echelon where only the most luxurious and advanced SUVs reside, and where the Cadillac Escalade reigns supreme. But is newer automatically better, or will the veteran of the game be the swanky SUV of choice in 2021? Let's find out.
As always, art is subjective, but we can probably all agree that the Escalade is the more radically styled artwork while the Grand Wagoneer looks a lot more conservative (read "old-fashioned"). On the Caddy, a truly massive grille makes the slim headlights appear even narrower, while vertical daytime running lights increase the impression of height, as do vertical taillights. With a subtle roof spoiler, dual-exit exhaust tips, and 22-inch wheels as standard, the Escalade looks very sporty while still giving the impression of hi-tech luxury.
The Jeep is more subtle, but no less attractive. A nicely proportioned grille blends into the headlights and boasts a stunning light display when you activate remote start. A chrome accent highlights the subtly integrated fog lights. At the rear, there's more chrome connecting the taillights, but this SUV is styled in a more old-fashioned manner. Instead of a flowing glasshouse, each window, including the rear windshield, is framed in chrome. In our opinion, the Jeep already looks too dated in many respects while trying too hard in others. While we can appreciate retro styling, this seems a little haphazard, whereas the Escalade looks far more resolved.
Neither of these vehicles could call themselves all-America SUVs without offering V8 engines, but both satisfy our craving for gas-guzzling grunt. In the Caddy, a 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 produces 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Fortunately, if you prefer an oil-burner, a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbodiesel provides 277 hp and the same torque as the V8. Maximum towing capacity on the Escalade is 8,300 pounds, which is rather disappointing since its former chief rival, the Lincoln Navigator, can manage up to 8,700 pounds.
Jeep goes about things a little differently, fitting the regular Wagoneer with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 producing 392 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque. In the Grand Wagoneer, that HEMI swells in size to 6.4 liters and develops 471 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. Despite less twist, both Wagoneer models are able to best the Cadillac's towing figures with a maximum of up to 10,000 pounds. Jeep wins this round, but some may be disappointed that a diesel is not offered.
An Escalade interior is no longer a hive of scratchy materials and hard plastics. These days, you get an industry-first 14.2-inch curved OLED driver display. This looks stunning, but Cadillac isn't giving up on tradition completely either. You still get physical buttons for things like the standard tri-zone climate control, along with an actual lever for gear selection. Leatherette upholstery is standard along with heated seats in the first two rows, a heated steering wheel, a power-folding third row, and options like massaging front seats, a panoramic sunroof, and Mulan leather. That aforementioned curved display merges with a massive 16.9-inch infotainment touchscreen for a total of 38 inches of screen width, boasting all the usual features like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Night vision and a mind-blowing AKG Studio sound system with 36 speakers are on the options list.
In Jeep's offering, four-zone climate control is standard, as is Satin American Walnut wood trim throughout. Premium leather is everywhere too, highlighted with French accent stitching and a knurled aluminum gear selector. Liquid chrome HVAC vents further amplify that luxury feel, while an available 75 inches of digital screen area throughout the cabin will make your grandma ask if you're seated in an iStore. Ahead of the driver is a 12.3-inch digital display, while a touchscreen infotainment display in the center console handles infotainment. Wireless smartphone connectivity is standard here too, and the new Uconnect 5 software also supports Amazon Fire TV for Auto. A 10.3-inch touchscreen is available for the front passenger, while climate control is handled by a 10.3-inch touch display, a screen that has spawned a twin in the second row. While we're back there, you can also spec a pair of 10.1-inch seatback displays for entertaining road trips. It all looks truly spectacular, and although we wish that physical buttons would feature more frequently, there's no doubt that the Escalade is well and truly beaten in the luxury and tech departments.
The cheapest Escalade starts at a base price of $76,195 before a $1,295 destination charge. Spec all available options on the top trim and you'll easily spend $120,000. With Jeep, the regular Wagoneer starts at $57,995 for the basic Series I version, before a $2,000 destination charge. The top trim is $88,965, but at the time of writing, the configurator was not yet live, so a fully loaded price could not be obtained. Nevertheless, it appears that Jeep is structuring the Wagoneer trims to help you choose the right model without spending hours deliberating over what you want to add to the vehicle. The Grand Wagoneer starts at $88,190 while the top trim (until the Obsidian version arrives) will set you back at least $107,980. If you want the luxury look without all the dressings, the Wagoneer seems to be the more affordable option.
As always, many of the points raised in this opinion piece will resonate with some readers while others will find our opinion on some aspects baffling, but here's what we think. The Cadillac Escalade is still a symbol of American luxury and will still be favored by rappers and celebrities more than the Wagoneer. It looks better, is more affordable, and feels more familiar. The Grand Wagoneer, on the other hand, is a powerhouse of technology and towing ability, and because of that Jeep badge, will likely be better off-road too. However, we think the rear and the profile both look terrible, and we'd really prefer some physical buttons despite the ability to adjust things with voice control. But here's where it gets interesting: Jeep is offering a truly premium after-sales commitment to buyers. Combined with all that new tech and more practicality, the Grand Wagoneer is the one we'd have. We'd just close our eyes when approaching from any angle but the front.