First Drive: 2021 Cadillac Escalade Proves Powerful, High-Tech, and Truly Luxurious
All-new SUV better differentiates itself from the Chevrolet and GMC siblings
General Motors’ flagship Cadillac Escalade SUV is redesigned for 2021 and doubles down on its identity as an imposing and ostentatious status symbol while also marking major and welcomed improvements over its predecessor. Though every other Cadillac model makes due with a paltry alphanumeric badge, the Escalade name is widely recognized and stands boldly at the top of the brand’s lineup. And it's a sought-after name at that—we had a laborious experience purchasing our own vehicle because of models often being spoken for long before their 22-inch rims ever hit dealer lots.
After spending some initial time with the Escalade, it is clear that the ride, infotainment, and passenger comfort are noticeably improved over the previous version. It may now be a worthy opponent to its primary competitor, the Lincoln Navigator, as well as European three-row luxury SUV offerings such as the Audi Q7, BMW X7, and Mercedes-Benz GLS.
The Escalade is again based on the current body-on-frame Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, but it goes to greater lengths to differentiate itself from its more common counterparts. The big Caddy has unique interior and exterior styling, and exclusive technology including OLED infotainment screens, and it offers GM’s Super Cruise active driving assistance system and a standard 6.2-liter V8 engine that is available only on the very highest Tahoe and Suburban trim levels. The Escalade’s potent V8 is a standout, too, in a class where smaller turbocharged engines have become the norm. Arguably, where the Escalade benefits most from this platform-sharing strategy is in its new independent rear suspension that modernizes the driving experience and helps make the Escalade’s third-row seat more habitable.
Cargo space is enhanced by the third seat to folding flat into the floor, making the load floor lower and deeper than before. Loading cargo is made more challenging by the Escalade’s high cargo floor. The height of the cargo floor is lower than in the previous Escalade, but it is strikingly higher than small and midsized SUVs we have recently driven.
The Escalade comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance, and front and rear parking obstruction warning.
There is a litany of other features that become available as shoppers progress up through the trims. The most notable feature is the latest version of Super Cruise, a partially automated driving system that can automatically brake and steer on divided highways while the driver’s hands are off the wheel.
In addition, the system can perform a lane change when the driver activates the turn signal. We have been quite impressed with the current version of Super Cruise, which stands out for its clear communication to the driver when this assist feature is active and when the driver needs to take control.
This is done by illuminating the top portion of the steering wheel with green, red, or blue lights depending on the situation. It also displays instructional and informational messages in the gauge cluster while the system works. Super Cruise uses a combination of map data, GPS, driver attention monitoring, cameras, and radar sensors. Cadillac states that there are more than 200,000 miles of highways in the U.S. and Canada where Super Cruise can enable hands-free driving.
We purchased a midlevel 2021 Escalade Premium Luxury for our test program. Adding a number of options, such as the Driver Assist Tech package, Performance package, Super Cruise, and Night vision, brought the final price to $98,740. Our first-drive findings are based completely on this vehicle.