First Drive: 2021 Cadillac Escalade Proves Powerful, High-Tech, and Truly Luxurious

All-new SUV better differentiates itself from the Chevrolet and GMC siblings

2021 Cadillac Escalade front view

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.

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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.

We purchased a midlevel 2021 Escalade Premium Luxury for our test program. Our first-drive findings are based completely on that vehicle.

Our initial expert assessment of the Escalade is available to Consumer Reports members below. Once we complete 2,000 break-in miles, we’ll put the Escalade we purchased through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls. CR members will get access to the full road-test results as soon as they’re available.

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What we bought: 2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury 4WD
Powertrain: 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8 engine; 10-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
MSRP: $86,195
Options: Driver Assist Tech Package, $3,650; Performance Package, $2,700; Super Cruise, $2,500; Night vision, $2,000
Total options: $10,850
Destination fee: $1,695
Total cost: $98,740

CR’s Take

The outgoing Escalade was less luxurious than its badge and price tag suggested. Little more than a Tahoe camouflaged in leather, its ride was stiff, the cabin was oddly cramped despite its size, and the Cue infotainment system was infuriating to use. This redesigned model ups the attitude and retains its haughty appeal. It props up its image with luxury and refinement that, for the first time, is more than skin deep. The ride is plush; the interior is quiet and offers a ton of space, including a usable third-row seat; and the infotainment system is unique while being user-friendly and functional. GM’s excellent Super Cruise active driving assistance system adds to the luxury experience by helping reduce fatigue and stress while driving on the highway. Not to mention the potent V8 engine is a rare treat in today's market. It can effortlessly propel you and this landship to the next gala, and makes a harmonious sound in the process. However, the Escalade has grown in almost every dimension, and the extra space that makes the interior of this vehicle so usable translates to an undeniably massive exterior. Its size and weight have negative implications not only for maneuverability and fuel economy but also visibility from behind the wheel.

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