Saturday, July 31, 2021
First Reviews 2021 Cadillac Escalade First Drive Review: Ballin' Once Again

2021 Cadillac Escalade First Drive Review: Ballin’ Once Again

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade isn't perfect, but it sets a new benchmark for luxurious interiors

2021 Cadillac Escalade Pros

  • A lot more comfortable than the last Escalade
  • Luxurious interior featuring the best screen in the business
  • You won’t run out of space
  • Lighter and more agile at low speeds

2021 Cadillac Escalade Cons

  • Power isn’t as impressive as in some of its rivals
  • Lacks a few features you would want to see in a vehicle of this price and segment
  • More comfortable than the last Escalade, yes; more comfortable than a Mercedes or Range Rover? No.

The Cadillac Escalade is the SUV that started it all in the full-size luxury utility vehicle segment, and the new 2021 Escalade reminds you of that fact.

It was easy to forget the role the Escalade played in automotive history when you stepped into the previous generation. Sure it was big and spacious, and if you didn’t compare to its German rivals it seemed fairly luxurious, but it was a truck wearing a tuxedo.

It was also very (too?) similar to a GMC Yukon Denali with the only real difference being a more expensive price.

General Motors has revamped its full-size SUV lineup in recent months and it would have been easy to stick to the same recipe of taking a new Yukon or new Tahoe and putting a Cadillac badge up front. Luckily, you can sense when you step into the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade that this model was built in a different room.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

A 6.2-litre V8 Provides Reliability and Power, But Not Enough Of It

Yes, the Escalade is different, except under the hood. There you will find a 6.2-litre V8 that delivers 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

There’s very little that you can say about this engine that’s bad. Well, most of the time. I would have liked to have seen a different powertrain in the 2021 Escalade. Something with more power and that provides the Caddy with improved performance over a Yukon or a loaded Chevy Silverado for that matter.

2021 Cadillac Escalade review
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The Escalade doesn’t feel as quick as a BMW X7 or a Mercedes-Benz GLS or a Range Rover, and I would have liked it to be on par or close to its rivals in that department. Because the new Escalade weighs more than the previous model, it’s actually slightly slower. In other words, everything has been improved, except straight line acceleration. On the other hand, the engine has proven its reliability time and time again and ultimately, it won’t cause you any problems and it can tow up to 7,500 pounds which is certainly a nice touch.

Cadillac will soon offer a turbocharged diesel option on the Escalade with 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It will be the only diesel option in the segment and overall it’s a bit of an odd decision. I think Cadillac will see if it sticks, and if not the option will simply go away.

Performance-wise, the 2021 Escalade does brake better than the previous model, by a long shot. It also handles much better thanks to a new independent rear suspension and available adaptive damping. The most surprising aspect of the Escalade’s handling, however, is how sharp it handles at lower speeds. 90-degree turns around the city or in a parking lot are so much easier now even in the massive ESV.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Good Comfort. Not Great Comfort, But Good Comfort

Driving around the city in the Escalade, two things become immediately clear. First, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a lot more comfortable than the outgoing model. Two, it’s not as comfortable as some of its rivals. It’s just not as smooth over rough roads as a GLS or Range Rover, and not quite as quiet either.

On the other hand, on a smooth road, it’s on par with its rivals and more importantly, it’s in another dimension compared to the outgoing Escalade.

Moreover, the interior design and the quality of the materials make this model the most refined and luxurious in the segment. That’s a bold statement, I know, and yes the BMW X7’s interior is pretty sharp. But the Escalade just takes it to another level. Everything from the choice of materials inside to the technology makes the cockpit a showstopper.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The 38-inch OLED centre touchscreen is actually three screens in one, and could have been an ergonomic disaster. Quite the contrary, it’s easy to use and the information is easy to see and navigate. The small screen section to the left gives you trip computer info, the digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel is clear and looks great, and the main infotainment section is easy to figure out. The Escalade has set a new benchmark for interior design in my opinion and certainly outshines its competition in that regard.

It also has the advantage in terms of interior space. Families always have a ton of stuff whenever they travel, and if the kids play any kind of sport you need room every single day of the week. The Escalade has plenty of it to go around and you don’t even need to go full ESV to get segment-leading interior space. I could picture myself sitting in the third row for a while and I’m over six feet.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

I don’t usually mention audio systems in my reviews, I’m more the type that desperately looks for the sound settings to turn down the bass and treble the previous journalist consistently full throttles, but the Escalade’s available 36-speaker AKG system is a work of art to your ears.

The only complaint about the interior is the lack of a built-in sunshade on the rear windows. I know, it’s a small thing, but it should be there given the Escalade’s mission as a high-end family mover.

Conclusion

Reading this review, you may have the impression that I hated the last Escalade and loved this one. I actually like the previous Escalade because of its size, and its bold looks. The truck-like driving dynamics were part of its charm. But this new 2021 Cadillac Escalade is so much more mature and no longer forces you to see its flaws as part of its personality.

The Escalade is finally a true luxury SUV and that interior is a major reason why. The engine could be a bit more powerful and the comfort could be even better, but overall the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is now worth every penny.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade
2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including EcoloAuto.com and MotorIllustrated.com as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email

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