Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Reviews 2021 Cadillac Escalade Review: The Competition is Strongest From Within

2021 Cadillac Escalade Review: The Competition is Strongest From Within

The new 2021 Cadillac Escalade has never been more distinct but the gap with its twins is still narrow

  • Pricing for the 2021 Escalade starts at $90,348 in Canada, $76,195 in the US.

  • The 15-inch longer ESV is $3,500 more in Canada.

  • GM’s full-size trucks are exceptional.

The more I think about the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade and its immediate siblings, the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe, the less the big Caddy seem special to me. This is by no means the Slade’s fault as it’s never been more unique or distinct; it’s simply that the other two a so damn good too.

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

I did this backward, I think. I first reviewed the Tahoe in the fall of 2020. It was fitted with the Z71 package and I was quickly convinced that it was GM full-size truck ever built. I followed it up with a GMC Yukon Denali in the spring of 2021 and it settled the question. As impressive as it was and as much as I liked it, I would select the Tahoe and save about $15,000 (tested vs. tested price). Then, I got to drive the Escalade.

As tested, my Sport Platinum with Super Cruise, Night Vision, and a few other options, retailed for an eye-watering $126,000. At nearly $35,000 more than the Yukon Denali and $50,000 above the Tahoe, I needed to experience opulence and power that made the other two feel like a 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier.

The Duramax isn’t for the Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The reality is that beyond a massive, curved OLED screen and an insane 36-speaker audio system, I was not, as they say, blown away. One specific item, which I thought would play in the Escalade’s favour, had the exact opposite effect, to my great surprise and dismay.

First, it must be said that the GMT1XX platform is a revelation. Its engineered-in rigidity has infused the trio with a level of refinement once not thought possible for a large body-on-frame full-size truck. With the Four-Corner Air Ride Adaptive suspension with Magnetic Ride Control dampers, the Escalade is smooth and sophisticatedly quiet. Competent and surefooted, its ride is not as cosseting as the Grand Wagoneer’s, however. Both are substantial lumbering SUVs but if I’m going to be spending plenty of time at the helm of such a mastodon, I want to feel nothing while driving.

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Even so, the Escalade is exceptionally comfortable. I expected to be ensconced in pure sumptuousness while with the Cadillac, but it wasn’t to be. The reason? The one specific item? There was no effortless linear power from a V8. The presence of the available Duramax turbodiesel 3.0-litre inline-6 cylinder engine under the bonnet took away from what should have been a warm comforting embrace of power.

The Duramax is brilliant on its own and in other larger trucks. Its 277 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque (equal to the 6.2-litre) are plenty, however, and despite how smooth and quiet it is, the Duramax’s workhorse nature is at odds with the Escalade’s first-class demeanour.

The Tahoe and Yukon have more personality

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

It’s possible that the Sport Platinum with its gloss black trim and dark 22-inch wheels combined with the Crystal White tri-coat paint scheme made it look too limousine-fleet-like. Perhaps in Dark Mocha, Infrared, or Shadow, it would have been more convincing.

Again, I remind you that I first drive the other two SUVs and they were at their best or nearly as configured. In a way, this Escalade looked too “normal” and not exclusive enough. Parked alongside a white GMC Yukon Denali or even a Tahoe High Country, The Caddy doesn’t quite stand out. Truth be told, the Chevy trucks, and this is notwithstanding my aversion to the Silverado’s front-end styling, give the impression that more work went into their design.

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

This isn’t quite the case when we step aboard the Cadillac. The Escalade, for the first time ever, gets its own genuinely unique dashboard layout. And it’s impressive as it holds a combined 38-inch curved OLED screen. Display components are overlaid and for the most part, the menus and accessibility are quite good. The HVAC controls are also exclusive to the Escalade and although they require some attention as the slim screen lights up but the buttons themselves do not – a mild issue at night.

Otherwise, the cabin, the luxury, and the space are beyond generous. The semi-aniline-leather-covered seats, massaging up front, are comfortable and no matter where someone is seated, there’s plenty of room to go around. The final third of the SUV benefits the most from the new structure as the trunk, with the third row stowed, can now hold over 2,000 litres of gear, or about a third more than the outgoing model.

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

I mentioned this in my Denali review and yes, it’s only important when there are passengers in the second row such as kids, but the Escalade does not have rear window shades. It’s a strange omission in my opinion.

The Escalade’s never been more challenged

I said earlier in this story and here I go again: The new Tahoe and Yukon are so good that it’s nearly impossible for me to justify the Cadillac’s considerably higher asking price. What’s more, competition from other automakers has never been stronger.

The first challenge comes from the all-new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer from Jeep. In short, it matches or surpasses the Escalade on every point. Then there’s the Lincoln Navigator, the Infiniti QX80, the all-new Lexus LX 600, and the Mercedes-Benz GLS.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe First Drive Review: Full-Size Institution

For all the automakers involved in the segment, there’s lots of money at stake. Given that GM owns a quarter of the segment, they’ve got the most to lose. But they won’t as this trio has never been better. For my money, I’d get a Tahoe Z71 with a few options and save enough money to buy a nice boat.

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Cadillac Escalade | Photo: Olivier Delorme

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Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai


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