Pricing for the 2023 Escalade-V starts at $178,898 in Canada and $149,695 in the US.
It is the first V-Series SUV from Cadillac.
Even now, I still can’t make up my mind. Is the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V the most unpretentious ultra-understated Q-ship of all time or did GM simply decide to limit expenses by leaving the SUV’s looks unchanged despite how special it is?
I’m going to guess the latter. In a different setting where General Motors intended to shut Ford down and harass Dodge with a super-powered SUV, they would have selected to upgrade a Tahoe, slap on an SS badge, and challenge all to various duals. Thing is that they would have been hard-pressed to charge anywhere north of $125,000 for the truck. However, with a Cadillac badge upfront, the SUV can easily command more than $50,000 more.
I’m bothered by the decision because the Escalade-V’s hand-built 6.2-litre supercharged and intercooled V8 engine and accompanying 10-speed automatic transmission are, well, wicked. Not only is this combo mad efficient but it’s also uncannily refined. Despite belching out a monstrous 682 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 653 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm, the V8’s docility is remarkable, even under heavy load.
Said heavy load will result in catapulting the near 6,000-lb behemoth to 60 mph from a standstill in under 4.4 seconds. This is fast but due to the truck’s mass, the sense of speed comes from the ever-increasing engine note. Oh, and the front end lifts slightly on launch.
Wild sound, tame looks
While this finesse might be very Cadillac, the noises created by the performance exhaust with active valves stabs the powertrain’s velvetiness with a roar that is beyond comprehension. Upon a cold start-up, I’ve concluded that the V is louder than any Hellcat in any Stellantis vehicle. And this is what doesn’t fit.
Visually, the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V looks identical to a “lesser” Sport Platinum (starts at $125,298) with the exception of the darkened front and rear fascias, and unique-yet-very-similar 22-inch multi-spoke wheels. In fact, only the badges and rear quad black exhaust tips set it apart and set it up as being a serious Q-ship. That is until it starts up. Is this making any sense? Basically, it doesn’t stand out enough or makes too much noise. A Tahoe SS would get all the badass trimmings plus the noise in my opinion.
The cabin also carries on mostly unchanged from the Platinum trims. That does however mean that the still-unique massive 38-inch curved OLED screen sits ahead of the driver with all and more of the required driving and infotainment displays. The dashboard and centre console are identical to that of the other Escalades with the only real difference: the V Drive mode button.
Seating in the long-boy along with related spaciousness is wonderful, welcoming, and comfortable. Even all the way in the third row, adults can realistically be comfortably seated for more than 30 minutes at a time. Features include 16-way massaging heated and cooled power front seats, an insane AKG Studio Reference 36-speaker audio system, a rear seat entertainment system with dual independent 12.6-inch screens, and nearly everything is covered in full semi-aniline leather.
Back to the drive
Also fitted to the Escalade-V are Magnetic Ride Control dampers along with an Air Ride Adaptive suspension. The Escalade I drove was, and I quote “smooth and sophisticatedly quiet”, but I added that it was not as cosseting as the Grand Wagoneer. In a slightly unexpected twist, the V’s ride quality is unchanged. In fact, if I recall correctly, when the chassis is set in Normal, it’s cushier than the non-V Slade.
One element that may come into play here is the tires. The fitted 22-inch Bridgestone Alenza tires are the same found on other versions of the big Cadillac as well as on a Chevrolet Silverado. They are clearly not destined for an ultra-high-powered performance SUV. They do play a role in maintaining comfort levels high.
Comfort also involves noise. Astoundingly, under 4,000 rpm, and despite nearby house windows shattering, noise levels are minimal. The Escalade-V’s active noise cancellation might be the best I’ve ever experienced. However, beyond 4,001 rpm, unless you’re in a cave 5 km below the surface or in space, you’ll feel the V’s rumble pierce your eardrums.
Another point is drive modes. As noted earlier, the Escalade-V includes a V Drive Mode that can be configured as the driver sees fit. Among the configurable elements are steering, ride, powertrain, and brakes. The latter is something of a mistake as pedal feel is already non-existent. In other words, the driver knows the truck is coming to stop because it’s slowing down. Regulating pedal response in the sportier setting further transforms the pedal into a switch making it difficult to regulate braking power. The included front 6-piston Brembo calipers do get the job done.
There are a few other elements included with the Escalade-V such as an electronic limited-slip rear differential and a specially-tuned full-time active all-wheel-drive system but even after all this, I can only account for about half of the $53,000 difference between the V and the Platinums.
It’s special but not special enough
Had there been a quick way to “turn down” the exhaust rumble for quieter cold starts, better-looking 23-inch (or 24s) wheels, and perhaps a few extra touches indoors, I’d have likely been less harsh with the truck.
The narrow large premium performance SUV segment only has a few players but the Escalade V doesn’t stand out, plain and simple. For $182,500 (as tested), I’d immediately get a BMW Alpina XB7 in a crazy shade of green or classic Alpina Blue, full Merino leather, and an option package, and have a few bucks left over to fill it up a few times. There’s also the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 and the new Range Rover. The Escalade-V might be the most powerful but unfortunately, this is where the advantages end.
I think I’ve made up my mind…