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The all-new Cadillac Escalade SUV is more like a luxury car than ever before, says Fox News Autos Editor Gary Gastelu.
Cadillac is working hard to reclaim its “Standard of the World” title with a lineup of electric models that start arriving in 2022, but the description applies to one big thing today: large luxury SUVs.
The Escalade has been the best-seller in the segment since 2006 and outsold the Lincoln Navigator by nearly double in 2019. It even managed to hold off both the redesigned BMW X7 and Mercedes GLS by over 35 percent each last year.
More impressive is that it did all that despite being a six-year-old model saddled with the solid rear axle from a pickup and one of the most-maligned touchpad control layouts ever devised. But the Escalade has brand cache by the towed-boatload and a customer base that includes well-off suburbanites, superstar celebrities and billionaires alike. Not too many mainstream models display that kind of range.
With all the effort being put into those battery-powered vehicles, Cadillac probably could’ve let the Escalade slide for a couple of more years and kept raking in the well-amortized profits, but it stepped on the accelerator instead. The 2021 model is all-new and addresses the issues mentioned above while taking the rest of it to the next level. Literally, in one respect.
The body-on-frame SUV now features a fully-independent suspension like a crossover, with optional computer-controlled shocks and air springs that can lower the ride height for ease of entry and aerodynamic efficiency and raise it for the kind of serious off-roading people don’t buy Escalades for.
That said, the Escalade is available with a true 4×4 system with a two-speed transfer case and an electronic limited-slip rear differential to maximize traction. Power is supplied by a choice of the latest version of the Escalade’s signature 6.2-liter V8, with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque, or a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 cylinder diesel. The latter is a first for the Escalade and a no-cost option that makes the same amount of torque as the V8 at much lower engine speed and 277 hp to go with it. Fuel economy ratings have not been finalized for the diesel, but based on its performance in GM’s pickups, it should easily beat the V8’s 16-17 mpg combined ratings and blow it away on the highway.
Prices for the Escalade start at $77,490, which puts it right in the mix with the Navigator and smaller X7 and GLS. It remains available in standard and long-wheelbase ESV models, with fully loaded top trims topping out well over $100,000.
The exterior isn’t as blinged-out as the chrome-faced outgoing model and borrows the slit headlights and grille design from Cadillac’s latest utility vehicles and sedans. The body also sports more curves and creases than the slab-sided truck it replaces, but is still built like a box with significantly more room for passengers and their stuff inside.
That’s where things take a more dramatic departure. Along with much-improved materials throughout, and a third row suitable for adults, the Escalade’s centerpiece is a 38-inch-wide OLED instrument panel comprised of three nested displays. There’s a large touchscreen for the infotainment system, a digital gauge cluster in front of the driver and a smaller one to the left that provides a trip computer and virtual buttons for various functions.
It is a dazzling feature that provides high definition video for the Escalade’s 360-degree parking camera and can swap the circular speedometer for a video view of the road ahead with dynamic augmented reality navigation symbols superimposed on the live feed.
While it seems a gimmicky at first, the arrows that appear on the screen give a more precise idea where your next turn is than a traditional map or voice directions can. Cadillac’s infrared night-vision system is a $2,000 option that reads heat signatures and highlights pedestrians and animals that come into its field of view.
Cadillac didn’t forget about your ears, either. The standard AKG audio system is a 19-speaker setup, but there’s also a 36-speaker version that places several of them in the ceiling and the front seat headrests. You would be hard-pressed to find something as immersive outside of Carnegie Hall.
While it’s best to plug in a smartphone in for the highest fidelity, the Escalade has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration plus an inductive charging pouch for your device in the center console. Behind it, you can have a $700 refrigerator/freezer installed in an armrest that’s big enough to hold a six-pack of half-liter water bottles. Just remember not to put your phone in there when it’s set to chill. Massaging front seats can help you do that, but it’s the overall ride quality of the Escalade that will soothe pro athletes out of beast mode after the game.
The model I tested was a high-end Platinum with the V8 and an out-the-door price of $109,965. That gets you full leather upholstery and trim, a panoramic sunroof, power side steps, and power-folding second and third-row seats, not to mention the air suspension system and plenty of other features.
The engine is as smooth and strong as past editions and more than up to the task of hauling the Escalade around with authority. The independent suspension makes itself immediately evident, providing levels of comfort and handling you couldn’t even dream about in the old Escalade.
The body control on a curvy road is astonishing for something that weighs on the order of two and three-quarter tons, but the overall ride quality is still 9/10ths of what you get in a unibody SUV. There’s only so much you can do with a truck chassis, but the Escalade’s space and a towing capability up to 8,300 pounds are an acceptable trade-off for that last tenth.
The only thing keeping this superb utility vehicle from being super is that Cadillac’s much-vaunted Super Cruise hands-free electronic driving aid isn’t available … yet.
It will be later this year (at prices ranging from $2,500 and $6,150, depending on the model) with the ability to steer the vehicle in a lane and change lanes at the flick of the turn signal stalk on over 200,000 of 3D mapped roads. Cadillac says more functionality will be added via over the air updates through the years, but the Escalade doesn’t have the hardware to ever achieve full autonomy.
It makes sense that Cadillac didn’t launch the Escalade with Super Cruise, because everyone would be focusing on it instead of paying attention to the rest of the truck, which deserves plenty.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2020 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.
Cadillac Escalade, General Motors
World news – CA – Test drive: The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is superb, but not yet ‘super’ – here’s why