2021 Cadillac Escalade review: Hugely impressive

Cadillac Escalade ESV of 2021

Smaller than a barn, but honestly not by much.

Tim Stevens / Roadshow

It was satisfying to watch the Cadillac Escalade grow over the last decade or so. I don’t mean literally, although its dimensions are truly prodigious (especially in the ESV setup you see here). Instead, I’m talking about how the Escalade has matured and evolved from a stately yet familiar SUV into something truly premium.

Making this evolution more impressive is that, on the surface, not much has changed since the last revision. This ESV model is an inch short 19 feet long and a set of golf clubs around 6,000 pounds, all wrapped basically around the same 6.2-liter V8 from the previous generation, while maintaining a healthy 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

Like it

  • Strong V8 power
  • Impressive interior technology
  • All good things are standard

I do not like

  • Average fuel consumption
  • Few cheap plastics inside

Even when motivating something so prodigious, that engine proves abundant, accelerating smoothly and sharply as you cut the connected 10-speed car. It also sounds good when pressed, deep and firm without being annoying. It’s a thirsty thing, though, a fact that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The EPA says you should expect 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19mpg on the highway. My mostly rural driving scored me 15.3mpg, just shy of the official combined rating of 16mpg. Keep in mind that those gallons must be 91 octane fuel, further increasing your running costs. (If fuel economy is a major concern, perhaps consider the Escalade Diesel.)

The Escalade brakes just as competently and while the pedal feel may be a bit lacking, the long stroke means you can get exactly the stopping power you need. The new independent rear suspension also means a smoother and more compliant ride for those behind. These are important details for a plant destined to draw as many dignitaries as this one will surely do.

And what luxurious appointments await them, a reinvented interior that is far more refined than anything I’ve ever seen in Caddy’s Biggest Guy before. Of course, the individual features are not as elegant as, for example, a Mercedes-Benz GLS or BMW X7, but there’s a different kind of luxury here that emphasizes volume and spaciousness.

Cadillac Escalade ESV of 2021

A nice view.

Tim Stevens / Roadshow

This is not to say that the details are missing. The hallmark of this latest Escalade is the series of huge curved OLED panels that transition cleanly from the cluster of indicators to infotainment. OLED not only allows for the subtle form here, it also means inky blacks and huge contrast of the kind you can’t get from your old LCDs. The overall effect is not only expansive, but it has a truly premium look and feel. It’s a huge step up from the exiting experience.

Both Android Auto is Apple CarPlay they’re here, even wirelessly, but you’ll have to rely on built-in navigation if you want to take advantage of one of Cadillac’s new trick features: augmented reality navigation. In this mode, the car uses a high-resolution forward-facing camera and paints the footage from the one on the instrument cluster. When the time comes for a turn, the car superimposes a large suspended arrow over the image to literally point the way. It’s overkill for leisurely trips through country roads, but I could totally see it as a godsend for more complicated trips across the winding city limits. After all, when you’re piloting something this huge, you’ll need all the help you can get to avoid having to do an extra U-turn.

That mega cluster can also be switched to show the Escalade’s night vision system, which not only offers a full view in the dark, but gently highlights and warns of pedestrians or wildlife along the way. My street always, always has deer this time of year, and the Escalade never failed to slap them around a big yellow box. However, as a $ 2,000 option, you are paying a hefty premium for that warning.

Cadillac Escalade ESV of 2021

This makes other clusters of reconfigurable indicators a little … simple.

Tim Stevens / Roadshow

The platinum-plated Escalade seen here features a massive 36-speaker AKG sound system. Of all the cars I’ve tried over the years, I’ve never been as quick to turn the bass down as I was on this one. Suffice it to say that this system has a lot of power to fill that massive cabin.

Given the sheer volume of that cabin, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some cheap plastics to be found if you look hard enough, but the overall effect of the Escalade’s new interior is undeniably refined from bow to stern. I’ll say white – sorry, beige whisper – the fitted carpet on this ESV is perhaps not the best choice for a car that will see winter duty, and the strong zebra wood pattern doesn’t get high marks among the Roadshow crew, but there are six different woods and many configurations to choose from.

It’s all lit up by a huge panoramic glass roof the size of a small pool that makes the way back less claustrophobic. And, since the back of this car really is way back there, the digital rearview mirror is a welcome addition, using the camera on the back to give you a clear and crisp view of what’s behind it. Trying to rely on the traditional mirror is a bit like using a compact camera to look over your shoulder in a subway car.

Tim Stevens / Roadshow

On the outgoing Escalade, some of the huge stylistic details made it look a bit like a train even on the outside. The new is more modest in almost every respect. Although the grille is still large enough to make an X7 envious, the chrome has been toned down a bit. The stacked headlights have been replaced by slimmer, more streamlined units that squint from the top of Cadillac-typical vertical lighting.

The massive 22-inch polished wheels are exactly the right scale to match the proportions of the ESV, while the sharp shoulder crease running along the length of the SUV adds some much-needed character to the side profile. The only stylistic detail I don’t like here are the flashy LEDs on the electric retractable footboards ($ 1,750 optional), but they’re certainly effective in ensuring those steps don’t catch you in the shin when they pop out.

Usually at this point in a review of a car costing over $ 100,000 I would have mentioned far more options than I have here, and that’s because the Escalade’s platinum coating includes almost everything you could possibly want. As it should, considering the $ 107,290 starting price (including a $ 1,295 destination charge) for the all-wheel drive model. The Escalade you see here has another $ 5,210 in options (like $ 700 for a decidedly powerful armrest cooler), bringing the total price to $ 112,500.

Cadillac Escalade ESV of 2021

Better measure carefully before taking this big guy home.

Tim Stevens / Roadshow

A base, RWD Escalade ESV Luxury starts at $ 80,490 including destination, and for that you’ll forgo niceties like Magnetic Ride Control suspension, lane keeping assistance, and rear cross traffic warning with auto braking. The latter is optional on the $ 87,290 Premium Luxury and standard on Platinum and higher. Otherwise, most of the Escalade’s full safety suite is standard on even the basic outfitting, but if you want the best hands-free driving assistance system on the market, Super Cruise, you’ll have to rack up an additional $ 2,500.

So that’s a lot for sure, but then this is very SUV and, this year more than ever, it’s worth it. It is miles ahead of twin SUVs like the GMC Yukon in terms of luxury and, although the Escalade is not as elegant as a Mercedes-Benz GLS nor as energetic as a BMW X7 nor as cuddly as a Lincoln Navigator, it has a unique flavor of luxury that is all its own.