A year after the Lincoln Navigator debuted, General Motors launched the Cadillac Escalade, the luxury brand’s first sport utility vehicle. It was 1998 and a quick rivalry began between the makers of gas-guzzling apartments on wheels.
The behemoth auto segment has since expanded. A half-dozen others are in the mix, the GMC Yukon to the Chevrolet Suburban, the Toyota Sequoia to the Nissan Armada.
Powerful and optimally comfortable, road giants largely get left alone. The new Escalade is 17 feet, 6 inches long, 6 feet, 7 1/2 inches wide and 6 feet, 4 inches tall. It weighs nearly 6,000 pounds.
Some Escalades seat eight passengers; second-row captain’s chairs cut the capacity to seven in other models. Big and bad, there’s a collective strut among the heavyweight SUVs. Other drivers often stay clear.
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Cadillac Escalade: Rules the Road
But it’s not all good. While part of the SUV-buying frenzy, the kings of the road have pitfalls. Parking in standard-sized parking spaces? Good luck with that. Environmental considerations? How do 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway sound for the Escalade? With all of its options, the Cadillac mothership is priced at about $112,000, a take-your-breath-away chunk.
The result: Sales for Cadillac’s flagship, one of its four SUVs, fell about 11,000 in sales in 2020 from 2019 to just under 25,000. That’s about 14,000 sales less than in 2006, the vehicle’s top-selling year.
Still, General Motors persevered. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade launched the vehicle’s fifth generation, and it’s available in five trim levels. All models are equipped with 6.2-liter, V8 engines with 420 horsepower, 10-speed automatic transmissions and rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is an option and all trims have 22-inch alloy wheels.
Cadillac has remained a luxury badge for about a century. The Escalade is the carmaker’s delight. Dismiss its size and fuel inefficiency and it’s a glorious moveable model home.
The Premium Luxury Platinum trim showcases what the manufacturer does best. Plush, cavernous and classy with its modern exterior and interior looks, the Escalade combines top-line comfort with a top-line ride. The dashboard has 36 inches of OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) presenting superior visibility. It’s also leather-wrapped, complementing the natural wood trim.
Open the split-level tailgate and gaze into the vehicle. With the third-row seating down and the second row’s two captain’s cars also flat, the back of the front seats could be in a different zip code. Cargo capacity is 121 cubic feet.
The Premium Luxury Platinum features the best of the lower trim levels with a bundle of stuff added, 16-way power-adjustable front seats with massage and soft-close doors. The symphony-like AKG audio system has 36 speakers; music is elevated to astonishing levels of clarity.
Head-up display, a self-parking feature and adaptive cruise control are in the healthy mix of technology, all presented intuitively. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and there are a wireless charging pad and USB-C ports for every row. Two large monitors await rear passengers’ entertainment preferences.
Large SUVs can’t masquerade as sporty, but the Escalade gets close. With its composed ride and sizable engine, the nearly 6,000-pound tank advances from 0-to-60 mph in 6.7 seconds. Freeway cruising? The Escalade is at ease and in charge.
Two features seem incongruous. Big power running boards assist passengers entering and exiting the high-sitting Escalade. But it’s as if Cadillac simultaneously forgot the size of its vehicle. The rear-view mirror is minuscule.
The new Escalade has a lot to offer. But getting past its top-line price and major fuel-sucking shortcomings are too much to overlook.
Article Last Updated: May 12, 2021.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.