12 yards long and two lanes wide, 65 tons of American pride – Escalade! Okay it’s not literally that size but it is very big, like monstrously big. God bless America, only a country as large and truck-obsessed as them could come up with a behemoth like this. Now in its 5th generation the Escalade is more than just the Cadillac’s flagship, it’s a cultural icon. As soon as the Escalade burst into the scene in the late 90s it was the darling of Hollywood and rap stars alike. It was as prevalent in 00s pop culture as Paris Hilton and flip phones.
Throughout the Escalade’s history it’s basically just been sold exclusively in North America, with some making their way into the Middle East and parts of Asia. Because its only target market is North America, Cadillac was able to design and engineer it perfectly to suit North American buyers’ wants and needs – hence the size. I admire these single market cars because there’s a singular focus to them. Rather than having to appeal to an entire world market it just has to appeal to one. It’s why cars like the Toyota Century are so special, because Toyota didn’t design that car to appeal to someone in Lithuania and Ecuador, they made it just to appeal to Japanese businessmen and politicians.
It’s the same with the Escalade. This doesn’t need to fit in small Europeans towns or Japanese car parks, it just has to get Americans and their super-sized drinks from the monster truck show to the baseball game in 100% pure American luxury. So while Cadillac may try to convince you that they’re still the standard of the world, the Escalade is without a doubt the standard of American luxury.
WHAT’S IN THE 2021 CADILLAC ESCALADE RANGE?
For the first time in its history the Escalade is available with two engine options; the traditional 6.2-litre V8 and now a 3.0-litre inline six Duramax diesel. The car you see here has the latter engine choice and the one I think suits it the best, but more on that later.
The Escalade, for reasons as a non-American I cannot fathom, comes in large and extra large sizes. Yes, for those who look at the standard Escalade as too petite there’s an even bigger ESV model, or Escalade Stretch Vehicle, with an additional 400mm in length. As for trim levels you get a choice of five starting from Luxury, Premium Luxury, Sport, Premium Luxury Platinum, and Sport Platinum.
WHAT’S THE FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE 2021 CADILLAC ESCALADE SUPER CRUISE?
I mean just look at it. It only takes about two seconds for its unashamedly Cadillac design to hit you square in the face. It’s a big, tall, boxy structure that looks more at home as part of the New York skyline than it does driving down the freeway. This thing dominates your vision. Whatever was behind it falls into darkness, that’s just how big it is.
I’m glad Cadillac kept the Escalade big and boxy; that’s what made it distinctive. You can tell when an Escalade is coming your way from miles away because of its unmistakable road presence. Some have criticised this new generation, launched in 2020, for being too similar to its other GM cousins but to me it still looks imposing as its predecessors, only now with an added layer of subtle elegance.
BMW grilles may be quite large these days but they have nothing on the Escalade. But it somehow works here because it’s all in proportion with everything else. In non-Sport trim it is very chintzy, which is a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes. Worryingly, I rather like it. It retains the vertical daytime running light seen in most new Cadillacs except it doesn’t carry on into the now thinner-design headlights.
Going to the side the first thing you notice is the silver trim that surrounds the windows up until the c pillar, giving a floating roof illusion. It also helps disguise the true size of this car. I should also note I quite like the chrome wheels on this car. It’s very American. There are also power assisted running boards on this car which tuck away nearly when the doors are closed. Of course they also have LEDs on them that light up to help guide you in and out at night.
Round the back the vertical taillights that’ve been an Escalade hallmark since the third-generation have been updated. The tailgate, electrically operated of course, also has the ability to open just the rear window hatch. Because it’s so tall it’s quite awkward to use but I’m still glad it’s available as an option.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE ON A 2021 CADILLAC ESCALADE SUPER CRUISE?
While the exterior might be intimidating, the interior is anything but. It’s a welcoming and luxurious place to spend time in. So it should be because it’s as spacious as a suite here. The main attraction is the curved 38-inch screen that stretches across from the driver’s door to the centre of the dashboard. It’s actually split into three different screens with a 7.2 inch screen to the left of the driver display, a 14.2 inch screen for the driver display, and a 16.9 inch screen for the main infotainment display. It’s a brilliant thing to look at and thankfully all three screens are responsive and have crisp resolution.
Starting with the left screen this shows your trip computer, configure the driver display screen, and adjust the heads-up display. The driver display can be shown with either a gauge, the navigation map, an augmented reality camera showing you arrows for when to turn and which lane to be in, and a night vision camera. The central infotainment screen does exactly what you’d expect. I particularly like how the map curves down with the shape of the screen. The new Cadillac user interface, as seen in the XT6 I reviewed in 2019, is one of the easiest systems to use. Unfortunately Apple CarPlay has to play second fiddle and doesn’t take up the whole screen like the natural infotainment.
But the Escalade is so much more than just screens. All 7 seats in this interior are comfortable and supportive, trimmed in soft leather. The diamond stitching gives it a very posh look and feel. In fact the whole interior just feels posh and expensive, which it rightfully should be given the price. There’s just lashing of leather and soft touch materials all over the place. To find hard plastics or GM parts bin items you’d have to look for them. They are there but not immediately obvious.
As for the seats, well they’re heated and cooled at the front of course but the second row has to make do with only heated seats. These seats are pure luxury, they’ll just soak up the miles. Driving this up to Monterey from Los Angeles and back again, a 500km trip each way, was one of the easiest road trips I’ve done partly thanks to how comfortable these seats are. One thing I will note with the front seats are the speakers integrated into the headrests. Sure, they’re nice and all but make the headrests rather hard. I’d happily give them up for softer headrests. On the subject of speakers, I was expecting big things from the optional 36-speaker AKG sound system but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. It didn’t have the punch, the depth, or clarity of some other OEM systems. Which is disappointing in a car that’s so prominent in modern music culture.
Second-row passengers get two captain chairs between them, both with generous legroom and headroom. Naturally these seats recline, slide forwards and backward, and have USB-C ports. However, I do wish these were power operated. Would it also have been too much to ask for slightly plusher seats back here, perhaps ottoman style seats? That’d elevate, sorry escalate, it to a whole higher level if it did. While we’re at it maybe some tables too. Basically I wish the Escalade had second row seats like that in a Toyota Alphard.
However, if there’s one thing occupants in the Escalade won’t be lacking it’s space. At well over 5 metres long Cadillac made the most of the Escalade’s gargantuan footprint resulting in generous passenger space. It’s essentially an apartment block on wheels so each row gets plentiful legroom and headroom. Second row passengers are spoilt for choice with reclining capitan’s chairs, even if they’re only manually operated. Occupants here won’t be complaining for long as this test car came equipped with the optional rear seat entertainment option which includes two rear screens and headsets. The cool thing about these screens is you can mirror your phone onto them, so great for kids, and you can send navigation directions to the screen up front and the driver can choose to accept or ignore them.
Passengers in the third row get humane levels of leg and headroom too, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise in something like this. What is surprising is the amount of space left over in the boot. This is perhaps the first car I’ve tested where you don’t need to decapitate third row passengers to get usable boot space. Lowering the third row is also a breeze as it’s just with the push of a button. Okay, it’s not as instant as the strap system in the Kia Telluride but who wants to do manual labour when you’ve got an Escalade.
WHAT’S THE 2021 CADILLAC ESCALADE SUPER CRUISE LIKE TO DRIVE?
If you’ve been at the helm of a large yacht or a cruise liner I’d imagine you’d feel at home in an Escalade. It drives it exactly how you’d imagine it to drive; quick, nimble, and will give the Alpine A110 a run for its money. But not really. It’s essentially just a land yacht. Take corners too fast and you’ll feel the car lean to one side, adding pressure to the San Andreas fault line. Steering feel? Forget about it. The steering is light and made to make this thing as easy to drive as possible and you know what? I love it.
I know it’s a weird thing to say to love driving something as big as this but you really do get a complete sense of security driving around in what’s basically a civilian tank. You sit high, very high, with a commanding view over pretty much every other car on the road. Because you feel so far away from everything else you feel indestructible. Which you sort of are with all the safety features in this car. Lane keep assist, blind spot assist, rear cross traffic assist, it’s got so many assists it could be a football player. But the trump card in the Escalade’s arsenal is something Cadillac calls ‘Super Cruise’.
Essentially it’s an even more advanced adaptive cruise control system similar to that in some high end Mercedes and BMWs. Don’t mistake it for being self driving, it’s not there yet but it is the best hands-free system I’ve used. You set the speed as you normally would with an adaptive cruise system, press the steering wheel button on the, erm steering wheel, and wait for the green light on the wheel to come on. That means Super Cruise is engaged. This takes over steering, braking, and acceleration. It’ll keep you in your current lane, turn on curves, and should you need to, it’ll even change lanes for you. All you need to do is hit the indicator stalk towards the direction you want to change to and the car will find an opening and change lanes. It’s bloody brilliant. Super Cruise only works when certain conditions are met, the main one being it can only be activated on major roads that’s been mapped by GM. It won’t work on local roads and struggles when there’s construction on said major roads. Luckily it won’t cancel abruptly, it’ll give you warning in advance to take over control again.
Super Cruise was what made driving this car long distance a breeze. I’d never ended a 500km road trip feeling more refreshed than when I started. With Super Cruise, ventilated seats, and not even using a full tank of diesel, the Escalade was an excellent road trip vehicle. The 3-litre inline-six Duramax diesel engine and the smooth-shifting 10-speed auto is the perfect powertrain for this thing. It’s got plenty of torque for the occasional overtake but returns impressive economy figures on the motorway for a car of this size. I matched the claimed highway figures of 8.7L/100km on pretty much every instance I went on a motorway. Not too bad for a 2.7 tonne truck.
This is also very much a truck as it still sits on a ladder frame chassis. Cadillac has done wonders with the ride tuning thanks to adaptive air suspension and magnetic dampers. This thing rides about as well as anything on a ladder frame chassis, even putting some monocoque cars to shame. It floats and glides over any road surface with only its low speed ride letting it down.
While it excels on the motorway the Escalade is also great in town. Again, the high driving position helps it out here too. Luckily this car was made for American roads so it didn’t feel out of place driving about central L.A. In fact since it was basically just a box on wheels it had little to no blind spots so nipping around town for shopping trips is a breeze. Thanks to the massive cup holders, even a venti sized Starbucks cold brew will fit in them to help you keep going through with your day living the Escalade lifestyle to its fullest. The Escalade also benefits from HD cameras all around making parking less of a chore and something you can do in one manoeuvre. That light steering really is great.
WHAT’S THE COMPETITION FOR THE 2021 CADILLAC ESCALADE SUPER CRUISE?
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power/Torque, kW/NM||Fuel, L/100km||0-100 kph||Price|
|Mercedes-Benz GLS400d||3.0-litre six cylinder turbo diesel||243/700||6.3||7.7||$168,500|
|Lexus LX450d||4.5-litre V8 turbo diesel||200/650||9.6||9.5||$160,400|
|BMW X7 xDrive30d||3.0-litre six cylinder turbo diesel||195/620||7.3||7.0||$149,990|
|Cadillac Escalade||3.0-litre six cylinder turbo diesel||207/623||8.9||10.2||$120,400+ (est)|
|Nissan Patrol Ti-L||5.5-litre V8 petrol||298/560||7.2||14.5||$104,990|
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF THE 2021 CADILLAC ESCALADE SUPER CRUISE?
|• Imposing road presence |
• Interior design and quality
• Some incredible tech in here – those screens!
• Once you’ve used Super Cruise you won’t want to go back to regular adaptive cruise
• Ability to comfortably fit 6 adults
• Excellent ride quality for a ladder frame chassis
• Diesel engine a powerhouse and decent fuel economy
|• It’s gargantuan |
• Second row seat could be fancier
• Speakers could be better
• It wouldn’t make sense outside the US
2021 CADDILAC ESCALADE SUPER CRUISE – SPECIFICATIONS
|Starting Price||$120,400+ (est)|
|Tested Price||$152,400+ (est)|
|Engine||3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel engine|
|Transmission||10-speed automatic transmission|
|0 – 100 kph, seconds||8.9|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||2,728|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||5382 x 2059 x 1948 mm|
|Cargo Capacity, litres (third row/second row)||722/1784|
|Fuel Tank, litres||90|
|Fuel Efficiency||Advertised Spec – Combined – 10.2L / 100km|
Real World Test – Combined – 10.6L / 100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||N/A|