Updated: Apr 1, 2022
With family SUV prices rising (the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe we reviewed in January was knocking on $70,000 as tested, and it is by no means the most expensive Tahoe you can buy), it was a sure bet that the new-generation Escalade was going to end up being a six-figure vehicle. The question was, could Cadillac make it unique enough, given its shared bones with the Tahoe and GMC's Yukon, to justify the premium.
The answer is---oh, yeah. And then some.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a return to glory. The gulf between Cadillac and Chevy hasn't felt this wide in maybe 50 years, when GM made the mistake of erasing most of the distance between a Coupe DeVille and a Caprice. Sure, the Escalade, Tahoe and Yukon share a shape and a size, but the Escalade makes it clear it is the Cadillac of the bunch.
About the size...
The new generation of GM full-size SUVs is HUGE. I had the Escalade the same week as the Acura NSX. That's not an optical illusion---the door handles on the Escalade are higher than the roof of the NSX. Yeah, the NSX is a very low car, but still.
Here's a more practical example. I'm six feet tall. I wear a 35-inch shirt sleeve, meaning I have an inch less than three feet of reach. When the hood is up on the new GM full-size SUVs, I can just barely reach the leading edge of the hood to lower it back into place. If I were five-eleven, or wore a 34, I'd have to hop a little. Anybody shorter than that, or with shorter arms, would have to go on one side to where the hood meets the windshield and start pushing, working their way forward.
There's a growing controversy over just how massive the front ends of all U.S. manufacturers' trucks and SUVs have become. The hood thing is just one example of how we (hopefully) have gone as far as we can go with that.
Under the hood of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum is a 420 horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 engine. With a ten-speed automatic transmission, the Escalade can hit 60 from a standing start in 6.1 seconds. That's not a hair-on-fire number until you realize the Escalade weighs roughly 5,700 pounds without people or cargo. Factor that in, and it's impressive.
Less so is the EPA fuel economy estimate. If it takes that much power to move that much weight, its going to take some gasoline. The EPA says 14 miles per gallon city/19 highway. Based on our observations, that's probably right on the money.
It's inside where the 2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum really shines. Cadillac spent money here and it shows. An Escalade-specific dashboard and instrument panel, not shared with Tahoe or Yukon, true luxury materials and excellent fit and finish.
The base price for the 2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum is $102,995. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are air ride adaptive suspension, electronic limited slip differential, magnetic ride control, a 16.9-inch OLED infotainment and navigation screen, a 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference premium sound system, head-up display, a panoramic sunroof, tri-zone climate control, 22-inch wheels and leather-wrapped interior trim with a suede headliner.
Our tester also had extra-cost options. The one of the greatest interest by far is Super Cruise. Super Cruise is Cadillac's answer to Tesla's Autopilot. It will maintain a set distance between you and the car in front of you, keep you in your lane, follow curves in the road and even change lanes when you turn on the turn signal and the car senses that there's a safe space for that maneuver.
Cadillac put together a fun video, featuring celebrities, which ran during this year's Super Bowl:
Yes, it works that well. But I'm like Sophia Vergara (I've never said or thought that before) in that my hands never get that far from the wheel. They're hovering maybe an inch off to the side from 9 and 3 ready to take control if I need them to.
Having had experience with everything from the first distance-keeping cruise control systems more than 20 years ago up to this----damn, it's good. And, unlike Tesla's Autopilot, there are safeguards that require there to be an awake, attentive person at the wheel. Sensors make sure you're there---including reading your eyes to make sure you're checking the road.
Super Cruise is $2,500. That includes three years of connectivity, after which you have to buy a connectivity plan through OnStar.
Our tester also had Night Vision ($2,000), power assisted retractable assist steps with perimeter lighting (you know, running boards---$1,750), a console cooler ($700), a heavy duty trailering package (a 2-speed transfer case, auxiliary trailering camera, trailer tire pressure monitor system and trailering assist guidelines for the extra camera---$600) and the extra-cost and very rich-looking Shadow Metallic paint ($600).
With $1,295 destination charge, the as-tested price of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum is $111,170.
Yes, that's a serious price, but this is a serious luxury SUV. In the three years since we tested Lincoln's Navigator, the starting price of a Black Label has gone up to six figures with destination charges and I'm sure taking liberties with the option list could get a Nav to that price too.
But then---there's Super Cruise. Until Lincoln whips up an equally good competing version, the Escalade has regained its crown.