The Cadillac Escalade is an uber-luxurious, truck-based, family-sized SUV that can tow a large trailer. For 2021, this big Cadillac SUV is all-new — a fifth-generation vehicle with styling that’s handsome but not especially daring. A standard-length Escalade and a longer ESV model (the one that’s about the same length as a Chevrolet Suburban) remain available, and each has three rows of seats.
In addition to the familiar 6.2-liter V8 engine, the new Escalade is available with a diesel power plant — the same turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six found in the new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. Though people might be tempted to think of the diesel as the better choice for towing, the larger 6.2-liter gasoline V8 has a higher maximum tow rating (8,200 pounds versus the diesel’s 8,000 pounds).
As Cadillac’s flagship, the Escalade boasts numerous cutting-edge technologies to complement its opulence. Most obvious for 2021 is the huge new Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) infotainment screen. This standard curved screen, about a yard wide, has amazing clarity, and it does a superb job of displaying vital information, including the new augmented-reality directions provided by Cadillac’s latest navigation system. In fact, we were so impressed with the Escalade’s tech that we added the luxury SUV to our annual list of the Best New Automotive Tech for 2021.
The other cutting-edge technology on the new Escalade is Super Cruise. A $2,500 option, Super Cruise takes autonomous driving to a new level far beyond adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. On some 200,000 miles of highway in the U.S. and Canada, Super Cruise will steer, accelerate and slow the Escalade as needed, but only if the onboard sensors determine that the driver is alert and facing forward. See the 2021 Cadillac Escalade models for sale near you
Everything apart from the Escalade’s 420-hp 6.2-liter V8 engine is new for 2021. Underpinning the Escalade is a new ladder frame that sports independent rear suspension for improved ride characteristics. The new rear suspension also allowed the rear section of the new Escalade to be reconfigured for dramatically better legroom in each of the back rows.
The 277-hp diesel engine — a no-cost option available on every 2021 Cadillac Escalade — is also new. Both engines, interestingly, put out 460 lb-ft of torque, but the diesel’s peak torque arrives at only 1,500 rpm, versus 4,600 rpm for the gasoline V8. Like the 6.2-liter gasoline V8, the turbodiesel inline-six is matched with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Everything inside the 2021 Escalade is new as well, highlighted by the huge OLED information screen, which boasts more than 38 diagonal inches of display area. In its three digital panels, the curved OLED display has a driver information center, an instrument cluster and a much larger screen to the right for audio, navigation and phone info.
What We Like
- Luxurious but rugged
- Available diesel engine
- Available in two lengths
- Roomier interior
- Massive LED info screen
- Independent rear suspension
- Available Magnetic Ride Control suspension
- Spectacular AKG sound system
What We Don’t
- The base model has no blind-spot monitoring system
- Platinum models are more than $100,000
- Redesigned style is too tame?
A rear-wheel-drive 2021 Cadillac Escalade is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. The 2-wheel-drive version of the longer Escalade ESV has the same EPA rating.
Similarly, the 4-wheel-drive Escalade and 4WD Escalade ESV are rated at 14 mpg city/19 mpg hwy.
The message here: The standard Escalade and the longer ESV, which has quite a bit more cargo room behind its third-row bench seat, get the same fuel economy.
As expected, the new Cadillac Escalade diesel is more fuel-efficient than its gasoline-powered siblings. In 2WD form, the new Escalade diesel is rated by the EPA at 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined. With 4WD, it comes in at 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
For comparison, consider that the 2020 Lincoln Navigator, powered by a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6, is rated by the EPA at 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy with 2WD and 16 mpg city/21 mpg hwy with 4WD. Another luxurious truck-based 3-row SUV is the 2020 Infiniti QX80. Powered by a 5.6-liter V8 engine, the Q80 is rated by the EPA at 14 mpg city/20 mpg hwy with 2WD and 13 mpg city/19 mpg hwy with 4WD.
Standard Features & Options
There’s nothing basic about the base Escalade, now called the Escalade Luxury. The Luxury has 12-way power-adjustable leatherette seats, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, 3-zone climate control, a power lift gate, the OLED information panel and a 19-speaker audio system. What’s more, it has seven USB ports, wireless smartphone charging, a standard trailering package and a good safety suite that includes automatic emergency braking. You can order it with the 6.2-liter gasoline V8 engine or the no-added-cost turbodiesel 3.0-liter inline-six.
The Escalade Premium Luxury model ups the luxury quotient with a genuine leather interior, a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display and a rear camera mirror. This model also features lane-keeping assist and a blind spot monitoring system.
The Escalade Platinum Luxury is even more opulent. In addition to a rich semi-aniline interior leather and massaging seats, this model has a 36-speaker sound system, soft-close doors, adaptive cruise control, automatic reverse braking and a package that makes hooking up a trailer a lot easier.
The Escalade Platinum Luxury and Escalade Platinum Sport are the only two models that come standard with Magnetic Ride Control and Air Suspension. Both of those highly desirable systems are optional on the Escalade Sport, which is distinguished by a different type of interior leather and a black mesh grille.
The diesel engine, again, is available as a no-cost option on the 2021 Escalade. 4WD, available on all new Escalades, adds an extra $3,000, as does ordering the Suburban-length Escalade ESV model.
The Escalade Luxury, the Platinum Luxury and the Platinum Sport trims are available with a power second-row bench seat, and the latter two can be ordered with Night Vision, which provides drivers with an infrared image of the area beyond the range of the Escalade’s headlights. Pedestrians and large animals show up clearly with Night Vision.
A 36-speaker AKG audio system is optional on the Escalade Premium Luxury, as are soft-close doors and an electronic limited-slip differential. Other options on the Premium Luxury include Magnetic Ride Control, Air Suspension, Night Vision, reverse automatic braking and a more advanced level of adaptive cruise control.
A few packages are available on the 2021 Cadillac Escalade — such as a Driver Assist and Tech Package, a Z66 Performance Package and a Heavy-Duty Trailering Package — but many options are available as standalone extras. Notable among them: Super Cruise ($2,500), power-assist side steps ($1,750), the 36-speaker AKG stereo ($4,300), Night Vision ($2,000), a console cooler ($2,000), a rear-seat entertainment system ($1,995) and 22-in multispoke alloy wheels ($1,995).
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a big 7- or 8-seat vehicle that hasn’t been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While we wish all 2021 Escalades were equipped with a standard blind spot monitoring system, they all have automatic emergency braking, a potential lifesaver. This technology applies the brakes automatically if a collision with a vehicle or a pedestrian appears likely. Even if the system doesn’t prevent the accident, it will likely lessen the severity of the impact. Of note: Automatic braking also works in reverse.
A lane-keeping assist system is also standard on the big new Caddy SUV. If the Escalade drifts out of its lane, it will let the driver know and make subtle steering corrections when needed to bring the vehicle back into its lane.
Also enhancing safety is the rear camera mirror, which comes standard on all but the base Escalade Luxury. This tech projects a video image through the lens of the rearview mirror to provide the driver with a view of what’s behind the Escalade, even if three tall teenage kids are sitting across the back bench. Once you get used to the wide-angle view of the rear camera mirror, you won’t want to go back to a conventional mirror.
Behind the Wheel
If you’re thinking of the Escalade as a “fancy Chevy Tahoe,” forget it – this new Escalade it way beyond that and rivals SUVs from Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It’s a well-executed, smooth and powerful, top-notch, luxury SUV packed with wood, leather, and thoughtful design and tech features throughout.
From the driver’s seat, the new Escalade feels familiar but greatly improved. The updated Magnetic Ride Control feels exactly like a car with “magnetic” ride should feel. Essentially, it smooths out the bumps, gives the Escalade a serene highway ride, and even soaks up rough pavement at low speed.
What’s more, the air suspension complements Magnetic Ride Control with automatic load leveling and ride height adjustments. It lowers the Escalade at highway speeds for improved aerodynamics and better fuel economy. The driver also can lower the vehicle by 2 inches for easier passenger ingress and egress. Conversely, the Escalade with air suspension can be raised a couple of inches for added clearance during off-road driving.
Acceleration is brisk and delivers a very rewarding rumble from the 6.2-liter V8. For a large, truck-based SUV, handling is surprisingly sharp. It’s no Corvette but ride and handling feel well-controlled in all driving situations while still delivering the expected level of luxury you’d expect from an $80,000 luxury SUV.
One high point, the optional AKG sound system. Executive Editor, Brian Moody says “This AKG sound system is one of the few in-car audio experiences that rival the Lexus Mark Levinson Reference sound system. Cadillac’s AKG experience delivers an incredibly well-rounded sound with perfect deep and punchy bass that never gets messy or distorts. And that’s complemented by nicely contoured midrange and highs. If you’re even the slightest bit of an audiophile, get this optional system.” In fact, many familiar tracks elicited a collective “Wow!” from unsuspecting passengers.
As far as the much-hyped OLED dash, it’s is good. The images are sharp and the layout makes sense. One thing that really adds to the Escalade driving experience is the augmented reality navigation prompts – it’s nearly idiot-proof. That being said, even more credit goes to the user experience interface. It’s not just the sharpness of the OLED images, but the easy to use prompts, icons, and features. The real luxury is ease of use and Cadillac hit it exactly right. One little gripe – we with the screen for Apple CarPlay took better advantage of the large OLED curved dash.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Lincoln Navigator — A bit shorter than the equivalent Escalades but with slightly more total interior volume. A refined vehicle with independent rear suspension. No V8, but a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 puts out great power.
2020 Ford Expedition — Like the Escalade, the big Ford is available in two lengths and with RWD or 4WD. It also has an independent rear suspension. It’s not as luxurious as the Cadillac, but it’s more refined than you might expect. A fully loaded Expedition can reach $85,000.
2020 Land Rover Range Rover — This is only a 2-row SUV, but it’s sumptuous inside and remarkably capable off the pavement. Several powertrains are available, including a diesel. But it’s pricey.
Used Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 — Outstanding powertrains, either a smooth inline-6 (GLS 450) or a rumbly 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 (GLS 580). This Mercedes is capable and luxurious, but it lacks the cargo capacity of the Escalade ESV — though you can save tens of thousands of dollars.
Questions You Might Ask
What is Super Cruise?
Super Cruise is an autonomous driving system that’s a $2,500 option on the 2021 Cadillac Escalade. More than just adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist, Super Cruise will steer, accelerate and slow the Escalade just like a human driver would on more than 200,000 miles of highway in Canada and the U.S. Super Cruise now also allows automated lane changes using the turn signal.
Is the new Escalade available with a diesel engine?
A 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline six is available as a no-cost option on the 2021 Cadillac Escalade. This diesel Escalade will be efficient on the highway, with fuel economy perhaps as high as 30 mpg.
Is the diesel engine better for towing than the 6.2-liter V8?
The diesel produces excellent low-end torque, but the Escalade with the larger 6.2-liter gasoline V8 has a slightly higher maximum trailer capacity. The Escalade diesel has a max tow capacity of 8,000 pounds, whereas the 6.2-liter Escalade can tow a max of 8,200 pounds.
Where does Cadillac build the 2021 Escalade?
Like its Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon cousins, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is built at a large factory in Arlington, Texas.
Thanks to its all-new chassis with an independent rear suspension, the Cadillac Escalade has been significantly improved for 2021. It’s much roomier in back, it’s now available with an efficient diesel engine, it’s more luxurious and it abounds with neat technology such as the huge OLED information screen and the optional Super Cruise feature, the next step toward an autonomous future. If you can opt for the AKG sound system.
With either the 6.2-liter V8 or the 3.0-liter turbodiesel 6-cylinder, the Escalade has become an even better version of itself: a luxurious and safe family hauler that blends the stigma-free people-carrying utility of a minivan with a truck’s ability to work. Find a Cadillac Escalade for sale