2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury Platinum AWD Review

The Return of the King


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: More upscale and refined inside and out, impressive levels of technology, authoritative power, yuuuge inside.
Negatives: Seriously expensive, massive fuel consumption.
Bottom Line: The Escalade has finally hit the sweet spot with the luxury and refinement to undergird its baller reputation. The level of technology and space is impressive, and the looks actually warrant the high price tag.
The Cadillac Escalade is now in its fifth generation, but we have to say we've never loved it. Big on the outside, brash, and a favorite in rap videos, it was never all that convincing to us due to its poorly executed interior, its lack of room for the size of the thing, and its overstyling. With this fifth-gen SUV, all that has changed. It's truly attractive, more sophisticated, tech-laden, seriously spacious, and also seriously expensive. We drove it in top trim Premium Luxury Platinum, and here are our full impressions.
 

Driving Experience

7.4

 

The biggest change for the new Escalade is the addition of an independent rear suspension that improves the ride. Our tester had the big V8 engine that's potent and ample enough to move its 5,600-lb+ curb weight.

Ride Quality: Coupled with the adaptive air suspension and the Magnetic Ride Control, the new rear suspension setup makes the Escalade impressively smooth.

Acceleration: The Escalade is powerful, but it's a big vehicle. 0-60 comes in about six seconds. That's pretty quick for something this size, and it's on par with the Lincoln Navigator and the Ford Expedition.

Braking: Stopping power is pretty good, and we didn't feel any mushiness in the brake pedal. It felt progressive and performed without issue. We didn't get to test it fully laden.

Steering: The steering lacks feedback, but there is a modicum of effort. It was nicely on center at highway speeds, too. It's about what we'd expect from a big luxury SUV.

Handling: The Escalade manages its weight decently in the turns. There's obvious body roll due to its high center of gravity, but the adaptive suspension works well to help mitigate things.

Technology

9.4

 

It's hard to grasp just how much tech is in the Escalade. It's really the first thing you notice when you step into the cabin. In The dashboard use three large OLED displays layered on top of each other to make for a whopping 38-inches that encompasses gauges, infotainment, and vehicle information. There's also an augmented-reality navigation system, an optional rear seat entertainment package with two 12.6-inch displays with streaming capability.

Infotainment System: The CUE system a couple of generations ago was the epitome of suck with its awful controls and horrendous operation. The new system looks crisp, has great responsiveness, and is essentially 100% better. Menus are easy, and it's wonderful to look at due to the seamless integration into the dash. It looks far better than some of the competition, namely Mercedes-Benz.

Controls: The physical controls and readouts for climate are very easy to operate via toggle switches, and the touchscreen and center console infotainment controls also work very well.

Styling

8.7

 

The Escalade has serious presence. Sure, it's still bold and big, but the styling elements have become more refined all around. We think it's the proper look for the Escalade (finally), and it's a big win for the model.

Front: This is one big maw, bu it's done well with winged grille bars, big vertical LED fog lights, and matte chrome trim. It's still Escalade big but not garish like older versions.

Rear: We love the fact that Caddy kept the huge vertical taillights that extend to the roof. The depth in the liftgate surface is also a very nice touch that adds dimension. The sizable Caddy crest also looks right-sized, bisecting the wide matte chrome bar.

Profile: This is our least favorite view, primarily because it just looks so dang thick from the side view. We do, however, like the lack of body cladding and the big 10-spoke wheels. The matte chrome side blade in the C-pillar is also an eye-catching styling element. I

Cabin: Overall, the interior styling is right for this class and price. The layered dash with the integrated screens are the main attractor, and the seats are also quite attractive. We would've liked to have seen matte wood trim instead of the shiny finishes.

Comfort

9.3

 

There's not much to complain about when it comes to the plush digs of the Escalade. Not only is it finally properly huge inside, all finishes are pleasant to the touch, and the materials quality is excellent. There's ample space for family of seven to stretch out here, too.

Front Seats: The seating position is excellent for such a tall vehicle, and the adjustability and seat support and cushioning are superb.

Rear Seats: Our standard Captain's Chairs were almost as good as the front seats.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Sound deadening and overall build quality were first-rate. For something this big and blocky to be hushed at highways speeds is commensurate with the price.

Visibility: We had no trouble seeing out at virtually all angles. Pillars are kept to a manageable size.

Climate: The Escalade's tri-zone climate control and sizable vents worked very well, as did the heated and ventilated seats.

Safety

7

 

The Escalade has not yet been tested by either body, but it does come with a good set of safety features.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The Platinum trim on our tester came standard with Adaptive Cruise Control, Enhanced Automatic Emergency Braking, Reverse Automatic Braking, Automatic Seat Belt Tightening, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Keep Assist w/ Lane Departure Warning, Enhanced Auto Parking Assist, Theft-Deterrent Package, HD Surround Vision, Safety Alert Seat, Forward Collision Alert, Front Pedestrian Braking, and Rear Pedestrian Alert.

Optional Tech: The optional $2,000 Night Vision feature worked very well.

Storage/Cargo

8.9

 

The Escalade is plenty big inside. It does suffer a little bit due to its bulky center console that only really provides a big armrest and cupholders versus any additional cubbies for small items storage. If you want to go bigger, upsize to the Escalde ESV or the less expensive but less luxurious GMC Yukon Denali.

Storage Space: The armrest is plenty big, and the cupholders have a large retractable door to keep small items out of sight. It would've been nice to have a small shelf or binnacle, as well. Door pockets are nicely sized, thankfully.

Cargo Room: The Escalade is actually a bit smaller than its Yukon brother. It has 25.5 ft³ with the seats in place and 109.1 ft³ with the seats folded flat. That's bigger than the Lincoln Navigator and the Lexus LX570.

Fuel Economy

5.5

 

Fuel efficiency is not the Escalade's forte. You'd be better off with the torquier but less thirsty diesel engine option. The big V8 is thirsty, and owners should be prepared.

Observed: 12.3 mpg.

Distance Driven: 68 miles.

Audio

9.5

 

It would be downright embarrassing to get a low score in this department with an AKG Studio Reference 36-Speaker Surround Sound System. The premium system comes standard on the Platinum trim level, and it's a superb experience with tremendous power, clarity, and fullness.



Final Thoughts

The Escalade isn't cheap, but you get what you pay for. Not only does it feel luxurious, but it also rightly looks the part inside and out. No one else in this segment has made the display screens look so well integrated. The space, comfort, and ergonomics are also wonderful. The 6.2-liter V8 is a monster of an engine, too. Anyone who wants street cred and opulence really don't need to look much further.
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