Beverley Hills, CA – Over the past couple of decades Cadillac has gone to great lengths and expense to bust into the premium sports sedan segment, creating some very credible alternatives to the established German players along the way. Problem is, the public ain’t buying it. In fact, just about the only Cadillac they are buying is the big body-on-frame tank called Escalade. Okay, the smaller SUV offerings from Cadillac are doing pretty well, but as far as brand flagships go, the ’Sclade is it, and it is the marque’s biggest seller.
In lockstep with the all-new Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon models – with which the big Caddy shares its platform – we see the wraps pulled off the 2021 Escalade at a ritzy shindig in Hollywood. And not a moment too soon, as the outgoing model was well past its sell-by date, sporting dynamics and interior quality that were not commensurate with its price tag. Not that it seemed to matter much as they sold like hot cakes anyway. Still number one in the segment.
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Bigger, more powerful – and a new diesel
Nonetheless, this all-new version leaves the old one far behind. The all-new platform is stiffer, sports a multi-link independent rear suspension, electronic limited-slip rear differential, and a longer wheelbase. The available magnetic shocks are now the latest, fourth-generation iteration, and height-adjustable air suspension is also on the menu. What does this all translate to? Although we haven’t driven the 2021 Escalade, which will be arriving in the fall of 2020, rest assured it will trump the old model in refinement and handling.
And like with its corporate siblings from Chevy and GM, interior space is leaps forward – 10.4 inches more legroom in the third row. The lower load floor means 30 percent more total cargo room, with a whopping 66 percent more load space behind the second row.
Standard wheel size is 22 inches, and power comes from an updated version of the 6.2L V8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft) hooked to a 10-speed auto – up from the previous eight-speed unit. New for 2021 is an available inline-six turbo diesel churning out 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque.
From the side, the 2021 Escalade shares its profile with the GMC Yukon, although some models get chromed C-pillars. Up front we see a massive grille that falls in line with the rest of the Caddy SUV lineup – XT4, XT5, and XT6 – and out back the expected lengthy vertical taillights are present and accounted for.
OLED, augmented reality, and Super Cruise
But the real story here is what Caddy has bestowed within. No more is the Escalade a low-tech relic of marginal quality. Cadillac is making this 2021 version a showpiece of technology and they’ve thrown everything they’ve got at it.
The centerpiece, literally, is the dual-pane, curved OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen – similar to what’s found in many high-end smartphones and TVs. This paper-thin technology allows for the first curved screen in any automobile, and with double the pixels of a 4K TV, the display is incredible sharp with astounding contrast because blacks are well and truly black. Naturally, everything is configurable, so the centre gauge cluster can ape analogue gauges, display a navigation map, or offer a night-vision screen.
Cadillac is offering “augmented reality” in the 2021 Escalade, similar to what Mercedes-Benz has, which overlays directional arrows, road signs, and addresses over a real-time video feed of the view ahead. But Caddy goes one step further with the audio component. If you’re approaching a right turn, the voice instruction will come from speakers in the right A-pillar, and will get louder as you approach. At the point of turning, the instruction will come from the B-pillar, “Turn right now”; and if you manage to miss all that, the voice will admonish from behind you – “Make a U-turn now.”
Cadillac has paired with legendary Austrian microphone and headphone maker AKG to create the Escalade’s sound system. Not a name most people are aware of, and this is the first time the company has done anything automotive. Caddy approached AKG three years ago, and the fruits of their labour can be experienced with the optional Studio Reference Surround 3D with 36 speakers and multi-channel amplifiers. The standard system boasts 19 speakers.
The 2021 Escalade is also available with Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system that – by using radar, 360-degree cameras, a driver attention system, and Cadillac’s proprietary lidar map data – allows for true hands-free driving. Currently Super Cruise is only offer on the CT6 sedan but will be rolling out to the Escalade, CT5 and CT4 in 2020.
Indeed, Cadillac has gone to great lengths with the 2021 Escalade to create a full-size luxury SUV that does a lot more than just trade on its name alone, which the tired outgoing model managed to do very well. Heck, they even got Spike Lee involved, making a short, hip film for the grand unveiling at this historic movie soundstage in Hollywood. Caddy’s cash cow just got a major shot of steroids, and its ready to rumble.