The Cadillac Escalade has always been a force to reckon with in the world of premium full-size, three-row SUVs. Six years ago, when we drove the then new previous generation of the flagship SUV, it impressed the whole team so much that it went on to win the best SUV title at our 2015 Car of the Year awards. However, while the Escalade has more road presence and a sense of occasion than most other large SUVs on the market, the previous generation model lacked the refinement, ride quality or composure that its rivals, especially the Mercedes Benz GLS, Range Rover or the Lexus LX, afforded. And with the segment seeing more high profile players entering the fray, such as the Lincoln Navigator and the BMW X7, the American behemoth was increasingly starting to look and feel a bit jaded. So the fifth-generation Escalade that reached our shores earlier this year has its work cut out for it.
The Escalade is completely redesigned for 2021 and is now even larger than before and hence remains one of the largest SUVs on sale today. The upright, imposing front grille adds to the SUV’s commanding presence, while the overall design changes help the Escalade manage to look formidable while at the same time exude an air of refinement that was missing in the previous iterations. The slim LED headlights and the tauter, flowing lines all around lend the SUV a sleek stance. While the regular variants get a generous dose of chrome that might seem a bit garish to some, the Black Edition test car that I got here has completely blacked out trimmings on the exterior. This contributes to making the new Escalade even less bulky and gaudy than it would appear with all those chrome accents.
The interior has also been suitably upgraded, with distinctly more premium upholstery and an even more hushed and refined passenger cell. The centerpiece of the interior is the massive assortment of screens that flow across the dash. A giant 38-inch 4K OLED screen is divided into a 16.9 inch centre screen, 14.2-inch digital instrument cluster and a third 7.2-inch screen just to the left of the steering wheel, all arranged in a semi-circular, driver-oriented design.
The cabin is remarkably spacious and is decked out in acres of premium hide and glossy black trim. The first two rows offer exceptionally comfortable seats, while the third row features acceptably supportive chairs that are more suited to children or below-average sized adults, although Cadillac says there is 40 per cent more third-row legroom at 886 mm. Ride quality has been perceptibly improved over the previous generation’s, with comfort levels on a par with any other luxury utility flagship in this category. However, as is expected from a large vehicle riding a ladder frame chassis, the Escalade’s ride could at times be juddery, especially when you hit a patch with some road imperfection.
For a heavy and hulking body-on-frame SUV, the Cadillac Escalade surprisingly well. The standard air suspension setup plus the optional Magnetic Ride Control help keep the Cadillac composed, keeping body roll under general driving conditions to the minimum. The steering is quick in its response light enough when driven at slower speeds to help mask the SUV’s considerable heft, making it relatively easy to manoeuvre around town. Power delivery from the massive 6.2-litre V8 is smooth and linear with 420 horses and 624Nm of torque, delivered to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic gearbox.
Safety is also given due focus with a host of features including Front and Rear Park Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking, Front Pedestrian Detection and Braking, Rear Pedestrian Detection, Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Night Vision, Reverse Automatic Braking and Automatic Safety Belt Tightening all crammed in as standard. It is also the first Cadillac to offer to OnStar – General Motors’ in-vehicle safety and security technology – to the Middle East.
The current generation Cadillac Escalade is without a doubt the best iteration of the SUV, and is way more than just a rebadged, plusher Chevrolet. While the underpinnings are still shared with lesser GM badges, Cadillac has made honest efforts to distinguish it from its cousins with loads of added luxury and technology features. And with prices in the UAE starting at Dh325,000, the all-new 2021 Escalade comes well equipped to take the fight to the other heavyweights in the segment.