- Elegant interior
- Class-leading tech
- Unabashed style
- Chevy parts here and there
- Retrograde fuel economy
The Cadillac Escalade didn’t invent the concept of the luxury full-size SUV, but it’s been so dominant for so long you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Even as the competition caught and surpassed it, the biggest Caddy remained a staple of red carpet premieres, music videos, and valet lots. Now, though, the boss is back. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade takes every criticism leveled at both itself and the Cadillac brand head-on and comes away with barely a scratch.
We can’t begin anywhere but the interior. For years, we’ve begged GM to give Cadillac the budget and freedom to design world-class interiors, and the most we’ve received is high-quality materials held back by lackluster design, frustrating technology, and too many parts cribbed from the Chevrolet bin. Finally, finally, Cadillac has been given license to deliver a truly wonderful interior. This Escalade’s interior is exactly what we’ve been asking for—and what we’ve known Cadillac is capable of.
With so many obvious examples to point to, let’s begin with one less apparent but the most effective. Cadillac’s inspired use of a woven, linenlike fabric on the door cards and lower dashboard surfaces is one of the best interior design features we’ve seen in years. In places most luxury automakers are content to fill with (nice) plastic, Cadillac has brought both aesthetic and tactile value.
The expert application of wood complements the clever use of fabric. The exquisite parquet inlays stretching across the dash, doors, and center console are the kind of thing we’re used to seeing only in considerably more expensive hand-built vehicles.
The showstopper sits atop all that fabric, wood, and the finest grade of leather we can recall seeing in a modern Cadillac: 38 inches of curved, OLED touchscreen. Not just massive, the screens produce crisp imagery, react immediately to the touch, and pack cutting-edge features. We especially love how it extends touchscreen functionality to the left side of the instrument cluster.
Farther afield, GM engineers get full credit for finally ditching the live rear axle and fitting an independent rear suspension that allows for a fold-flat third row capable of comfortably seating adults.
The true measure of luxury, though, is in the details, and Cadillac missed one or two. As good as the interior is, we still find parts borrowed from significantly cheaper Chevrolets, such as the shifter, control stalks, and minor buttons. Cadillac won’t be equipping Escalades with its industry-leading Super Cruise technology until the 2022 model year.
We were also disappointed to see that despite the application of the latest fuel-saving technology, the Escalade has gone backward on efficiency compared to the old model (from 17 to 16 mpg combined with 4WD).