2021 Cadillac Escalade ups its looks, tech and comfort

The 2021 Escalade has more presence, luxury, technology and style to keep up with the new decade.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
5 min read
2021 Cadillac Escalade
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2021 Cadillac Escalade

Bigger, better and perhaps a bit blander, this is the totally redesigned Cadillac Escalade.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

GM has completely redesigned its full-size, body-on-frame SUVs . The Chevrolet Tahoe and , as well as equivalent Yukon models have already been revealed. Now it's turn, with the new Escalade making its debut on Tuesday. Totally overhauled for 2021, this land-going luxury-liner rides atop new bones, features a dramatically improved interior and offers loads of innovative technology. This should easily be the best Escalade ever.

Naturally, it shares a raft of significant components with its more blue-collar siblings, though Cadillac's designers have put in the hours to make sure this mechanical commonality is not obvious. On the outside, the new Escalade is tastefully designed, bold but arguably more elegant than previous generations. Up front is a large grille, flanked by angular headlamps. At the rear you'll find elongated taillights that run from the roof to bumper. In between each end are cleanly styled sides.

If you've been following what's going on with, say, the latest Chevrolet Tahoe, much of what's new here probably won't surprise you, though there are a number of delightful features exclusive to the Escalade, many of which are found inside.

Watch this: 2021 Cadillac Escalade: Smoother than ever

Unquestionably, this vehicle's single most impressive item is the array of screens on its dashboard. This Cadillac is fitted with three individual displays mounted in one elegant housing that's beautifully integrated into the dashboard. The overall design was borrowed from the Escala concept car that bowed a few years ago.  

This curved, organic light-emitting diode screen supposedly provides more than 38 inches of diagonal area with twice the pixel density of a 4K television. And thanks to its advanced OLED panel, the colors are bold and bright, and blacks are inky dark.

To the driver's left is a 7.2-inch display. In the middle is a 14.2-inch reconfigurable digital instrument cluster. Finally, mounted amidships on the dashboard is a 16.9-inch main screen. The horizontal layout of these displays should mean less driver distraction. Unexpectedly, there are no hoods on these panels. Supposedly, they're not required due to OLED's high contrast, but we'll see how true that is in the real world where, you know, there's this thing called glare.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Look at all the screen real estate!

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The rest of the 2021 Escalade's cabin is elegantly designed and constructed of what look to be top-shelf materials. In fact, no fewer than eight interior color-and-trim combinations will be available. Curiously, this redesigned SUV is fitted with a ridiculous electronic shifter that looks like a candy bar-style cellphone from around 2005. In an otherwise elegant interior, this is a poor bit of GM parts-bin engineering.

Aside from better interior design and materials, cabin roominess has been dramatically increased. Cargo space behind the third row has swelled by 68%, while legroom in that aft-most row of seats has grown by more than 10 inches compared to the outgoing model. Much of these improvements come from a longer body and a stretched wheelbase, though the better packaging of the new independent rear suspension certainly helps as well.

On the technology front, there's plenty to talk about. Cadillac's praiseworthy Super Cruise system is, at long last, coming to the Escalade. It's been significantly improved in several ways and now offers automatic lane-change functionality.

Making it just a little easier to get to your destination, augmented reality-aided navigation will be offered. This projects turn-by-turn directions over a live video feed of the road ahead, which could be quite useful in challenging situations or crowded urban areas.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Giant taillights are an Escalade staple.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The 2021 Escalade will be offered with AKG sound systems, the first time this Samsung-owned audio brand has been used in a vehicle. This move is much like Mark Levinson systems in Lexus products or the partnership Lincoln has with Revel.

This Cadillac's standard sound system features 19 speakers and a 14-channel amplifier, but if only the best will do, you're going to want the AKG Studio Reference system. With a whopping 36 speakers it should absolutely crank. Powered by three separate amplifiers, it has sound emitters throughout the cabin, in the ceiling, headrests and even the center console.

It takes a lot of muscle to haul around a full-figured SUV like the 2021 Escalade. And fortunately for drivers, Cadillac has graced this machine with plenty of grunt. The standard engine is a 6.2-liter small-block V8 that's rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It's fitted with variable valve timing, automatic stop/start and even Dynamic Fuel Management, which is a fancy new cylinder-deactivation system that enables the engine to run on practically any combination of cylinders for improved efficiency.

Breaking ground in the full-size luxury-SUV segment, a 3.0-liter inline-six diesel will be offered. This Duramax unit is shared with GM's other light-duty, full-size pickup trucks. Phenomenally smooth and torquey, it delivers 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of twist. Expect segment-leading fuel economy, too. No matter the engine, just one transmission is available in the 2021 Escalade. Every one of them will be fitted with an advanced, 10-speed, self-shifting gearbox.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Comfort has been dramatically improved, especially in the rear two rows of seats.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

As mentioned earlier, this Cadillac's old live axle has been tossed out like a used napkin, replaced by something much more modern. Not only does the Escalade get an independent rear suspension design, it can also be fitted with magnetic dampers for even greater over-the-road refinement. But if that's not enough, an air-suspension system is available as well, not unlike the one found on the Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon. An electronic, limited-slip differential is optional, too.

Along with GM's other full-size SUVs, Cadillac's redesigned Escalade will be built in Arlington, Texas. It's slated to go on sale in the third quarter of the year. Naturally, no pricing information has been released at this time, but the 2021 version should be competitive with today's model, meaning it will probably start at around $80,000.

When it does start arriving at dealerships, you'll be able to choose from two different trim branches. As with its other models, Cadillac has adopted a "Y-shaped" model structure. A base Luxury version will be offered but there are two forks beyond that. On the one hand, you can get a Premium Luxury model or a top-shelf Platinum Luxury version. If something a bit more aggressive floats your proverbial boat, Spot and Sport Platinum variants will be offered, too. They form the second branch of the "Y" and, among other things, come with mesh grille inserts and exterior trim rendered in black.

2021 Cadillac Escalade ups its luxury and tech game

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Originally published Feb. 4.