The new Cadillac Escalade is very good. General Motors' new Duramax inline-six diesel engine is also very good. Combine the two and, whaddaya know, the diesel-powered Escalade is very, very good. But this SUV's excellence extends beyond a plug-and-play formula.
Reviews editor Craig Cole was right when he called the Escalade "a flagship model to be proud of" and, perhaps unexpectedly, adding the diesel engine only heightens the super-luxe experience. It's quiet, smooth and powerful, lending itself nicely to the Escalade's large-and-in-charge demeanor. Plus, it gives Caddy's biggest boy a real fuel economy bump and not having to stop for fuel all the time is a nice little luxury in and of itself.
The diesel powerplant in question is the 3.0-liter Duramax I6 you'll find in GM's full-size trucks and SUVs, everything from the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban to the GMC Sierra pickup. This engine makes 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough to move the nearly three-ton Escalade with authority. The 460 lb-ft number matches that of Cadillac's other engine choice, GM's 6.2-liter, small-block gas V8. But thanks to the diesel's way-down-low power delivery characteristics, you can dip into the engine's full torque at just 1,500 rpm, rather than revving up to 4,100 rpm with the V8.
A 10-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties and it's mostly fine. The best thing about a diesel is the aforementioned low-range torque, yet the 10AT is still prone to downshifting unnecessarily from time to time. This engine doesn't really like to rev and it sounds somewhat coarse when doing so. But if you're gentle with your throttle applications, the transmission isn't as eager to jump around, so consider it an added reward for smooth driving behavior.
All told, the EPA says a rear-wheel-drive Escalade with the 3.0-liter diesel engine should return 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. That's a big improvement over the V8's 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined ratings, though of course, diesel fuel is slightly more expensive. Adding four-wheel drive drops each fuel economy number by 1 mpg across the board. Take 'er easy and you should theoretically be able to eke out well over 500 miles per tank. Diesel Escalades can tow 300 pounds more than their gas equivalents, too, for a max rating of 8,000 pounds with a two-wheel-drive model.
Seamless, effortless power is why the diesel engine ups the Escalade's luxury factor. I love a good American gas V8 and all, but there's something so serene about being able to gradually roll onto the throttle and have a wave of diesel torque smoothly push you forward. Especially in conjunction with my Premium Luxury Platinum (all the words!) tester's standard adaptive air suspension and GM's lovely Magnetic Ride Control, the diesel Escalade is an awesomely comfortable cruiser -- easy to drive and not nearly as ponderous as its great stature might suggest. I wouldn't hesitate to drive this thing from Los Angeles to New York and back. And with the Escalade's optional Super Cruise hands-free driver-assistance tech ($2,500), it'd be a cinch, too.
Adding the diesel engine doesn't change anything else about the Escalade. It's the same huge, handsome SUV regardless of powertrain. Diesel models get a 600D badge on the tailgate, referencing Cadillac's stupid metric-torque-rounded-up-to-the-nearest-multiple-of-50 naming system. Actually, wait, I can't even call it a naming system, since "600D'' doesn't appear anywhere on the vehicle's window sticker and you won't find it while trying to research or build an Escalade online. Seriously, the badge is useless.
The Escalade's interior is the same, too, and it's really quite nice. This is definitely one of Cadillac's -- and GM's -- best cabins to date, with cushy seats, soft leather surfaces and a clean, modern design. It's not perfect, however. The wood trim on the dash and doors is covered with a tacky high-gloss finish, which makes these accents look cheap and feel cheaper, and there are weirdly no matte or metal options available. A bunch of the secondary switchgear is pulled from the generic GM parts bin, as well, which is fine on a Tahoe, but far less acceptable on an Escalade.
Where this Cadillac takes a huge step forward is in the tech department. Three incredibly clear and crisp curved OLED panels span 38 inches across the dashboard, giving drivers and passengers a fully digital view of vehicle functions, driving data and multimedia info. The main 16.9-inch infotainment display quickly responds to inputs and has an easy-to-learn menu structure, with embedded navigation and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, too, but Cadillac's latest interface is intuitive enough that I rarely have the urge to rely on my iPhone's software.
All of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade's standard and optional equipment carries over without even a dollar's difference in pricing. That's right, the Duramax 3.0-liter I6 is a no-cost option, it can be had with two- or four-wheel drive and it's available on all of the Escalade's trims, from the $77,490 Luxury to the $101,290 Sport Platinum (prices include $1,295 for destination). That makes the diesel a pretty easy sell as far as I'm concerned. Increased fuel economy, added towing capability and easy-breezy demeanor only make Caddy's flagship more compelling.