It’s no accident that the best-selling Cadillac model right now is very much like the models that used to define what a Cadillac was back when Cadillac sold more luxury cars than any other luxury car brand.
It just happens to be an SUV.
That model is the Escalade, a vehicle that has much in common with Cadillacs of the past, like the 1970 Sedan de Ville, notwithstanding, it isn’t a sedan.
The Escalade is built the same way Cadillac sedans once were. The body is bolted to a heavy steel frame. A huge V8 is bolted under its hood. The whole thing is purposely, unapologetically huge, including the inside, where there’s room for six.
In both of these Cadillacs.
Cadillac stopped building cars like the Sedan de Ville a long time ago, but this SUV carries on that Cadillac tradition.
What It Is
The Escalade is a full-size luxury SUV with three rows of seats, giving it the same passenger carrying capacity as a 1970 Sedan de Ville, which carried the same number of people across two rows of seats.
Like the old Sedan de Ville, the Escalade comes with the biggest V8 GM offers in any vehicle–a Cadillac tradition. It is also the only Cadillac still available with a V8, and the only Cadillac that still features body-on-frame construction, just like a ’70 Sedan de Ville.
It also offers something no Sedan de Ville ever did–a turbo-diesel V6. Plus amenities such as an available 36 speaker audio system and a 38-inch digital dashboard. And four-wheel drive, too.
Prices start at $77,940 for the base luxury trim in 2WD (rear-wheel drive) form. A 3.0 -liter Duramax V6 is standard, but you can swap that out for the 6.2-liter V8 for an extra $50, making the V8 effectively a no-cost option.
There are also Premium, Sport, Premium Luxury Platinum and Sport Platinum trims and an even bigger (longer) ESV version offered in the same trims with the same engines that stretch 227 inches end to end, which is just slightly longer than any Cadillac sedan of the ’70s.
A Premium-Luxury Platinum version with 4WD and the 3.0-liter Duramax diesel lists for $111,840.
The Escalade’s chief historic rival is the Lincoln Navigator, dimensionally similar. However, the Lincoln doesn’t offer the prestige of a V8 engine or the superior fuel efficiency of a diesel engine. The Navigator’s only engine is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter gasoline engine-burning V6. It makes more power than the Caddy’s V8, and it’s rated to tow a little more than the Caddy’s V8.
But it’s still not a V8.
There is also a new rival–the revived Jeep Grand Wagoneer. It is even larger and comes with the largest V8 you can get in a new SUV (6.4-liters). It also costs considerably more than the Escalade, with a base price of $86,995.
But it’s still a Jeep–not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Escalade was fully redesigned for the 2021 model year, so the ’22 is pretty much identical except for some minor shuffling of trim/standard and optional equipment.
- A Cadillac like they used to make them that’s also good in the snow (unlike the Cadillacs they used to make).
- Last of the somewhat affordable.
- One of the few available diesel sixes.
What’s Not So Good
- Even with a 24-gallon gas tank, you won’t go very far with the V8.
- Astoundingly expensive for a Cadillac based on a much less pricey Chevy.
- The available Super Cruise self-driving feature arguably encourages inattentive driving.
Under The Hood
You can choose either a 6.2-liter, 420 horsepower gas V8 or a 277 horsepower (and 460 ft.-lbs. of torque) turbo-diesel engine. What do you get for so much less horsepower if you go with the diesel?
Cadillac touts the diesel’s mileage advantage of 21 city, 27 highway vs. the V8’s 15 city, 20 highway, but it’s just another way of saying the same thing. In a very real sense, it’s also something else because people who buy vehicles with a starting price of nearly $80,000 aren’t people who generally sweat their car, getting five or even ten MPG less.
But they do sweat not going as far before they have to stop.
With the V8, you stop often, as was true back in 1970 in a Sedan de Ville, which got about the same gas mileage. Even with 24 gallons of gas in its tank, the V8 Escalade has an advertised city-driving range of just 380 miles, and in real-world driving, it’s less. On the same 24 gallons of diesel, the Escalade’s city range increases to just over 500 miles. And on the highway, the diesel-powered Caddy can go about 650 miles vs. 480 for the V8.
It costs more to fuel the diesel-powered Escalade because diesel costs more than even premium unleaded gas. And because diesel-powered vehicles now require periodic topping off with Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). But, again, t’s not the savings or the costs that are determinative here. It is the convenience and the luxury of traveling nearly as far as a Prius hybrid in a leather-wrapped, massaging seat-equipped SUV three times the size of a Prius.
This SUV can also pull the equivalent of three Priuses or 8,200 lbs. It’s not quite as much as the class-leading (in terms of towing capacity) Lincoln Navigator can pull (8,300 lbs.), but it’s so close as to be negligibly less, and the Lincoln doesn’t offer a V8 or a turbo-diesel.
The Cadillac is also the only ultra-lux SUV that offers a V8 for less than six figures. You can get one for more than six figures in the Land Rover Range Rover P525 Westminster. Mercedes also offers one in the GLS 580 for $98,850. Technically not quite six figures. By the time you pay the taxes, you’ll be paying well over six figures for it, too.
That makes the Escalade’s V8 the bargain of the bunch.
On the other hand, you can get the same 6.2-liter V8 for even less than the $77,990 Cadillac asks for it in the Escalade in the Chevy Tahoe, the Escalade with fewer bells and whistles.
Or if you’re not hung up on the luxury badge, there’s the Grand Wagoneer. It offers more V8 (and more horsepower, 471) for not much more money.
In all trims, the V8 and the turbo-diesel six are paired with ten-speed automatics and the option to go rear-drive (standard) or four-wheel-drive. The four-wheel drive is a genuine four-wheel drive, with an electronically controlled transfer case and Low range gearing.
The current model also features an independent suspension, allowing for great wheel articulation off-road and better ride quality.
On The Road
When you drove a Cadillac back in the ’70s or the ’60s or the ’50s, you felt like the king of the road, which you were because nothing else on the road had the large-living presence of a Cadillac.
Nothing else had an engine as big as a Cadillac’s, either.
This is how you feel behind the wheel of the Escalade. Especially with the 6.2-liter V8 under the hood. The diesel has the legs, but the V8 has the sound. Also, the power. Enough to get this 5,823 pound (empty) block of steel and glass that seats six to 60 in six hard-to-believe-it seconds. That is something a Sedan de Ville could not do even when equipped with the biggest V8 Cadillac ever offered (500 cubic inches, 8.2-liters).
If you go purely by the numbers, the Lincoln Navigator is nominally superior.
Its 3.5-liter twin-turbo’d V6 makes 450 horsepower (and 510 ft.-lbs. of torque). It is also slightly quicker to 60 (5.9 seconds), and it is rated to pull 100 pounds more. But there is no music accompanying any of this–just a whoosh and the sensation of thrust. The Cadillac V8 rumbles soothingly at idle. Under hard acceleration, this becomes an authoritative bellow which transitions to a Corvette-like wail as the tach swings past 6,000 RPM.
But forget even that. There is something unquantifiably satisfying about having a V8 when almost everyone else has just a six. You don’t feel underwhelmed. After all, what is the point of paying close to $80k to have more or less what people who spent half as much also have?
An interesting aside is that the Navigator’s much smaller V6 uses not much less gas than the Caddy’s in its almost twice-as-big V8. The twice-turbo’d Lincoln rates a pathetic 16 city, 22 highway (vs. the V8 Caddy’s 15 city, 20 highway). All that effort (and all those additional parts) to squeeze equivalent power out of a smaller engine without a meaningful fuel efficiency difference.
It’s also the cost of the joy of owning a V8 at a time when such ownership is becoming the almost-exclusive purview of the highly affluent (see that bit above about the price of the Range Rover V8 and the Benz GLS V8).
At The Curb
This is what a Cadillac is supposed to be.
Imposing. Audacious. Unapologetic.
It is what Cadillacs used to be before Cadillac began emulating everyone else and gave up trying to be Cadillac.
Someone there might consider why those Cadillacs come and go while the Escalade remains the model that has kept Cadillac afloat.
The standard Escalade is enormous: 211.9 inches long overall. It rides on a 120.9-inch wheelbase. This makes it longer than any full-sized new car, including full-size luxury sedans like the BMW 7 Series (207.4 inches) and Mercedes S-Class (208.2 inches). It is also vastly roomier, with seating for six and almost twice as much space for cargo (25.5 cubic feet) even with those seats occupied. When not, you can avail yourself of 121 cubic feet of space for whatever you need to carry, besides passengers.
The ESV extends that length to 227 inches on a 134.1-inch wheelbase with 41.5 inches of space for cargo with all its seats in place (and148.2 cubic feet with the second and third-row seats folded).
It’s not for everyone. But for the person who wants to own the Cadillac of SUVs, it’s the only thing there is.
Because it is a Cadillac, the Escalade has a plethora of luxury amenities and technology features not available in the lesser Tahoe (or the GMC Yukon, which occupies the space between the Tahoe and the Escalade). The chief among these is the Escalade’s enormous and sweeping, fully digital dashboard, which extends from the driver’s side and almost to the passenger side pillar. This is a Cadillac-ian one-upping of the current trend to digitize the displays of everything.
Classic Cadillacs manifest in the wood trim (real, this time), which is used to counterbalance the hyper-modernity. There is also hyper-luxury, manifested in the form of the available massaging seats (though these are restricted to the more expensive trims) and the 36-speaker AKG ultra-premium audio system. Big as a ’70s Caddy sled like the Sedan de Ville was, you couldn’t find space for 36 speakers inside one.
You can also opt for a factory-installed cat-back performance exhaust system, making the V8 even more, Cadillac in its can’t-fail-to-notice-me personality.
Another option that manifests this Caddy’s tech is the available self-driving Super Cruise option. It works much like the Tesla system you’ve probably heard about already. When engaged, the Caddy steers itself, changes lanes, adjusts its speed, and generally leaves the driver to do things besides drive, which may not be the greatest idea since sliced bread. It presents a dichotomous situation in which the driver is relieved of some of the chores involved in driving while at the same time expecting the driver to remain in an alert, supervisory role over the vehicle’s driving.
No one wants to admit that self-driving encourages the driver to stop paying full attention to driving. For that reason, it’s only a good idea if the self-driving system doesn’t require the driver’s supervision. If it does, then what’s the point beyond being able to show off a “neat” feature to your passengers?
The Bottom Line
Ironically, the most successful Cadillac is also the type of vehicle Cadillac seems to shying away from in favor of un-Cadillacs that are smaller, crossover, and electric, which means pretty much like what everyone else is selling.
Wouldn’t it be wiser to sell more of what they’re not?
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.