2021 Cadillac Escalade Review: Ghost Protocol

Mr. Hunt, for your next mission...

It’s like driving around in an opulent lighthouse.

It is very rare to find a film series that gets better with every sequel, Lord of the Rings notwithstanding. Something that has the same formula, but gets better with every new film, something like the Mission Impossible series. It was a great original, the second was forgettable (to put it kindly), the third was a ray of hope, and then came Ghost Protocol, which boosted the franchise straight into greatness. It’s not a lot different in the car world. And the 2021 Cadillac Escalade looks like it could be the Ghost Protocol of the Escalade nameplate. Cue the main theme.

Mobile mission control

While the design is one of the most striking aspects of the new Escalade, let’s start with where you will spend most of your time: the cabin. To call the cabin upmarket, premium or even luxurious would be immature. To call it elegant however, would be apt. The 38-inch curved three-screen all digital instrument cluster/infotainment system isn’t a slab of plastic and screen, it is draped in leather. Plus, it is advanced enough to even strike Ethan Hunt’s fancy. What would usually be covered in soft-feel plastic is draped in leather. Even the headliners and door panels are finished in soft-feel linen-like fabric rather than the usual materials. 

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Then there are the quilted leather seats that are supremely comfortable, infinitely adjustable and come with five different massage functions. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels great to hold and comes with polished wood inserts. Thankfully, Cadillac hasn’t rid the dash of buttons and you still get physical buttons for the climate control and audio controls with a brushed aluminum finish that lend a classy aesthetic to the center dash. Speaking of, the center console is the only piece of real estate that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the dash. The plastic, though of good quality, feels sub-par compared to the swaths of leather and soft-feel fabric all around it. Plus, the polished wood looks a bit dated as we clearly are in an open-pore era. 

Moving back, the second row houses two captain seats. This is where you do your planning on the move. Our tester, the Sport Platinum trim, was finished in an inconspicuous Crystal White Tri-Coat with equally inconspicuous all black 22-inch alloys. The top trim also comes with rear entertainment screen as standard. If you get hungry during your mission briefing, you can simply send the driver the address to your favorite restaurant. Though, the driver reserves the right to refuse the request, and be subsequently excommunicated from the task force.

Moving further back, thanks to the absence of the live axle, the rear-most bench can now house adults. Though you still feel the need for longer squabs, you can stretch one of your legs, and the other doesn’t rub against the seatback. Even with the three rows up, you have enough cargo space for a weekend. If you need to charge your anti-villain gadgets there are multiple USB-C and USB 3.0 slots around the cabin. For heavy-duty radar jammers, the adapter socket in the trunk will be useful. It is right next to the buttons to fold the 60/40 third row.

Only the best? 

GM isn’t usually the automaker you look to for the industry-best infotainment system. Color me surprised then, because that’s exactly what it’s managed. Simply put, the Escalade’s infotainment is at least on par with its German rivals and the best one I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. And it should be, as it is the centerpiece of the Escalade’s interior. The curved display consists of two screens split into three sections. Measuring a massive 16.9 inches is the touchscreen infotainment system while the instrument cluster measures 14.2 inches and its touch control panel on the left-most edge measures 7.2 inches.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Cadillac XT6 Review

You can operate the infotainment system by touch or via a scroller on the center console. The display is crisp and the colors are vibrant. It looks like it was designed to be simple and functional. While driving it displays only five items, and even when you go into the detailed menus, everything is appropriately labeled and displayed. Sure you can get lost in the plethora of menus and settings but things like park assist, camera angles and phone settings are only a touch away. Operating the radio though is a task. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and for a change, Android Auto, runs as smooth as CarPlay.

But, the most thoughtful features in my opinion are on the tiny (relatively of course) 7.2 inch screen to the left of the steering wheel. It houses the trip meters and the controls for the HUD and the instrument cluster. Usually, HUD controls are hidden away under an obscure menu in the infotainment system, but here it is only a touch away. And I really appreciate that, as will the Escalade’s customers. You can also toggle between the traditional clocks, night vision ($2,000 extra), augmented reality navigation and map displays on the instrument cluster right from the small touchscreen. In addition, the AR navigation uses the instrument cluster to display its live feed which is a lot more intuitive than some other systems that use the infotainment screen. 

Then there is the 36-speaker AKG sound system only available with the Luxury and Sport Platinum trims. The sound is impeccable and is best heard with 3D surround on. You can adjust the bass, mid and treble but it is best to leave it alone. One thing to note though is that the AKG is a neutral sounding system. Fans of heavy bass will find themselves wanting more. But fans of Sinatra will appreciate the sound quality and help you focus on infiltrating the high-profile arms dealer’s party.

Got the go with the show?

The Escalade is not what you would call fast, or snappy. It draws its power from a 6.2-liter V8 making 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Sounds impressive, but then it is also lugging around 6,000 lb of mass. The engine has a typical pushrod V8 muted rumble at tickover of just 500 rpm. You are hard-pressed to hear the engine even when the revs climb. Though you will feel it prodding the pedals every now and then. The 10-speed automatic delivers the power to the rear or all four wheels. In Canada however, it is available as a 4WD only. 

While most of the torque is higher up in the rev range—at 4,100 rpm to be precise—the Escalade doesn’t feel stressed when speeding up. The transition from first to second is always jerky but from then on you will barely feel the gearshifts. Mind you though, that is only the case when you keep a light right foot. Bury the throttle and you will be engulfed in a sonorous V8, even if it doesn’t match the rate of progress. 6,000 pounds, remember. So it’s best to ease off and take it steady. And that is what this full-size luxury land yacht is all about. 

Smooth sailing or choppy waters?

Hurrying up in the Escalade is rather pointless. Yes, you can make quick progress once you build the momentum and the 6.2 V8 is no slouch once it hits the powerband. Plus, for something that weighs this much, the Escalade handles surprisingly well. You can chuck it into a corner faster than you would otherwise dare and watch in surprise as it obliges without complaint or snap of the steering. 

Even under the heaviest braking, which you do quite often as there is little feel from the brakes, it simply refuses to pitch. But then you would miss out on the whole experience of the Escalade. It is best enjoyed at a sedate pace while your favorite music plays on the 36-speaker AKG system and you get your favorite massage from the seats. Although, I’ll admit there is a caveat here.

The Escalade is a body on frame vehicle which means a truck chassis underneath the all-new body. And, the truck DNA rears its head among the pockmarked roads in the city. The air suspension coupled with an independent rear do a great job of ironing out the bumps but it just isn’t as good as a monocoque setup would be. Having said that, it never feels uncomfortable; it’s just there. I will say despite the prevalent truck-ness, however slight, I never found myself making haste. And that speaks volumes about the in-cabin experience of the 2021 Escalade. 

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Out on the highway, it all comes together. The Escalade’s sweet-spot lies north of 60 mph. At highway cruising speeds, the engine barely nudges 2,000 rpm even at 70 mph. No undulation or change in elevation deters the Escalade as it remains rock solid through it all. You can even take the curves and loops without abating your speedy progress. The adaptive cruise control is highly competent on the highway as well and I realized that the braking, especially during the final stages of rush hour is best left to the system. The lane-keeping assist though can be a bit temperamental, as it tends to oscillate within the white lines and you never really muster the confidence to leave the curves to it. Lastly, despite your lightfooted-ness you’ll be hard pressed to get a better mileage than 11–13 mpg. 

Verdict: 2021 Cadillac Escalade

Cadillac has created something worthy of a standing ovation. To say the 2021 Escalade impresses would be an understatement. Despite its imperfect ride, apparent truck underpinnings, and some questionable trim choices, the 2021 Escalade comes across as a well-thought-out vehicle.  That massive 38-inch curved infotainment is worthy of an article for itself. And we can go on about the ease of access to HUD controls and the AR navigation and space, but you get the point.

But it’s not the comfort or the massage seats or the magnetic ride suspension (though they help) that make the Escalade so appealing. It’s its uniqueness. While its relative rivals like the Mercedes GLS will always be identified as a Mercedes, the Escalade will always be recognized as an Escalade and nothing else. No other vehicle in Cadillac’s own lineup adorns that grille or even remotely emulates the Escalade’s lines. Anyone investing in this tier of vehicles wants to stand out in the crowd. And as an IMF agent, nothing will solidify your cover of a wealthy buyer than arriving to that party in the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. 

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