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In the age of the SUV, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. But few models have stood out like the Cadillac Escalade, the original “King of Bling.”
The original model helped redefine what the luxury sport-utility vehicle was all about, though Caddy seemed to have lost its direction with recent iterations of the ‘Slade. Now the big beast is getting a complete makeover for 2021, and Cadillac President Steve Carlisle says it’s a critical part of the brand’s “journey to be the standard of the world – as we once were.”
Carlisle was on hand Tuesday night to pull the wraps off the fifth-generation, 2021 Escalade during a splashy preview in Los Angeles. Set to go on sale in late 2020, the new model will feature not only bolder styling but also an array of high-tech features such as Cadillac’s hands-free Super Cruise system, as well as an array of digital displays that run virtually the entire width of the new Escalade’s instrument panel.
This is “bad-ass luxury,” said Dave Schiavone, the Escalade marketing manager, during a media backgrounder ahead of the big SUV’s L.A. unveiling.
There was a time when SUVs were the purview of rugged outdoorsmen. Nothing transformed that image like the arrival of the original, 1999 Escalade. It quickly became a hit with the urban community, a must-have among athletes and a requisite prop in countless rap videos.
That’s a love affair Cadillac hopes to rekindle with the fifth-generation Escalade which is being introduced with the backing of a new, sponsored documentary, “Anthem,” produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee.
Lee told TheDetroitBureau.com that he agreed to do the mini-doc because “I’ve always loved Cadillac. Since I was a little kids it was part of the (my) culture.”
Despite its history, the ‘Slade will need some help.
After scoring big with the first few versions, Escalade lost momentum as fuel prices soared, parent General Motors giving serious thought to pulling it from production a decade ago. When a new version was introduced, belatedly, in 2014, it largely lost the original magic, yielding ground to competitors like the similarly sized Lincoln Navigator. It didn’t help that the outgoing model suffered from some of the most serious quality issues of any GM product.
Caddy officials promise to address those problems, starting with the new model’s design.
For Escalade fans, it will look immediately familiar, picking up many of the original model’s design elements. But it’s not just a tired rehash. Where Caddy designers have focused their efforts gives the new model a decidedly fresh new look.
That starts with the oversized Cadillac grille – which is offered in several different iterations depending on which model you opt for. (Like other recent Caddy products, the Escalade will follow a “Y” strategy, split between “Sport” and “Luxury” models.) The new grille is framed by new slit-like LED headlamps. Their vertical layout may surprise some folks. But to placate traditionalists, the 2021 Escalade still features vertical LED running lights.
From the side, the 2021 ute features a more sculpted look, with a distinct crease just below the shoulder line and a subtle coke-bottle style curve to the door panels. To add to the ute’s presence, all versions now ride on 22-inch wheels.
“The goal was to create a new Escalade that is unmistakable at a glance, and then reward you with greater details on the second or even third read, explained Therese Pinazzo, the manager of exterior design.
It’s often said that a vehicle’s exterior design is what draws you in, but it’s the interior that keeps you happy. If you had a chance to check out the Escala concept that was introduced at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance a few years back, the 2021 Escalade picks it up almost down to the last double-stitch of its leather and suede cabin.
Open the door and the first thing you’re bound to notice is the near door-to-door video display. In fact, it’s actually four different screens, including the industry’s first curved OLED touchscreen that anchors the new Escalade’s infotainment system. There’s also an unusual, albeit smaller, touchscreen to the left of the steering wheel, as well as a digital display cluster visible through the wheel. All told, they compromise a total of 38 inches diagonally.
As has become the norm, you’ll be able to operate the system in a variety of ways, including voice, touch, steering wheel buttons and a new multifunction controller on the center console. For those who were put off by the slow Cadillac Cue system, the brand’s tech team has worked hard to make the new infotainment package work almost instantly.
They’ve also added a variety of interesting functions. For one thing, the navigation display can move off the curved, 15.9-inch OLED screen onto the gauge cluster in order to reduce the amount of time a driver’s eyes are off the road. There’s also a new Augmented Reality function that, for one thing, displays a camera view with added arrows to show you when and where to turn.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade also will become the brand’s fourth model to get Super Cruise, the semi-autonomous system that allows hands-free operation on about 200,000 miles of U.S. roads that have been mapped in super-high resolution. And the system now adds the ability to change lanes simply by tapping the turn signal when Super Cruise is active.
The 2021 SUV migrates to AKG for its sounds system, the well-known Austrian company providing a “base” package with 19 speakers. The upgrade jumps that to 36, and offers a 3D surround feel that few, if any, products on the market currently can match.
Of course, technology has become an essential part of today’s automobile. But the 2021 Escalade also features plenty of traditional luxury elements, including double stitched leather and other high-line materials.
Offered in both standard and long-wheelbase versions, the Gen-5 Escalade shares the same, underlying platform as we saw introduced recently for both the Chevrolet Silverado and Tahoe models, as well as the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL. The standard-length Escalade grows by 7 inches, to a full 211 inches nose-to-tail. The wheelbase was stretched by 4.9 inches.
Significantly, all those utes now feature independent rear suspensions, though there are some key upgrades unique to the Escalade. There will be three different options, including two using the fast-acting magnetic ride control system that can change each individual shock’s setting from soft to firm in the time it takes to travel just one inch at 60 mph.
The top-tier system, which adds air suspension, can adjust its height by up to 4 inches, depending upon whether you’re running off-road, on the highway or simply getting in or out.
The switch to an independent rear suspension has a number of advantages. Among other things, Cadillac notes, the standard-wheelbase model now offers 40% more third-row legroom – and the floor itself is lowered so adults won’t be riding with their knees in their chests. There’s also 68% more cargo space behind the third row.
As for powertrains, the “base” engine is an upgrade of the outgoing model’s 6.2-liter V-8. It gets features like fuel-saving Stop/Start and now makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The upgrade is a 3.0-liter Duramax I-6 turbodiesel making 277 hp and 460 lb-ft. Both are paired with a 10-speed automatic gearbox.
There has been some speculation that Caddy might offer a hybrid or even a plug-in version of the new Escalade. “The answer is no,” GM President Mark Reuss told TheDetroitBureau.com in an exclusive conversation. That said, Reuss left often the possibility we may yet see a full battery-electric vehicle dubbed Escalade in the future, considering the Detroit automaker’s stated goal of going all-electric.
As to pricing, Cadillac officials aren’t yet saying, but few would be surprised to see the automaker nudge up the outgoing Escalade’s base price of $75,195. And the top end will easily push into new territory considering all the new features, such as Super Cruise being offered on the Gen-5 SUV.
Tuesday’s debut focused on the short-wheelbase Escalade. The long-wheelbase model, said Caddy President Carlisle, will take its own bow at the New York International Auto Show in April. Officials noted that production will begin in the third quarter of this year and the new ute will hit dealer showrooms this fall.