As the 2021 Cadillac Escalade prepares to enter the market, the shoes to fill are big.
For over 20 years, the Cadillac SUV has served as a status symbol and cultural icon.
Engineers and designers were specific in their approach, especially with the interior.
Super Cruise, an OLED display, and a Night Vision system are among the tech features.
One of the biggest curve balls: a Duramax turbo-diesel engine will be available for 2021.
did you know
Escalade is a reference to the medieval military tactic of scaling walls with ladders to penetrate a fortified landmark.
The Cadillac Escalade first debuted at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August of 1998. At the time, the market for large and luxurious SUVs was just taking shape. In the case of the Escalade, it was an instant hit. Cadillac President Steve Carlisle recalled how the vehicle immediately struck a chord with buyers. “It introduced Cadillac to an entirely new generation of luxury customers via popular culture and changed perceptions of what the brand could offer,” he explained. “From the highway to the big screen, the Escalade has been embraced by drivers and fans around the world.”
Setting The Scene
Be it J.Lo, Tony Soprano, or any other famous figure that seeks out an Escalade, one thing is certain: Cadillac needs to keep that image going, and they have a lot riding on the 2021 Escalade as a result. How viable Cadillac is today is another discussion entirely, and it’s probably a varied one at that. There is the cultural impact of the Escalade, the staggering sales, and how it helped pen the narrative of what a luxury SUV should be. Those things are impossible to deny.
Further, the Escalade has been J.D. Power’s “Highest Ranked Large Premium SUV in Initial Quality” five times: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2018. In the J.D. Power Automotive Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Escalade received top honors in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2017.
We enjoyed driving the XT6 recently and will speak highly of the XT5, but Cadillac’s main event is the Escalade (despite the CT6 being billed as the flagship). True, the XT5 is Cadillac’s top-seller, but the Escalade dominates its market. In each year since it was redesigned in 2015, consumers have spent nearly $3 billion on the model. Sales have topped more than three-quarters of a million in the U.S. and 836,000 globally.
Do Cash Cows Always Produce Milk?
Despite the movie credits and industry accolades, it’s still hard to acknowledge Cadillac as the Standard of the World as they once were. There are notions the current Cadillac Escalade lacks in quality. Consumer Reports writes that the Escalade “falls down on the fundamentals” and lacks the braking and handling finesse when compared to other similar luxury SUVs. Ouch. And even more so, considering the starting the MSRP for a 2020 Cadillac Escalade is over $75,000.
Consider too the impact of Mercedes-Benz and BMW in the American market. Do consumers hold Cadillac in the same light? Maybe not, and that might explain why one could perceive Cadillac’s expansion into China as a much-needed fresh start. Call Cadillac’s track record of quality mixed; say they are no longer the most desirable luxury brand, but don’t call the 2021 Escalade late to dinner just yet. We would do well to hear Cadillac out. ”It’s more than a new Escalade,” Carlisle said. “It’s a new experience.”
New Experiences For 2021: Diesel Power
This is familiar territory for Cadillac, debuting specific features for the Escalade that make driving one “feel like an occasion,” as Carlisle says. Magnetic Ride Control is a prime example, made famous by the Escalade before it filtered down to other GM vehicles. Other examples are the horsepower boost of 65 percent for the Escalade just last year, and the inclusion of a new diesel engine for 2021.
Said diesel is a 3.0-liter Duramax unit with 460 lb-ft. of torque. Never in the Escalade’s history has a diesel been available and it seems hard to fathom: a diesel engine in a modern Cadillac, let alone an Escalade? Indeed, diesels have come a long way, but still: the sound and those one-off reverberating torsional vibrations? That doesn’t seem to match the refinement one might expect in the 2021 Escalade.
Spring Into Action
There are engineering tricks to minimize the vibrations of a diesel, namely a Centrifugal Pendulum Vibration Absorber (CPVA), which GM already uses. I know. Say it 10 times fast. I can barely say it once. The 2.8-liter Duramax Chevy Colorado was the first GM vehicle to incorporate such a design. The CPVA resides in the torque converter for the truck’s Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic.
The Colorado’s CPVA is an absorbing damper with a set of secondary spring masses. Those spring masses vibrate in the opposite direction of any torsional pulsations that come their way from the engine. By vibrating in the opposite direction, the CPVA negates additional noise, vibration, and general powertrain harshness that can penetrate into the cab. The new Escalade is standard with a 10-speed automatic, although Cadillac did not say if they are using that CPVA design.
However, considering the Escalade is farther up the food chain compared to the Colorado, it’s likely they did something to minimize the intrusive effects of the diesel – be it a CPVA or otherwise. If nothing else, driving the new Escalade will definitely “feel like an occasion” with a Duramax under the hood.
New Experiences For 2021: Super Cruise
In the summer of 2018, Cadillac announced they were expanding Super Cruise to every model in their lineup by this year. Super Cruise uses LiDAR map data, high-precision GPS, an advanced driver attention system, and a network of cameras and radar sensors. Cadillac says Super Cruise helps keep drivers engaged by detecting and signaling when they need to pay more attention.
(Side note on this: when a driver gets on their phone, a robotic hand pops out of the dash and throws it out the window. The technology is still being developed and Cadillac is actively seeking hand models for the feature.)
Recent enhancements include dynamic lane offset, which adjusts the Escalade slightly over in its lane if another vehicle cuts over too close. Additionally, new messaging on the driver information center shows when Super Cruise may not be available in certain instances. Under the right conditions, Super Cruise enables hands-free driving on more than 200,000 miles of compatible highways in the United States and Canada.
2021 Cadillac Escalade: Enter NCC-1701
On the inside, the new Escalade resembles the deck of the Starship Enterprise, an effective way to, again, make driving it feel like an occasion. Of particular note is the curved OLED display with twice the pixel density of a 4K television. The thing covers more than 38 inches of real estate! It includes three screens: a 7.2-inch-diagonal touch panel to the driver’s left, a 14.2-inch-diagonal cluster display behind the steering wheel, and a 16.9-inch-diagonal infotainment screen to the driver’s right.
The curved OLED display, because of its paper-thin design and higher color contrast, does not require the usual “hood” that accompanies the typical vehicle screen.
With Forethought & Purpose
Rather than just jam a rectangular, iPad-looking thing into the dash, designers were more deliberate in placing the OLED display. It was to serve as the cabin’s centerpiece, one that lets drivers enjoy all the benefits the 2021 Escalade. Designers worked outward from the OLED display, blending together things like the custom-woven fabric, door piping, stainless-steel speaker grilles, rotary dial controller, and ambient lighting.
During those longer trips, the kids will enjoy a pair of 12.6-inch-diagonal touch displays. The rear screens have streaming capability for games, music, and videos via HDMI and USB inputs.
“The expectations and desires of Escalade customers are factors everyone in the Cadillac design studio unequivocally understands,” explained Phil Kucera, Escalade Interior Design Manager. “This allowed us to reach greater levels of depth and detail than Escalade has ever had before.”
Signature Touches: Safety & Security
While the Duramax and new OLED display will grab headlines, a lesser-known item is the Escalade’s front-center airbag, a life-saving safety feature previously overlooked until GM poineered the technology. The Escalade received the front-center airbag in 2015 and was the first SUV of its kind with such a feature.
The video below explains how it works.
Augmented Reality Navigation & Night Vision
Augmented Reality Navigation is new and available for the 2021 Cadillac Escalade. A live street view in front of the Escalade is sent to the cluster display with the corresponding turn-by-turn information. What’s neat about Cadillac’s system is how it uses the audio prompts to guide drivers. For example, a “turn left” command comes through the left speakers only, and same for a right turn command.
Like Super Cruise and the OLED display, Cadillac is further flexing their tech muscle here.
The Night Vision system is equally as cool, employing infrared technology to increase visibility. This helps drivers better detect everything from pedestrians to large animals, as they are projected on the center display once the Nigh Vision catches them. On a similar note, the surround view camera uses four exterior cameras to provide a two-megapixel bird’s-eye view of everything around the Escalade.
For Your Listening Pleasure
Premium audio systems are common in many vehicles today, so we would expect something as high profile as an Escalade to deliver the tunes. Given how important the Escalade is to Cadillac, the audio system, believe it or not, is a critical piece of the equation. It’s an essential (and really cool) part of the story behind the 2021 Escalade.
With regard to the specs: the available AKG Studio Reference system contains 36 speakers (including ones in the headliner), an enclosed subwoofer, and three amplifiers with 28 total channels. The standard AKG system includes 19 speakers, an enclosed subwoofer, and a 14-channel amplifier. One of the key differences is how the Studio Reference system allows front and rear passengers to talk with one another. Either way, both of these are beastly stereos, but they are not the only boss systems on the market.
Rock Me Amadeus
What is most interesting is how this is the first application of an AKG system ever in an automobile. And Cadillac gets the first riff, no pun intended. I can only speculate here – but – one could argue the history of AKG and the Escalade’s target demographic are closely linked. AKG was founded in 1947 in Vienna by physicist Dr. Rudolf Goerike and engineer Ernst Pless. AKG microphones were first used in radio, on theater stages, and at Jazz clubs. The products, at the time, were manufactured by hand by only five employees.
Fast forward to today, and the list of artists who have used AKG microphones and headphones includes Frank Sinatra; Eric Clapton; Peter Gabriel; Stevie Wonder; Aerosmith; the Rolling Stones; Rod Stewart; Anastasia; Eros Ramazotti; Kayne West; Simply Red; and Falco.
So humble beginnings for AKG, not unlike a lot of professional entrepreneurs today; the same kind who would desire an Escalade. And that grouping of artists above? All go-to picks for an Escalde driver, from Sinatra to West. How’s that for an eclectic mix, considering the cultural impact of the Escalade? This AKG system is no accident. Their history as a company spans a wide swath of pop culture, just like the Escalade. It may seem like a small item, but things like this cannot be emphasized enough. Buyers of a certain taste may well move toward Cadillac because of this audio system.
2021 Cadillac Escalade: Essential Foundations
With so much riding on the 2021 Escalade, both literally and figuratively, an entirely new architecture and chassis is only fitting. Similar to the OLED display, Cadillac’s engineers and designers where specific in their approach. With the suspension, they wanted something that makes the Escalade feel and handle as if it were a smaller SUV.
“Escalade’s new architecture enables a unique series of wins for drivers and passengers,” explained Tim Herrick, Vice President for Cadillac Global Product Programs. “We greatly increased passenger space, expanded cargo carrying capability – and at the same time delivered significant enhancements to both ride quality and handling performance.”
With the new architecture, third-row legroom increases 40 percent (34.9 inches), while cargo space behind the third row jumps 68 percent (25.5 cubic feet). Third-row legroom also increases in excess of 10 inches.
As for the meat and potatoes, the new independent multi-link rear suspension consists of three lateral arms; a large longitudinal arm; coil springs; and a more robust stabilizer bar. Adding to that are Magnetic Ride Control, Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, and an electronic limited-slip differential all of which are available for 2021.
An Old Favorite Under The Hood
Alongside the Duramax is the 6.2-liter V8, complete with 420 horsepower, variable value timing, and GM’s updated Dynamic Fuel Management technologies. The latter replaces Active Fuel Management and differs in how it can shut off any number of cylinders, in a variety of combinations, to boost performance and efficiency. It’s more inclusive than Active Fuel Management. Dynamic Fuel Management, by comparison, enables the engine to operate on just one or all eight cylinders, depending on driving conditions.
Manufacturing & Availability
Expect the 2021 Cadillac Escalade to arrive late this year in North America with availability in other regions to follow. The new Escalade is manufactured at GM’s Arlington, Texas assembly plant, which employs approximately 4,800 hourly and salaried personnel.
When it arrives, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade will have no less than eight color and trim choices, which include unique seat designs, with custom perforation and quilting patterns. Trim levels include Luxury, Premium Luxury, Sport, Platinum Sport, and Platinum Luxury. In all honesty, we cannot wait to see it and listen to some music on that new AKG system.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.