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2021 Cadillac Escalade Revealed: A Bigger, Better Flagship

The last of the internal combustion-powered luxury SUVs?

Todd LassaWriterSteven PhamPhotographer

The new 2021 Cadillac Escalade—the just revealed fifth-generation monster flagship SUV—will come with both diesel inline-six and next-generation Super Cruise options when it goes on sale this fall. An update of the 6.2-liter small block gasoline-powered V-8 remains the standard engine. The 2021 Escalade, which was just revealed to the world at a glitzy event in Los Angeles, finally gets a fold-down third-row-accommodating independent rear suspension, while the sheetmetal wears a sublime, toned-down look that replaces the old model's garish Las Vegas-style grille with thin horizontal headlamps over a chromed "Luxury" schnoz or a blacked-out "Sport" one.

With its independent rear end, the new short-wheelbase version of the 2021 Escalade SUV gains 10.4-inches of third-row legroom, an additional 80-percent of cargo space behind the third row, sliding second-row seats (captain's chairs or a bench), and no more need to lug a heavy third-row seat out from the back. The long-wheelbase Escalade ESV is scheduled to make its debut at the 2020 New York auto show in April.

Exterior-dimension increases are about the same as with the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, and GMC Yukon/XL. Wheelbase is up 4.9-inches on the Escalade, and 4.1 inches on the ESV, and the standard model is 4.1-inches longer overall, while the ESV stretches 2.6 inches. Width is up 0.5- and 0.6-inch for Escalade and ESV, respectively, and the standard model is 2.2-inches taller, while the ESV is 2.4-inches taller.

Interiors look and feel up-to-luxury-snuff, at least through the second row, and there's a Consumer Electronics Show-worthy curved (an automotive first, Cadillac says) organic-LED dashboard/instrument panel/entertainment-information system (though with separate controls and real, tactile knobs for the HVAC system, yay). Also news because it's not news is that controls for the heated (back and seat, or back only) and cooled front seats remain in the doors, with physical switches, instead of buried in a three-swipe screen program.

The 38 inches of curved OLED leather-wrapped center-dash display is one of the Cadillac-exclusive features that distinguish the new Escalade from the new GMC Yukon/XL and Denali, and Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban. The display consists of three OLEDs, a 7.2-inch touch display to the driver's left, a 16.9-inch touchscreen with navigation, audio and app controls on the right, and a 14.2-inch instrument cluster in front of the driver. The middle-row seats or seat, be they captains' chairs or a bench, come with two high-definition touch-screen information/entertainment displays.

Two optional high-fidelity audio systems by Harmon/Kardon's ultra-premium marque, AKG, will be offered: a 19-speaker Studio system and a 36-speaker 3D-sound Studio Reference system.

Super Cruise has been generally acknowledged as the standard of advanced, semi-autonomous driving since introduced in the 2018 Cadillac CT6, but in the 2021 Escalade, as well as the Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans, Super Cruise takes advantage of General Motors' new comprehensive digital platform with an all-new sensor set. Super Cruise will now have a lane-changing feature. Like the CT6's Super Cruise, the new version consists of the belt-and-suspenders LiDAR and map data system combined with a driver attention system. The system combines lane-keep assist sensors, adaptive cruise control with full-stop, and the LiDAR and mapping to allow hands-off driving on limited-access freeways and similar roads. Lane Change on Demand works when the driver engages the turn signal: Super Cruise scans the Escalade's surroundings, and changes lanes.

Choose from three Cadillac Escalade Suspension Options

Like the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/XL, the Cadillac Escalade will come with three suspension options. Coil springs with passive dampers are standard on Escalade Luxury and Premium Luxury (the base and base-plus trim levels more likely to go into livery service in Greater Manhattan); coil springs with magnetic ride control, standard on Escalade Sport and optional on Premium Luxury; or air ride adaptive suspension with magnetic ride, standard on Escalade Platinum and optional on Premium Luxury and Sport trims.

"They all drive great," says Tim Herrick, executive chief engineer for GM's full-size trucks. "Some minor tuning differences; we've added more acoustic content for this, so it's quieter on Cadillac."

Although Ford and Lincoln have had a two-generation lead on independent rear suspension in their Expedition and Navigator, "they did it in more of a blacksmith way," Herrick contends. "It's heavy, it's inefficient … structurally, they cut a big porthole in the frame and ran the half-shaft through it. We saw that as, we know what not to do."

Lincoln and Ford use diagonal suspension links on their SUV independent rear suspensions to handle both longitudinal and lateral loads, while the Cadillac (and its GM brethren) employ a more sophisticated, effective longitudinal rear suspension link outside the frame rails to provide a softer, more comfortable ride over bumps, and a lateral link with stiffer bushings and springs for tighter yaw control.

The fourth generation of Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control now adjusts dampers for every inch of road traveled at 60 mph, the automaker says. The optional Air Ride Adaptive Suspension raises two inches in 4LO mode, by one inch in Off-Road mode, lowers 0.75-inch for aero mode at high speeds, or it lowers two inches for occupant entry and exit.

The 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 is described as having improved operating efficiency without performance sacrifices, and expanded dynamic fuel management (cylinder cutoff), variable valve timing, and start/stop. Word is the optional 3.0-liter Duramax I-6 turbodiesel, which premiered in the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, will not be much of a step-up in price over the small block gasoline V-8. Both are mated to the 10-speed Hydra-Matic transmission with tap-gear manual mode, sport mode, and intelligent downhill detection.

As for a Hybrid Mark V Cadillac Escalade? Not going to happen. What about the fabulous Blackwing twin-turbo 4.2L V-8 built for the short-lived CT6-V? Not much more likely, unfortunately, as GM Powertrain is heading in a very different direction for the coming decade. Which leads to this somewhat jarring, though forward-looking question: Will the Mark V model be the last Cadillac Escalade powered by an internal combustion engine?

2021 Cadillac Escalade/Escalade ESV
ON SALE Fall 2020
BASE PRICE RANGE $88,000-95,000 (est)
ENGINES 6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/420 hp@5,600 rpm; 460 lb-ft. @ 4,100 rpm; 3.0L turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6 diesel/277 hp @ 3,750 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 6- or 7-passenger, front-engine, RWD or AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 211-226.9 x 81.0-81.1 x 76.6-76.4 in (Escalade/ESV)
WHEELBASE 120.9-134.1 in (Escalade/ESV)
WEIGHT TBD