There are Cadillacs, and then there is the Escalade. No other vehicle in the automaker’s catalog carries quite the same name recognition as this big SUV. And it’s picked up most of its well-earned accolades in recent years, so it stands to reason that the 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV would deliver on that growing reputation.
2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV Review: All The Updates
Cadillac completely redesigned the Escalade for 2021 with new styling, updated tech, and an unbelievably plush interior. I got to spend a week with the vehicle in its extra-long ESV format. While the standard, non-ESV Escalade starts at a little over $77,000 after destination fees, my Premium Luxury-trimmed test vehicle came with a starting price tag of $90,890 and an as-tested price of around $108,000 after options.
Luxury Over Performance
It’d probably be a stretch to say that prospective buyers of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV choose this SUV because of its staggering performance, although there are more than a few exciting numbers on the spec sheet. The standard 6.2L V8 engine produces 420 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission and sends power to the rear or all four wheels.
Cadillac also offers a 3.0L Duramax turbodiesel V6 with 277 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. When the vehicle is properly equipped, those powertrains are strong enough to help the Escalade tow up to 7,700 pounds.
And while most buyers might not be looking at the performance numbers, they are likely to be shopping for ride quality and on-road manners. The 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV delivers on both, as the optional adaptive air ride suspension easily absorbed even the worst potholes.
That’s on top of the fact that the vehicle’s sound deadening seemingly put up a forcefield that blocked out nearly every noise outside the Escalade’s acres of glass and sheet metal. Even the big V8 engine barely made itself known under hard acceleration.
A Spacious Cabin With All The Amenities
Some people say that true riches come from doing what you want with your time, but in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV, one could translate that sentiment to doing what you want with your space because there’s plenty of it.
Even in non-ESV form, the Escalade provides 42.3 inches of front headroom and 44.5 inches of front legroom. Second-row passengers get 38.9 inches and 41.7 inches, respectively. Of course, space without comfort is only part of the equation, and the accommodations of the Escalade’s expansive interior are nothing short of stellar.
Full quilted leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, massage functions, and enough padding to keep Build-A-Bear in business for years to come are all part of the equation. The rest comes from the Escalade’s cabin layout, which was extremely usable and driver-friendly, from the armrests, and vehicle controls to all the displays.
And though I didn’t find a use for it in my week of driving the Escalade, there’s even a refrigerated center console for up to six bottles of your favorite (non-alcoholic) beverage.
Dazzling Digital Displays And Cool Tech
If you think that Cadillac has fallen behind the times or only makes vehicles for older people, you’d be wrong. While it’s true that most Cadillac models aren’t as forward-looking as the Escalade, the automaker is packing some awe-inspiring tech into its vehicles, and the Escalade is on another level.
To begin with, the curved OLED display covers nearly the entire dash, spanning 38 inches and split between three individual screens. More than anything, the view from the driver’s seat was an impressive display of, well, displays.
A small panel to the left of the gauge cluster contains touch controls for the vehicle’s trip computer, gauge cluster, and front camera system. The gauge cluster itself is fully digital and can be configured to display maps, media information, and a widescreen display of the Escalade’s front-facing camera system.
Beyond just being a cool party trick, the camera and digital gauge cluster also allow for augmented reality navigation. The vehicle projected driving directions onto an image of the road ahead. At night, the cluster worked with the vehicle’s night vision system to help prevent collisions.
The infotainment screen alone is a marvel, measuring a massive 16.9 inches on the diagonal. In addition, the responsive software was quick, easy to navigate, and instantly usable without a learning curve. This level of usability is a big step forward for Cadillac infotainment software, as just a few years ago, this was a weak point for the brand.
You also get Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that run with less lag and jumpiness than in other systems. The 19-speaker AKG audio system comes standard, but my test vehicle came equipped with the optional 36-speaker system with sound so lifelike that our normal kids’ podcast frightened my four-year-old daughter into thinking there was an actual wild tiger in the vehicle.
Then, there’s Super Cruise. Assuming you’re on a supported highway, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV offers the ability to relinquish control over much of its driving functions. The Escalade performed lane changes (new for ’21) and maintained its position in its lane, relative to other vehicles on the road. Working with adaptive cruise control, the system uses cameras, sensors, and LiDAR to map its position in the world.
It was dead-simple to use, too. Once I activated adaptive cruise control, a steering wheel icon appeared in the gauge cluster if the vehicle was on a supported road. I then activated Super Cruise using a button on the steering wheel. Once active, the light bar in the steering wheel turned green to indicate that it was safe to remove my hands from the wheel. And the system monitored my awareness to make sure there was no funny business going on.
Standard Safety And Optional Add-ons
It’s a shame that with the $85,000 base price tag, we’re still talking about optional safety features, but here we are. The base Escalade misses out on enhanced automatic emergency braking and reverse automatic braking, all of which my upgraded test vehicle had.
Thankfully, the list of safety features that are standard is much longer and includes forward collision alerts, front pedestrian braking, an advanced automatic parking system with sensors, blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera system, and more. But, unfortunately, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV hadn’t been crash-tested by either major safety ratings agency at this time.
No Budget-Friendly Options But Plenty of Value
Complaining about the price or mocking the Escalade’s size are low-hanging fruit with this vehicle, but these complaints overlook a few key facts.
First, the Escalade’s price tag is in line with, and in many cases lower than, those of its competition. For example, the BMW X7 starts a bit lower but grows to over $100,000 with comparable options. And the Land Rover Range Rover starts at over $90,000 and goes crazy from there.
Second, the Escalade puts its size to good use, coddling its passengers and accommodating all of their gear. Sure, it’s a big vehicle, there’s no way around it, but Cadillac has made clever use of the space to provide an inviting interior. So would I spend the money on the 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV over the competition? Let’s just say after my test drive, I may have more-than-casually window shopped for a used model that fits my budget. Price your own Escalade out here.