The new Escalade isn’t just for loyal Cadillac buyers anymore. Even German-brand fans should take a serious look at the redesigned Escalade, which has upped its game after watching the segment leapfrog it in the years since its comparison win in 2015. After spending some time in a loaded $113,565 2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV—that’s the long-wheelbase Chevrolet Suburban-sized model—we have some thoughts on how the Cadillac excels and and how it falls behind the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS.
The Luxury of Choice
The Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator offer one luxury that Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti, and Lexus probably never will—two available sizes. Offering this additional layer of customization allows buyers to zone in on what they really want from a full-size three-row luxury SUV. Customers who are simply after these trucks’ glitter, look, and cachet can drive the normal version; families who want to haul three rows of people and some luggage simultaneously might try the Escalade ESV or the Navigator L.
If you’re trading up from a vehicle such as a 198.8-inch Ford Explorer, however, we have one somewhat obvious word of caution: The 2021 Escalade ESV is enormous and harder to park or maneuver through drive-throughs. The long-wheelbase model is 226.9 inches long, and the normal Escalade is 211.9 inches; in comparison, the Mercedes GLS is 204.9 inches, and the BMW X7 is 203.3 inches. As for the Navigator, the Lincoln is 210.0 or 221.9 inches long, depending on the variant. (NOTE: The standard-length model is shown in this Escalade ESV review. )
So THAT’s What a Luxury SUV’s Third Row Should Feel Like
Once you discover the 2021 Escalade’s third row, it immediately becomes clear why you might want to make room for it in your driveway. Access to and space in the third row are refreshingly huge, especially compared to the X7 and GLS. And that’s true for the non-ESV model. As a 6-foot-4-inch-tall automotive journalist, I’ve crunched myself into all kinds of three-row SUVs, even the small ones. There’s no crunching in an Escalade. Whether you use the flip-forward captain’s chairs (our test SUV has a two-seat second row instead of a three-seat bench) or climb between them, the Escalade offers tons of interior space. If you were actually planning on using that third row for people—some people buy three-row SUVs for the space with the third row folded down—the Escalade is a good place to start. And in the ESV, you get an extra 1.7 inches of third-row legroom versus the standard Escalade.
As for the cargo space, the load floor is still a bit high, but the Escalade and Escalade ESV offer unparalleled room in this competitive set. And yes, that includes the two Navigator models. So if you can handle the hard-to-park enormity of the Escalade and Escalade ESV, the Cadillac should be a contender on your short list.
(Mostly) Exquisite Details
More than once I caught myself staring at the Escalade’s headlight detailing. Think that’s strange? Check it out for yourself in a dealership. You’ll either be struck by the close attention to detail (something we’ve already lauded Cadillac for on the Escalade) or think the stylistic flourishes are a little busy. For me, I would take pride in the design, from the strakes at the top of the headlights to the way the linear graphics match the rest of the design language. As for the Escalade’s overall design, there are differing opinions among MotorTrend editors over how successful this Cadillac is.
Just know that we’re big fans of the interior details. A standard-wheelbase Escalade we tested at the 2020 MotorTrend SUV of the Year competition featured a unique use of a woven linenlike fabric on lower panels where others use plastic. It also has a wood trim Cadillac calls Gideon—it’s one of the most attractive multigrain wood trims we’ve ever seen on a sub-$200,000 car. Our more recent 2021 Escalade ESV test SUV featured a Dark Auburn interior with wood trim so dark that it took us some time and sunlight to realize it wasn’t piano-black trim. If you want the Gideon trim, you’ll have to upgrade to the high-end Platinum grade in Sport or Luxury form and then pick the beige interior color.
As we’ve noted before, we’d still like to see Cadillac dress up a few remaining details, which as of now will remind buyers the Escalade and Escalade ESV share a platform with Chevrolets and GMCs. Especially considering the headlight detailing, the engine start button should look and feel far richer than it does. During our short Escalade ESV loan, that was one detail that disappointed every time we turned the SUV on.
Less Powerful Competitors Are Just as Quick, Use Less Fuel
The 420 hp offered by the 6.2-liter V-8 sounds impressive, but in fact, that’s what it takes to propel a vehicle as heavy as an Escalade as swiftly as less powerful competitors. Consider that in MotorTrend testing, a 6,036-pound standard-wheelbase 2021 Escalade reached 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, just a couple ticks behind a 362-hp Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 (5.8 seconds) and a 330-hp BMW X7 xDrive40i (5.6 seconds). The quickest Navigator we’ve tested hit 60 in 5.9 seconds, and really, all those times are impressive for such large vehicles. As with the Mercedes and BMW models mentioned here, the Lincoln’s 450-hp powerplant has six cylinders to the Escalade’s eight. The Escalade ESV felt just as quick as a normal Escalade, which is to say, plenty for such a big SUV.
With 4WD, the 2021 Escalade can’t crack 20 mpg in EPA testing. The Cadillac earns 14/19 mpg city/highway in 4WD form or 15/20 with RWD. Go with the Lincoln, and fuel economy rises to 16/21-22. The 2021 X7 checks in at 19/24 mpg, and the 2021 GLS 450 is good for 20/24—again, each beats the Escalade in acceleration thanks to their smaller size.
Both German models handily beat the Escalade in driving range. Go for an Escalade ESV model, and Cadillac installs a fuel tank with 4.3 gallons more capacity. It’s an appreciated upgrade that you’ll also find when moving from Navigator to Navigator L.
How Does the Escalade ESV Drive?
The 2021 Escalade ESV feels almost exactly like the non-ESV model. Like the regular Escalade, the long-wheelbase ESV’s accurate steering and capable handling help keep the SUV manageable—but it never feels as nimble as a Mercedes-Benz GLS. As we noted in our Escalade first test review, the brakes are responsive but feel a little wooden.
Although many editors who drove the Sport Platinum SUV of the Year prototype found the ride unbecoming of a flagship luxury SUV, we had different results with an ESV Sport Platinum model. The ride on the ESV fell short of luxury-car smooth, but it was a little more comfortable than the non-ESV model at SUV of the Year. This is likely due to the ESV’s wheelbase, which is 13.2 inches longer than the standard Escalade. (In general, the longer the wheelbase, the smoother the ride.) If you’re seriously shopping these SUVs, try to drive them all over the same road imperfections around the dealerships to see which performs best.
What About the Escalade Diesel?
If you want as much driving range as the alternatives from BMW, Mercedes, and Lincoln, the Escalade with the no-cost diesel might be worth considering. As of this writing, we haven’t yet driven the Cadillac Escalade diesel, which is powered by a 277-hp 3.0-liter turbo-six with 460 lb-ft of torque. Once we do, we’ll be looking at not just overall performance and driving range but also how it feels and sounds.
Will we feel the same when the engine is used in a luxury SUV? We hope to find out.
So Which Full-Size Three-Row Luxury SUV Should I Get?
That depends on how you plan on using your huge luxury hauler. If you seek a surprisingly spacious third row, skip the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS and instead stick with the Lincoln or Cadillac. When you not only demand a decent third row but also want some cargo space without having to fold those seats down, the Navigator L and Escalade ESV should be at the top of your list.
When that third row is just an occasional-use set of seats, however, consider the regular Escalade as well as the X7 and GLS. Although a couple interior details could be improved and the competition offer a longer driving range (thanks to superior fuel economy), the Escalade and Escalade ESV are more worthy of consideration than they’ve been in years.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2021 Cadillac Escalade ESV Sport Platinum|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD/4WD, 7-8-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||6.2L/420-hp/460-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||6,000-6,200 lb (MT est)|
|L x W x H||226.9 x 81.1 x 76.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.2 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||14-15/19-20/16-17 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||225-241/169-177 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.15-1.22 lb/mile|