Flagship SUV Gives Smooth Luxury, Powerful Diesel Performance
Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Cadillac.
The all-new 2021 Cadillac Escalade Duramax is big and famous for being the ride of celebrities. It was my first experience driving an Escalade (I have been chauffeured in them). I have driven several Chevrolet and GMC vehicles with the wonderful Duramax turbodiesel engine, so expectations were high for a luxury week behind the wheel. It did not disappoint. If you are looking for comfort, versatility, great looks, a very accommodating and large interior, some innovative features and surprisingly good fuel economy, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade is for you.
Power and Torque and Fuel Sipping
Clean Fleet Report drove the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Duramax 4WD Premium Luxury, powered by a 3.0-liter Duramax turbodiesel engine. The 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, produced smooth performance with plenty of grunt when needed. The low diesel rumble upon start-up becomes a nice note when accessing the ample torque to get off the line, but then purrs quietly at freeway speeds. Stand next to the hood when the engine is at idle, and you will be amazed at how quiet it is.
Fuel economy for the 3.0L Duramax turbodiesel is EPA rated at 20 mpg city/26 highway/22 combined. In 364 miles, driving through Southern California and being aided by the automatic engine stop/start, we averaged 24.2 mpg. But on a 180-mile all-freeway run with the adaptive cruise control set at 65 mph, we got an impressive 28.8 mpg. When fully loaded or pulling a trailer, mileage numbers may be less, but getting oh-so-close to 30 mpg is impressive for a 6,015-pound SUV. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience using the dash gauge computer. Your numbers may differ.
On The Road: Smooth and Responsive
The Escalade Duramax hits its performance sweet spot out on the road, especially shining on long distance trips. With even acceleration the 10-speed automatic smoothly eased through the gears. The ride, comfortable as would be expected, came from an independent rear suspension, an air ride adaptive suspension and magnetic ride control, both of which, along with the electrically assisted power steering, reduce body roll and help with overall maneuverability.
True to being a luxury SUV, there was little road noise, harshness or vibrations transmitted into the quiet and peaceful cabin. Our driving never left dry pavement, so we didn’t get to use the four-wheel drive. Had we needed to, the dash has controls for 2WD, 4WD and Auto 4WD. The first two are self-explanatory, but the latter is a nice feature as it automatically sends torque to the front tires if the system senses any tire slippage. This is not a full-time AWD system, but pretty close, but will provide confidence in slippery or sloppy road conditions.
The Escalade Duramax’s 7,800-pound tow rating is easily handled by the 460 pound-feet of torque that kicks-in at 1,500 rpm. This means when towing a grade it will pull strong and still deliver good fuel economy. Our Escalade had the optional Performance Package that included trailer-side blind zone alert, a trailering app, trailer brake controller and the very handy hitch guide that is displayed on the rear view camera.
There was no learning curve with the hydraulic-assisted brake system that included electronic stability assist; it brought the Escalade to confident stops. The four-wheel anti-lock discs have vented 13-inch front and 13.6-inch rear with Duralife rotors. General Motors uses these on its heavy-duty Chevrolet and GMC pick-ups as they can handle the stopping needs when towing as well as dissipate heat under repeated use.
Upscale, Techie Interior
Climbing into the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, with the aid of the power retractable step, you are greeted with what may be the nicest interior in any Cadillac. It’s well laid-out with upgraded materials that make it hard to find a surface not covered in leather, wood or metal. Clean Fleet Report’s Escalade’s Premium Luxury trim had an elegant look—two-tone interior of Brandy with Dark accents. The firm and comfortable, quilted Mulan leather seats were heated, ventilated, and had 12-way power with the driver getting memory. The center console with cup holders and power ports was large enough to hold a laptop. The power release second-row heated captain’s chairs fold flat, slide and recline, while the panoramic power sunroof brings the outside into the cabin. The 60/40 third-row bench seat folds flat; when up, it easily accommodates three adults.
The second-row passengers get a rear seat entertainment system consisting of two positionable 12.6-inch touchscreens that display embedded navigation and can play music, games and streaming video through USB or HDMI ports. The system can mirror Android devices and comes with wireless headphones.
Additional features include a wireless charger for mobile phones, a tri-zone climate control with an air ionizer, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, power tilt and telescoping steering column, selectable interior lighting, 110-volt power outlet, automatic stop/start, illuminated sill plates and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that can connect multiple devices and has a 50-foot range.
The low, sleek dash of the 2021 Escalade is something to take in, appreciate and enjoy. There are three screens, starting with a 7.2-inch driver information center located to the driver’s left. Then to the right, the impressive horizontal curved OLED screen takes-up 31.1-inches, comprised of a 14.2-inch instrument cluster and a 16.9-inch infotainment screen. The OLED is paper-thin, displaying vivid colors with twice the pixel density of a 4K television. Its curvature positions the screens for optimal visibility that does not require a hood to protect for sun glare. Complementing the black glass screens are wood, leather and aluminum accents.
The standard surround vision camera provides clear, wide images with multiple camera angles, including bird’s eye and trailer views. The screen also is home for embedded navigation and the fantastic, optional three-amplifier, 28-channel, 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference 3D sound system. With speakers in the front seat headrests, the audio system includes FM/HD AM radio, SiriusXM, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Cadillac User Experience, or CUE System, is designed to provide a complete suite of infotainment, navigation and communication tools for keeping the driver connected.
Multiple front and rear USB A and USB C ports and an auxiliary power outlet kept everything charged and ready to go. The dash gauges were easy to read, and the radio passed the Clean Fleet Report minimum driver safety test as it had volume and channel selection knobs, in this case on the center console next to the gear shifter. Bluetooth handled voice communication for hands-free phone, audio and OnStar.
The Conversation Enhancement feature was convenient and made perfect sense for enhanced communication for front and rear passengers, as their voices are captured by embedded microphones and reproduced using the 36-speaker system.
A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly General Motors representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable. This is one area where GM is the industry leader and, after the trial service plan expires, it is well worth renewing.
Bold, Mature Design
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade makes a statement sitting still or moving. The massive and imposing size reminds people the Escalade has been the luxury transport for the rich and famous for many years. An Academy Awards wouldn’t be the same without a star stepping out of an Escalade onto the red carpet. Clean Fleet Report’s Escalade was festooned in a rich and elegant Dark Blue Moon Metallic paint with a tasteful use of chrome. The statement-making grille is bold and powerful, but not overpowering as it is complemented by the vertical running lights and narrow, signature LED head lights. The long roof ends at the hands-free and remote power lift gate, which is framed by vertical LED tail and brake lights and the twin chrome exhaust ports. The power-adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, that provided excellent rear visibility, were quiet going through the wind.
To challenge consumers in a curious way, Cadillac has placed a “600D” badge on the lift gate. The first thought is this references a 6.0-liter engine or 600 horsepower, but no, not even close. Cadillac has converted the torque, from foot-pounds into newton-meters (Nm), which is a metric torque measurement used in most countries around the world but not America, then rounded it up to the nearest 50, and added a “D” meaning diesel. If you want to learn more about newton-meters, you can go to school here.
Safety and Convenience
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade has front, center and seat-mounted side airbags for the front occupants, with roof curtain airbags for the second- and third-row passengers. The advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) include lane change and blind zone alert, rear pedestrian alert and reverse automatic braking, front and rear parking assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision alert, lane keep assist and departure warning and a vibrating driver’s seat that lets you know when something about your driving isn’t just right. Also available on the Escalade was the Teen Driver safety system, which helps inexperienced drivers develop safe driving habits.
The multi-color head-up display was both a convenience and safety feature. Clean Fleet Report feels a HUD should be standard on all vehicles if auto manufacturers and the government are serious about reducing distracted driving.
To aid in rear visibility, the rear view mirror can act like a conventional mirror, but also as a high-definition camera. The camera mode takes some getting used to, as the perspective is different, showing a wider view. I found it especially helpful when parking, and used in conjunction with the multiple rear view cameras.
Our Escalade also had Night Vision, which uses an infrared sensor designed to increase awareness of potential hazards in the dark by detecting temperature differences between pedestrians or large animals and surrounding objects. The night and day photos show how effective the system can be.
The 2021 Escalade has earned a US Government National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 4 out of 5 Stars Overall Vehicle safety rating.
Pricing and Warranties
Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Cadillac Escalade Duramax 4WD Premium Luxury had a base price, including the $1,295 destination charge, of $85,995. The MSRP, with $19,020 in options, came to $106,310.
The 2021 Escalade comes with these warranties:
Bumper-To-Bumper – Four years/50,000 milesPowertrain – Six years/70,000 milesRoadside Assistance – Six years/70,000 milesCorrosion – Four years/50,000 milesRust Through – Six years/Unlimited milesMaintenance – First Visit
Observations: 2021 Cadillac Escalade Duramax 4WD Premium Luxury
The all-new 2021 Cadillac Escalade can be intimidating with its overall height, length and that massive grille. But don’t be afraid, as it is more beauty than beast. At 17 feet, six inches long and six feet, four inches high, this is one big SUV.
If you are looking for comfort, versatility, great looks, a very accommodating and large interior, some innovative features and surprisingly good fuel economy, the Escalade is for you. The expansive cabin is a place to decompress and relax with impressive handcrafted build quality and materials.
Offering the 3.0L Duramax turbo diesel in the Escalade was a brilliant move by Cadillac. This is the most efficient engine offered in any Cadillac SUV, offering a smooth power plant that can flirt with 30 miles to the gallon on the highway.
Changes are coming from General Motors, which has announced a commitment to 30 new global electric vehicles by the year 2025. Cadillac has set a target of being all-electric by 2030. With crossover SUVs the hottest sales category, it stands to reason future Escalades will have some sort of electrification. To show the direction Cadillac is going you need not look any further than their all-electric Lyriq crossover, which is slated to be launched in 2022. Saying the “Lyriq sets the standard for the future of Cadillac” is not hyperbole, but very believable.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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