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cadillac's current Standard

Escalade gets a major overhaul to retain its big ute crown.

Big SUVs, capable of hauling a family and a couple of their horses, have been around for decades. Chevy’s iconic Suburban traces its roots to 1935. The British Land Rover, Jeep’s Grand Wagoneer and Toyota’s Land Cruiser sprung up after the war, all offering family-size, rugged capability that overtime, became more luxurious and pricier.

Ford and GM marketing executives didn’t miss the fact that buyers would pay luxury brand money for large capability, so the Lincoln Navigator arrived in 1998, followed a year later by GMC’s upmarket Denali. Cadillac was supposed to stick with cars, according to GM’s management at the time, but after a dealer uproar, the GMC offering quickly became Cadillac’s Escalade.

Reworking a Winner

While Cadillac didn’t have a rich utility heritage, it’s brand and unique styling moved the Escalade to a market leader, helped by the embrace of music celebrities as well as limousine services. In fact, sales were up dramatically just prior to the introduction of the new edition. Imagine what pressure the design and engineering team faced to keep their franchise champ on top.

After a week in the all-new Escalade, I’m convinced they got it absolutely right. The exterior styling is generational with its bold Art and Science persona. Why mess with a good thing? Besides, the upcoming electric Lyriq is poised to take the design language to its next level. Inside, the attention to detail easily matches our Escalade’s six-figure price and underneath, new independent rear suspension takes it out of the truck category.

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High Technology

The command view from the plush Napa leather driver’s seat includes a sweeping 36-inches of curved OLED displays, with a touch control on the left, a center cluster display and infotainment screen on the right. Although it looks like a lot to master, most functions are intuitive and quick. Late in my evaluation, I discovered a great parking feature – a bird’s eye view of the rear tire and curb. That should save more than a few expensive alloy wheel scrapes.

Our Platinum model was equipped with Cadillac’s exclusive AKG Studio Reference audio system with 36-speakers delivering amazing audio to every seat. The only missing ingredient was an audio input for my Sony high resolution music player, but since 4G wi-fi was available, I accessed my hi-res Qobuz streaming music for an audiophile experience. For passengers in the second row, two 12.6-inch screens not only play movies and games, but have navigation and vehicle information. Passengers can even send destination suggestions to the driver’s screen, spawning a high-tech era of backseat driving.

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Big Capability

The first instinct I felt when underway was that this is a very big machine. That’s part of the charm in this voluptuous category for those who feel safe with lots of real metal surrounding them. And you can haul family and horses in luxury without becoming a truck driver. Even the penalty of big V8 fuel economy can be mitigated with an optional Duramax diesel that provides equal torque and moves the combined economy to 23 MPG. That’s an option worth considering.

THE FINE PRINT

2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum

TYPE:  Front-engine, all-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  6.2-liter V8

HORSEPOWER:  420 @ 5,600 RPM

TORQUE:  460 lb.ft. @ 4,100 RPM

BASE PRICE: $102,995

AS TESTED:  $101,500

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  14-city, 19-highway, 16-combined