Review update: 2021 Cadillac Escalade morphs into a luxury fortress

The Cadillac Escalade is no longer a gussied up Chevrolet Tahoe.

Yes, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade still shares its bones with the more plebeian (yet still very expensive) Chevy, but the latest Escalade is a rolling showcase for where Cadillac’s interior technology is headed as it rolls out electric cars on the Ultium platform.

Cadillac swathes the Escalade’s interior in real wood, chrome, synthetic suede, leather, and even linen. It also adorns the dash with a massive wall of OLED screens. The new Escalade meets the luxury bar set by Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz but with an American flair.

My recent week in the redesigned Escalade defined what a tech-laden luxury SUV should be in the year 2021.

But nothing’s perfect. Here’s where the 2021 Cadillac Escalade hits and misses.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Hit: Finally, a luxurious interior

The last-generation Escalade’s cabin was upscale, with a digital gauge cluster, touch-based controls, and plenty of leather, but it still felt like a Chevrolet Tahoe in a tuxedo. The latest Escalade is nothing like its Chevrolet (and GMC) brethren inside. The wall of OLED screens on the dashboard, the linen cloth on the doors, the chrome-covered speakers for my tester’s 36-speaker AKG sound system, and the real chrome trim would all be completely at home in a Mercedes-Benz.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Miss: This is still a truck

The Escalade’s A-pillars are so thick they could hide a bicyclist. The massive C- and D-pillars create blind spots of their own, and it’s hard to see over the tall hood. The ladder frame underneath cradles a good ol’ American push-rod V-8 and four-wheel drive is available. This is not a crossover SUV like the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class. It always feels big behind the wheel whereas the GLS has slicker road manners that can make it feel smaller than it is. Cadillac doesn’t offer a physics-defying hydraulic suspension like the GLS either.

Hit: Rolling tech showcase

Cadillac has finally figured out how to make a high-tech interior look and operate. The Escalade features gorgeous, thin, curved OLED screens with 4K resolution. They consist of a 16.9-inch center touchscreen, a 14.2-inch digital instrument cluster, and a 7.2-inch touchscreen to the left of the gauge cluster. They combine for more than 38 inches of display with dark blacks and bright colors that never get washed out. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility come standard, Cadillac provides buttons for the main climate control system, and a BMW iDrive-like scroll wheel and quick function keys can be used instead of the screens to control various functions. That’s all before you get to the night vision display or the augmented reality view, both of which appear in the gauge cluster. The design of the system and integration of the technology leave the Lincoln Navigator in the dust.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Miss: Third-row access can be a pain

The Escalade’s third row seat is far more comfortable than before thanks to more leg room, but accessing it is somewhat convoluted. The easiest way is to just climb between the second-row captain’s chairs. A power button to slide and fold the second-row seats is hidden to the right of the door opening. I only spotted it while testing the third row. Seat-mounted levers also let you fold and slide the second row manually, but it requires one pull to fold the seat and a second to flip it forward. Annoyingly, the second-row seat doesn’t return to the same spot once unfolded. The power seats in the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class might move slowly, but at least they operate easily.

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Hit: Quick-folding third row

Conversely, folding and unfolding the third row is a joy. Most power-folding third-rows move rather slowly, but evidently Cadillac thinks it’s a race. The practical upshot is the quick action will be welcome by owners with kids and groceries in their arms.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Miss: Hidden tailgate button

If you don’t know how to open the tailgate the Escalade can frustrate you. The rear hatch-mounted Cadillac crest on the Escalade is the button. Cadillac provides a button to release the tailgate glass just above the license plate, but the hatch release isn’t in the same spot. Finding a speakeasy can be a fun adventure, but nobody wants to play a game of hide and seek when trying to open their tailgate

Despite a few niggling shortcomings, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade has added enough refinement and integrated its technology so well that it rightfully takes its place as a true world-class luxury vehicle.

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2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum

Base price: $77,490
Price as tested: $109,500
EPA fuel economy: 14/19/16 mpg
The hits: Luxurious interior, stellar technology, quick-folding third-row, powerful V-8
The misses: Compromised third-row access, drinks gas, hidden tailgate release, still a truck

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