It seems like the big Cadillac Escalade has been around since forever as it’s become woven into society through rappers, presidential chaperones, luxury hotel transfers and as valet forecourt eye candy.
It’s also been a natural fit for the Middle East since the first model landed here in 1999, mixing ruggedness with large passenger capability and ostentatious luxury.
Rear suspension elevates drive experience
As we welcome the fifth generation to the region, Escalade has upped the game with a plethora of technical innovations interlaced with an all-new, high-quality interior and revised suspension to add even more value to the mix.
The Escalade finally drives better thanks to the adoption of independent rear suspension that also gives it a fully flat floor to increase the interior space. This hasn’t transformed it into a B-road, Euro-chaser – as it’s still got that American wallowy feel – but the new rear end has tightened up its lane wanderings and help handle the urban speed humps and roundabouts with less yaw. When you indicate to change lanes and move the steering wheel, the rest of the car now follows, all 5.4-metres of it.
If desert safaris are not your thing, the entry-level Escalade does away with the all-wheel drive and you can get a rear-wheel drive version, but they all have the familiar 6.2-litre V8 that’s backed by a latest-gen, 10-speed automatic transmission, the 2WD model kicks off the range, priced at Dh325,125.
Spacious and improved interior
There’s also an extended wheelbase Escalade ESV that drops in at 5.8-metres long, so gargantuan in size. All three rows of seats offer masses of space for adults, with an extra 40 per cent of legroom in the third row and a full payload of 1,175 litres. Fold the third-row flat, however, and you have 2,665 litres, similar to that of a large pick-up truck, but still with seating for five, and 4,044 litres with both back rows folded. For the regular model, there’s a more reasonable 722 litres of cargo space with all three seats up, which GM says is 68 per cent more than the previous model and 3,427 litres when everything is folded flat.
While the exterior has come in for some refinement with new slimline headlights, it’s the Escalade's completely new interior where you will see the biggest improvements, with a more modern and refined feel. Dominating the dash is a beautifully curved 38-inch sheet of glass that houses three, 4K OLED displays, which Cadillac claims is the biggest fitted to any production car. It uses a mix of touchscreen controls and rotary dials for an intuitive experience that is far easier to learn than some of its European competitors.
Audio powerhouse AKG is a name you'll normally find in recording studios, but they have plunged into lucrative JV operation with a car manufacturer by pairing up with Cadillac, to provide a completely over-the-top 36-speaker sound system. It's impossible to not see at least two or three speakers in your field of view no matter where you look. Dash, door pillars, roof, headrests, boot or doors – there are speakers and multiple subwoofers aplenty.
Naturally, with an SUV of this size, passengers factor heavily into the equation. Second-row occupants enjoy seats just as plush as those in front and the seatbacks can be equipped with entertainment screens. Besides supporting typical media inputs, these screens can share content between screens, broadcast audio to the rest of the cabin, beam directions to the driver's navigation system, and there’s even an intercom for the rear passengers to speak with the driver.
Headlining the Cadillac Escalade's safety features is night vision that uses thermal imaging to spot animals or people beyond the headlight's reach. There's also AI navigation that beams street names and directional arrows directly over the view from a forward-facing camera that shows up on the main dash console. It makes it almost impossible to miss a turn, while never having to take your eye off the road and consigns nav maps to the bin.
GM's OnStar feature is also available for some GCC markets, connecting the driver with a live operator the second the car's sensors detect an accident.
It also has the usual surplus of active safety features, including park assist, emergency braking, pedestrian detection, forward collision alert and lane keep assist with lane departure warning.
For the Middle East, Cadillac Escalade will offer a Sport trim for the first time with a black mesh grille and black chrome exterior trim, while Luxury and Premium Luxury models maintain the familiar bright Galvano finish, with the Platinum model adding more of the extra-cost options as standard inside.
When Cadillac introduced the Escalade in 1999, it did it to take on the likes of Mercedes and BMW by delivering an American alternative to SUV luxury. Then Ford's Lincoln joined in and gave it a tough time with the Navigator that, with the current version's distinctive styling, has shown up the ageing Escalade in recent years.
Now GM has retaliated with this 2021 Escalade in what is turning into a heavyweight title fight for prestige supremacy American-style – and the jury is out. As good as the current Navigator is, Escalade has raised the bar in terms of interior comfort and on-board technology and, at nearly six metres long, it is in every sense of the term the ultimate limousine.