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2021 Cadillac Escalade: Big, Bold and Impressive

The design and engineering of a top-flight, full-size luxury SUV


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“It was really massive for us—taking on the design of the new Escalade,” admits Andrew Smith, executive director of global Cadillac design. Know that he’s not talking about the dimensions, although they certainly add up to a vehicle that is sizable by any measure for something that isn’t a commercial vehicle.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

New face of a venerable vehicle. (Images: Cadillac)

As in a wheelbase of 120.9 inches and an overall length, width and height of 221, 81 and 76.6 inches, respectively. A vehicle with an EPA passenger volume of 168.4 cubic feet and a cargo volume behind the first row of 109.1 cubic feet, behind the second row of 63 cubic feet and behind the third row 25.5 cubic feet (with this last number being a 68% increase in cargo capacity compared with the outgoing model). And this is for the standard version of the Escalade, not the extended ESV model.

Make no mistake, it is massive.

At the Fore

But what Smith is referring to is the fact that the Escalade is the big, bold, brash image of Cadillac, the vehicle that has been at the fore of the brand’s offering to the market, a vehicle that the company has been offering since model year 1999, the luxury utility vehicle that has endured while other Cadillac models have faded away into the pages of vehicles gone by.

In this period of time there have been four generations of the vehicle: Gen 1, 1999-2000; Gen 2, 2002-2006; Gen 3, 2007-2014; and Gen 4, 2015-2021.

What the exterior design of the vehicle has done over this period is go through subtle evolution. There has never been some major upheaval in sheet metal form. And Smith says that they wanted to make the vehicle different. But not too different.

Same Statement Said Differently

Or in the words of Therese Pinazzo, exterior design manager, “Escalade has always made a bold statement that says you’ve arrived. We have updated that statement for a new era, adding layers of sophistication. The goal was to create a new Escalade that is unmistakable at a glance, and then rewards you with greater details on the second or even third read.”

Escalade interior

Tailored interior.

You see the vehicle. You know that it is an Escalade. But you see that there are details—whether it is the three-dimensional layers and etching in the tall vertical rear lights that have been characteristic of the vehicle, or modifications to the trim.

This is most evident in the fact that there are versions of the vehicle: the Sport model with a black mesh grille and black exterior trim then Luxury and Premium Luxury models where the brightwork begins in earnest.

As we move to the inside, things change significantly.

About that Big Screen

A big headline that you may have seen on more than one occasion in more than one medium mentioned something about a curved 38-inch OLED screen to provide information to the driver. That is only sort of right.

Yes, there is the OLED. Yes, it has remarkable fidelity. According to Joanne Leddy, Infotainment program manager for the Escalade, it has twice the pixel density of a 4K TV.

But it is 38-inches of total diagonal display.

What’s more, there are three screens:

  • A 7.2-inch diagonal touch control panel driver information screen to the driver’s left
  • A 14.2-inch diagonal cluster behind the steering wheel
  • A 16.9-inch diagonal infotainment screen to the driver’s right

Absolutely impressive by any measure.

And while talking about tech a few more points before moving on to what is arguably the most-stunning aspect of the 2021 Escalade.

Sounds Stunning

There is what is called “Augmented Reality Navigation.” There is a view of the road ahead on that center screen that has turn-by-turn overlays. In addition to the visual augmentation, there are also audio cues: if a left turn is to be taken, the instruction from the nav voice comes from left-side speakers. And as the turn becomes closer, the volume increases.

And the second tech, speaking of audio, is the use of a new audio system from a new audio source: there is an AKG Studio Reference system from a company that is known in the audio world for its professional microphones and headphones; this is the first automotive deployment of the company’s technology for vehicles.

Escalade rear

Signature vertical taillamps are even more impressive.

The system has 36 speakers that are powered by three amps; it provides 28 channels.

Of course, not everyone wants to go all the way to the Studio Reference system, so there is the AKG Studio System; it has 19 speakers, including a large enclosed subwoofer; it is powered by a 14-channel amp.

Driver-Assistance Tech

And then there is Super Cruise, the driver assistance system—think of it as Level 2+. This is the first deployment of this type of tech in a full-size SUV.

It allows hands-free—but attentive—driving on more than 200,000 miles of divided highways in the U.S. and Canada (which have been mapped with LiDAR systems, correlated with high-precision GPS).

Super Cruise in Escalade offers lane-change capability: the driver uses the indicator to select which lane is the desired one and the system uses its sensor array (including 360-degree cameras, short-range radars, and long-range radar, sensors that are deployed in the front, on the sides and at the rear of the vehicle) to determine if the lane change can occur. If so, it automatically makes the move.

Inside Story

The extremely notable part about the 2021 Escalade is the interior execution. Phil Kucera, interior design manager, notes, “The expectations and desires of Escalade customers are factors everyone in the Cadillac design studio unequivocally understands. This allowed us to reach greater levels of depth and detail than Escalade has ever had before.”

In a word, the interior is far more sumptuous than has been the case. There are eight color and trim choices. There are unique seat designs. Specific quilting patterns and perforations.

There are knurled knobs and stainless steel speaker grilles. There is intricate piping on the door panels. There is color-selectable ambient lighting.

Presence and panache. Yes, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade has them in abundance.