Home Technology 2023 Cadillac Escalade V First Drive Review: Pure, unadulterated surplus

2023 Cadillac Escalade V First Drive Review: Pure, unadulterated surplus

You feel pretty guilty driving a full-size SUV with a 682hp supercharged V8 at a time when fuel prices are going through the roof† But this kind of unbridled excess is exactly what the new Cadillac Escalade V is all about.

So instead of asking, “Why now?” Perhaps the better question is, “Why did it take so long?” The Escalade has been more synonymous with Cadillac than any CT, sedan, but it’s only now getting invited into the hi-po V-Series club. Chief Engineer Mike Symons attributes it to earlier Escalades and relied too heavily on standard full-size pickup trucks, while the new SUV has advanced underpinnings such as air suspension, Magnetic Ride Control dampers and an independent rear axle. It’s true; those traits pay dividends to make the Escalade V great to drive. Of course, having a motorbike bazooka certainly helps too.

I’m talking, of course, about Cadillac’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8, the same one you see in the great CT5-V Blackwing† In addition to 682 horsepower, this V8 pushes out 653 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission. That’s motivation enough to move this roughly 6,000-pound behemoth to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, or 4.5 seconds if you opt for the long-wheelbase Escalade V ESV tested here.

Yes, that’s the same supercharged V8 as the CT5-V Blackwing.

Dave Burnett/Cadillac

Cadillac spent a lot of time tuning the exhaust of the Escalade V. The equal length pipes exit through quad tips and the aural quality is downright rude. There is an almost inordinate amount of hum on overrun that can be heard throughout the cabin, and neither the engine or exhaust are artificially ‘enhanced’ through the speakers. When something sounds this good, no amplification is needed.

The 10-speed automatic transmission is perfectly tuned to get the most out of the Escalade V’s power. Meander through the city in Tour mode and the gearbox shifts smoothly and quietly, befitting a full-size luxury SUV. Put the Escalade in its most aggressive V mode, though, and you’ll enjoy lightning-fast up and down shifts that are delightfully violent, the kind that kick you through the back of the seat. Even the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are a pleasure to use. That’s something I don’t say often, and I certainly didn’t expect it in an Escalade.

I also didn’t expect this thing to work so well, although I don’t think I would be really surprised. Cadillac’s fourth-generation Magnetic Ride Control system is about as good as modern suspension technology, and when combined with the stock air setup, it works wonders. Body roll is suppressed enough to keep the Escalade V mostly flat when cornering, but not so much to make you forget you’re driving an absolutely massive SUV. The steering is quite heavy with plenty of feedback from the road, and the stock six-piston Brembo brakes up front do an admirable job at absorbing the greatest braking force.

A huge OLED display highlights the Escalade’s cabin.

Dave Burnett/Cadillac

These improved road manners are also not at the expense of everyday comfort. There’s a wealth of power under your right foot, but it’s easy to handle and never rears its head unexpectedly.

My only complaint about ride quality isn’t really unique to the V, it’s something I’ve experienced in other Escalades as well. On the stock 22-inch wheels, the ride is quite chatty about minor road imperfections, despite the excellent suspension tuning and thick-walled 275/50 all-season tires. A smaller wheel/tyre package could mitigate this somewhat, but Cadillac doesn’t offer one from the factory, although an engineer tells me that 20-inch wheels still free up the brake discs.

As great as the Escalade V is to drive, it’s just as beautiful when you let the driver assistance technology do the heavy lifting. While it won’t be available at launch, Cadillac will offer the Escalade V with its excellent Super Cruise system, which allows legitimate hands-free operation on a slew of pre-mapped highways across North America. Even on a steep and windy section of a two-lane Arizona highway, Super Cruise keeps the Escalade V humming smoothly, automatically switching lanes when it’s safe to do so.

Those quad exhaust tips don’t lie.

Dave Burnett/Cadillac

There’s a ton of great technology in the Escalade, and it all carries over to the V. Cadillac’s curved OLED dashboard display offers 38 inches of diagonal digital real estate, with beautiful colors and crisp graphics, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, both of which connect wirelessly.

The V builds on the highest Platinum trim level of the Escalade, so the interior is as loaded as it gets. The plush front seats are upholstered in soft leather and have heating, cooling and massage functions. Second and third row passengers have ample head and legroom, as well as charging ports and storage compartments for days. And remember, the Escalade V is huge; the long-wheelbase ESV can accommodate a whopping 142.8 cubic feet of cargo behind the front seats.

That makes the Escalade V more spacious than its closest competitors, the new Land Rover Range Rover and Mercedes-AMG GLS63† It also makes the Escalade’s $149,990 base price (including destination) seem like a relative bargain. Add $3,000 for the long-wheelbase ESV and $2,500 for Super Cruise and you’re looking at $155,490 for an Escalade V equipped like my test car. No one ever said pampering is cheap.

Editor’s Note: Travel expenses related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the automotive industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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