2023 Cadillac Escalade-V barks loudly but wears sheep’s clothing

The door to the garage swung open and my wife, Karen, appeared and asked, “What the hell is going on here?”

She heard a huge noise, but was confused to see a Cadillac Escalade in the driveway.

The fleet guys had just delivered the 2023 Escalade-V and were touring it while we talked about the powertrain and exhaust. Karen heard the roar loud and clear from her second-floor office at the back of the house.

That’s how my week with the supercharged Escalade started, and it served as a theme for my time with a 682 horsepower SUV.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V met Willie Walleye in Baudette, Minnesota.

After a week of commuting with kids and taking a Canadian fishing trip with a bunch of friends in the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V, I found it hit and miss here.

Fire, fury and 682 horsepower thanks to a supercharged V-8 in the Escalade-V.

Fire, fury and 682 horsepower thanks to a supercharged V-8 in the Escalade-V.

Hit: All the power and the squat

The Escalade-V is all about power. GM finally slid its familiar supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 into the Escalade. What took so long? Here it has a completely reasonable 682 horsepower and 653 lb-ft of torque. Pressing the accelerator creates giggles as the rear squats and the front lifts, even with four adults on board and a cargo area completely full of gear. Despite weighing in at 6,217 lb, this three-row, body-on-frame SUV rips from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which never gets old. Appropriate capacity is never scarce. The power and the sound demand to be tapped constantly.

There does not appear to be a Goldilocks setting for the transmission in the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.

There does not appear to be a Goldilocks setting for the transmission in the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.

Miss: Sloppy in Touring

The Escalade-V is standard in Tour mode, leaving the steering wheel, suspension, all-wheel drive system and braking feel in their least sporty tune. But it partially opens the exhaust baffles and, surprisingly, starts the engine and shifts the tuning up one of the two notches. In the city, the 10-speed automatic transmission – which has been beefed up to handle the extra power – works fine in Touring mode, but when the full fury of all 682 horses is called out for a freeway overtaking maneuver, the transmission will gulp are shifts and cause a small pause in power. Sport mode takes transmission programming two steps up, but prevents quick upshifts for better fuel economy when cruising on the highway. There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium for quick gear changes but also relaxed cruising after using all the power.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V is loud, proud and will absolutely startle people.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V is loud, proud and will absolutely startle people.

Hit: The Fire and the Fury

After unloading all the gear at the boat launch, I started the Escalade-V to park it. My three fishing companions were already used to the barking of the engine from the start, but our guide Anders had no idea what to expect. Anders, who was hundreds of yards away, was startled by the battle cry of the supercharged V-8 piercing the Canadian skies.

To say the Escalade-V is hilariously loud would be an understatement. Karen will tell you it’s downright annoying. She’s wrong, but don’t tell her I said that. The active exhaust has electronic valves that open and close depending on the mode and throttle position. When open, the exhaust will pop, crackle and pop as the revs drop and the Escalade slows down. It’s childish and fun. Your neighbors will hate it, and possibly you too. Drivers can choose to leave the valves open at all times by saving Engine Sound as level two in the MyMode settings. This is the way.

No one should buy the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V for its fuel efficiency.

No one should buy the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V for its fuel efficiency.

Miss: Mixed kilometers

Citing the obvious, the Escalade-V’s EPA fuel economy ratings aren’t great at 11 mpg city, 16 highway and 13 combined. The combined rating could even be slightly optimistic. Over the course of 91 miles of mixed suburban driving, the supercharged SUV averaged 11.3 mpg, according to the on-board computer. That’s bad, and I wasn’t even that bad.

It's not hard to beat the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V's EPA highway fuel economy ratings.

It’s not hard to beat the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V’s EPA highway fuel economy ratings.

But in a surprising twist, the Escalade easily exceeds its rating on the highway. For much of the trip to Canada we averaged 18.4 mpg. All told after 703 miles, my average fuel economy came in at 17.3 mpg. I could have saved some gas had I slowed down on the highway, but the V isn’t about slowing down.

The understated design of the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V makes it fly under the radar.

The understated design of the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V makes it fly under the radar.

Hit: Sleeper Status

Karen was confused about what was making such a loud noise in the driveway, because the V usually looks like a normal Escalade. The front has a different lower intake, the calipers are red, the rear is modified to accommodate V-specific quadruple exhaust tips, and it gets V-specific 22-inch wheels (which aren’t particularly attractive), but even those are packed in Escalade’s standard Bridgestone Alenza luxury truck tires. Three small “V” badges (one on each front door and one on the tailgate) are the only thing that really betrays what this thing is, other than the exhaust note, which is so present it might as well be visible. Those seeking attention in LA and at the golf club will hate that no one will really know that this is the $150,000 Escalade and not just that $88,000 Farmer’s Model.

Super Cruise is not standard in the most expensive Cadillac Escalade, and that is just absurd.

Super Cruise is not standard in the most expensive Cadillac Escalade, and that is just absurd.

Miss: That’s just greedy

At $151,865 as tested, the Escalade-V is ridiculously expensive. It’s actually a gold-plated Chevrolet Tahoe. In what can only be called a cash grab, GM’s fantastic Level 2 hands-free Super Cruise driver assistance system is a $2,500 option. My tester didn’t have it (and it will be a late availability feature due to supply chain issues). This feature is standard on the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate, which costs less than $85,000. It’s also worth noting that the leather in the Lincoln Navigator is still a full cut above what’s found in the Escalade, both in look and feel.

Don't call the Escalade Blackwing, it's just a V. Confused?  You have every right to be.

Don’t call the Escalade Blackwing, it’s just a V. Confused? You have every right to be.

Bonus: Blackwing what?

Cadillac has liberally ruined its naming hierarchy for its gas-powered models, and the Escalade-V serves only as a shining example. The top-dog, fire-breathing CT5 and CT4 models are the V Blackwings (although ironically they don’t have the death-on-arrival Blackwing V-8 engine). But there will be no Escalade-V Blackwing. Only the V model, which basically has the same engine as the CT5-V Blackwing. That only serves to emphasize how confusing the naming is. We can only hope marketing gets better in Cadillac’s electric age, but things aren’t looking great with the introduction of newton meters for badges. At least real names are coming back to Cadillac. It’s a start.

What’s really amazing about the Escalade-V is that it’s over a decade late. Cadillac has already started the transition to an all-electric future with the great Lyric and the upcoming flagship Celestiq. The best-selling and most famous Cadillac should have been available long ago with an absurd, overpowered engine, and yet it lasted until the fifth generation. More than anything, that’s a failure of GM’s executive leadership.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V is exactly what it should be: an absurdly overpowered, fast, three-row luxury SUV. Those looking for under-the-radar speed and power in this pack will be delighted, but those looking for attention with a flashy design will be disappointed. Just try not to scare anyone and everyone you meet.

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2023 Cadillac Escalade-V

Base price: $81,590, including $1,795 destination
Price as tested: $151,865
Drivetrain: 682 hp supercharged 6.2 liter V-8, 10-speed manual transmission, four-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 16/11/13 mpg
The hits: Hilariously fast, ridiculously loud, sleepy design, easily beats EPA highway fuel economy ratings
the misses: Super Cruise is not standard, guzzles gas through town, can startle people off start, ridiculously expensive, ten years late

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