Cadillac is currently in an interesting position. The company wants one new brand identity, but the most iconic product doesn’t really fit in that new direction. Cadillac has said many times that from now on all of its new vehicles will be electric. That leaves its flagship, the escalatein a weird place.
The Escalade is the pinnacle of the current Cadillac lineup. It is the company’s most luxurious, most expensive and most important offering for 20 years. But it doesn’t reflect how Cadillac wants to be seen: advanced, environmentally conscious, premium in a European way. The Escalade embodies an older Cadillac, one that values big bodies and bigger engines. That’s a problem, because the Escalade sells very well.
So how does the Escalade make sense for a brand that doesn’t want to be seen as Escalade-esque? Does that matter? Can a single model transcend the brand it comes from?
(Full disclosure: Cadillac loaned me a 2022 Escalade with a full tank of gas to drive around on a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia.)
To understand the Escalade now, we have to look back to where it came from. It’s been the top dog of American luxury since its debut in 1999. Since then, our appetite for big and powerful SUVs has only grown, and the Escalade has grown with it. At first it was almost impossible to distinguish the Escalade from one GMC Yukon. Now, with the fifth-generation Escalade, it would be hard to know that the two were even related, especially on the inside.
The truck I drove was a well-equipped but not fully loaded “Premium Luxury” model, MSRP $105,915. That may sound like a lot of money – and it is – but it’s almost a steal compared to its competitors. My test vehicle also had $100 knocked off due to functions are missing due to the shortage of chips; no four-way lumbar support or lockable steering column for me.
The 2023 Escalade I drove was finished in Mahogany Metallic, a deep brown color that I really liked in combination with the parchment interior. It was a nice departure from the conventional all-black interior. Brown is also an elite paint color for a car. The seats were comfortable, the ride was wonderfully smooth, there was room for a small family to live inside and never meet. There was enough power coming out of the 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 to make me look like a real jerk in Savannah traffic. Super cruise was fantastic.
These are all things you know. That’s not why we’re here today. We’re talking about what Cadillac means as a brand and what the Escalade means to Cadillac.
When I first drove this Escalade I was extremely impressed. It was about as smooth and comfortable as a car can be. And why wouldn’t it be? It costs over a hundred grand and is literally the tippy top of Cadillac’s lineup. A few weeks later I was driving another Cadillac. The Lyriq represents where Cadillac wants to go. It’s electric. It’s classy without being brash. Packed with cutting-edge technology, it hopes to beat the European luxury brands at their own game. It embodies everything Cadillac wants to be, better than the Escalade ever could.
That’s where the real problem lies. The Lyriq is $40,000 cheaper than the Escalade, and you’re not giving up much in return.
The Lyriq makes the top dog Escalade feel outdated. In the Escalade, the technology is not as well integrated or up to date. The biggest thing that struck me was the way the screens are arranged. The Escalade’s displays consist of three parts: a small readout on the left side of the instrument panel, a separate gauge screen, and an infotainment screen on the right side. On the Lyriq, it’s all one unit. It’s seamless. It’s the next step. This one aspect of interior design is a microcosm of the whole Escalade problem. I wouldn’t say the Escalade has been one, as it’s still an incredibly capable and popular vehicle. But it’s not the car of tomorrow. It’s not what Cadillac wants to be.
To me, the Escalade feels like the end of something. It’s the last Cadillac we used to know – the Cadillac of chrome grilles and big V8s. That doesn’t make the Escalade bad. I would go up against just about any other high-end luxury SUV from Germany, Sweden, England or Japan. But it is still the end of this type of vehicle.
Cadillac says all of its new models will be electric in the future. GM’s Ultium platform has already proven itself up to the task dragging around huge amounts of girth.
For the past decade, it’s been hard to say whether Cadillac follows the Escalade, or whether the Escalade follows Cadillac. The lavish SUV is clearly Cadillac’s flagship model, though the company is taking a different path.
The next Escalade will be electric. It will be a better example of what Cadillac wants to be. It will deliver on a lot, because despite the fact that the fifth-generation Escalade is a little old-fashioned, it’s still very, very good.
2023 Cadillac Escalade 4WD 4dr Premium Luxury Specs