Cadillac is currently in an interesting position. The company wants a new brand identity, but the most iconic product doesn’t really fit in that new direction. Cadillac has often said that from now on all its new vehicles will be electric. That leaves its flagship, the Escaladein a weird place.
The Escalade is the pinnacle of the current Cadillac range. It is the company’s most luxurious, most expensive and, in the past 20 years, most important offering. But it doesn’t reflect how Cadillac wants to be seen: cutting edge, environmentally conscious, premium in a European way. The Escalade embodies an older Cadillac, one that appreciates 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 lent me a 2022 Escalade with a full tank of gas to refuel over a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia.)
To understand the Escalade now, we need to look back at where it came from. It has been the top dog of American luxury since it debuted in 1999. Since then, our appetite for big and powerful SUVs has only grown, and the Escalade has grown with it. In the beginning it was almost impossible to get the Escalade from a GMC Yukon. Now, with the fifth-generation Escalade, you’d be hard-pressed to know 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 was also knocked off $100 because of: features are missing due to chip shortage; no quadruple lumbar support or locking 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 from the 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 to make me look like a real bastard 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 very impressed. It was about as smooth and comfortable as a car could be. And why shouldn’t it be? It costs over a hundred thousand dollars 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 stylish without being brash. Packed with cutting edge technology, it hopes to beat the European luxury brands at their own game. It embodies everything Cadillac aspires 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 don’t give up much for it.
The Lyriq makes the top dog Escalade feel old-fashioned. In the Escalade, the technology is not so well integrated or up to date. The biggest thing that struck me was the way the screens are arranged. The Escalade’s displays are formed in three parts: a small readout on the left side of the instrument panel, a separate gauge screen and an infotainment screen on the right. On the Lyriq, it’s all one piece. It’s seamless. It’s the next step. This one aspect of interior design is a microcosm of the whole Escalade problem. I’m not saying the Escalade is a fact, as it’s still an incredibly capable and popular vehicle. But it is 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 knew: the Cadillac with chrome grilles and big V8s. That doesn’t make the Escalade bad. I would compete with 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 to be the dragging huge amounts of girth around.
For the past decade, it’s been hard to say whether Cadillac is following the Escalade, or whether the Escalade is following Cadillac. The opulent SUV is still clearly Cadillac’s flagship model, although 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’s going to have a lot to live up to, 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 Specifications