Back in the early s, Cadillac decided it was time for a makeover. Keen to shake off its reputation as the luxury choice for Palm Desert retirees, the automaker wanted to target younger buyers drawn to European brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. A key part of this effort was the creation of the V-series, a performance-oriented skunkworks within the brand, similar to BMW’s M division and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG.
Cadillac has developed some seriously powerful V-series cars over the past two decades – the second-generation CTS-V, which set a lap record at the Nürburgring, and the revered CT5-V Blackwing were particularly notable highlights – but oddly enough was the brand’s most recognizable car model and never got the V-series treatment. Until now, that is.
Available in both standard and long-wheelbase ESV configurations, the Escalade-V features a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 with the same engine block and forged rotary unit you’d find in the CT5-V Blackwing’s engine bay, but with an even larger 2.65 liter blower from the seven-generation Corvette ZR1 parts bin. The result is a power output of 682 hp and 653 ft lbs of torque, which beats the naturally aspirated V-8 in the standard Escalade at 262 hp and 193 ft lbs of torque. It also makes this the most powerful Cadillac ever produced, and what the brand touts as the most powerful full-size SUV money can buy today.
Using standard four-wheel drive and a quick-shifting ten-speed automatic transmission, this 6,200-pound SUV catapults from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds. But as impressive as that is for a vehicle of this size, the Escalade-V’s modestly bolstered seats and unremarkable top speed of 125 mph reveal a bigger truth: Despite the outrageous output, luxury remains the main focus here.
Of course, Cadillac didn’t just push a ballistic missile into the Escalade’s engine bay and stop. To help combat all the newfound motivation, engineers have revised both the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers and the air suspension, with the latter fitted with stiffer rear springs to assist body movements, while an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential ensures that the grunt is reduced. placed. to good use. Stopping power is also enhanced by six-piston Brembo calipers clamping 16-inch discs up front. What’s odd, though, is that the same all-season rubber found on the standard Escalade is the only option Cadillac makes available for its most powerful variant.
The Escalade-V also features a unique front and rear panel to keep it looking good, along with exclusive 22-inch wheels, a quad-tipped dual exhaust system and signature ‘V’ badging on the front doors and cargo hatch . While these tweaks amp up the visual aggression a bit, the aesthetic treatment is quite subtle, giving off a sleepy feel rather than an overt performance intent.
Inside, too, it’s largely business as usual, where exclusive semi-aniline leather upholstery is the main difference between the Escalade-V and a well-appointed garden variant Escalade. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though: the cab is eminently comfortable, thoughtfully laid out and loaded straight out of the gate for V-series service. The Escalade’s curved OLED screens for the digital gauge cluster and infotainment system dominate the proceedings and make for a tech-focused look, though some of the switches feel a little down-market for a vehicle with a price tag approaching $150,000.
However, a press of the start button reminds you where that money went. The V-8 comes to life with an authoritative growl – virtually identical to a seventh-generation Corvette Z06 – and settles down with a lurching rumble courtesy of the active exhaust system. The soundtrack sets your expectations for a stiff, sports car-like ride, but around town the Escalade-V dutifully absorbs road imperfections without drama. Even with V-Mode engaged – which stiffens the suspension, tightens the steering, opens the exhaust valves and sets the gearbox for quicker response – the ride quality remains nothing short of smooth by performance vehicle standards.
But on the winding canyon roads of Southern California’s Angeles National Forest, that soft tuning combined with all-season tires results in a handling that’s simply surpassed by full-size performance SUVs like the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 and the BMW. Alpina XB7, both of which also accelerate the Cadillac to 60 mph in the sprint and have significantly higher top speeds. The Escalade-V certainly has the buzz and braking power to keep things interesting in the hills, but little grip and significant amounts of bodywork equate to an SUV that seems more at home eating up highway miles.
So when we got the chance to drive three hours from our home base in downtown Los Angeles to Coachella Valley, we did just that. While our tester was not equipped with Super Cruise, Cadillac’s advanced driver assistance technology, adaptive cruise control and Lane Keep Assist proved useful during some of the more mundane parts of the trip. With the 36-speaker AKG audio system cranked up, the massage seats working out the kinks and the noise of the outside world being effectively muffled, it really is the experience you’d expect from a well-appointed Escalade; and you’re reminded that this is something special when you hit the throttle to overtake slower traffic with the ease of the V-Series.
The 2023 Escalade-V is Cadillac’s first foray into production as a V-series SUV, and while it proves more bark than bite in some ways, the charm of such an over-the-top machine doesn’t fall to deny. While Cadillac has stated that this will be a limited production model, the automaker has not said how much it will produce or how long the run will be. Given the sheer thirst of the variant at the pump and the current industry-wide push for electrification, this temporary benchmark for the brand will likely be a supercharged sidenote soon enough.
Click here for more photos of the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.