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The 2021 Cadillac Escalade.

Photography by Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

If you’ve ever found yourself in need of a deluxe SUV the size of a house, step this way. Cadillac would like to introduce you to the new Escalade.

It’s 2.6 tonnes of American beef – prime cut and the best Caddy money can buy. It’s a dazzling monument to chrome and a rolling affirmation of the notion that bigger is always better. Its engine is ­three-and-a-half times as large as what you’ll find in Toyota’s humble Corolla. There’s no hybrid system or electrical plug-in anywhere, because this tank runs on pure dino-juice.

Resplendent in chrome and leather, it’s not a vehicle for shrinking-violet types. Now, get out of the way – I’m drivin’ here.

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The all-new 2021 Escalade is the biggest one yet. The regular version is as long as two Smart cars put together, and the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV is approaching the size of a school bus. You get three spacious rows of seating, a 6.2-litre V8 engine or 3.0-litre turbo diesel, plus 10 (count ‘em) cupholders. It’s so big it has an intercom to make talking with third-row occupants less of a shouting match.

Cadillac has clearly invested a lot in this new Escalade to make it a proper flagship. It’s stuffed with impressive tech, including incredibly cushy suspension, Super Cruise and a 38-inch curved OLED screen in place of a traditional dashboard.

Cadillac can’t get this wrong. Even with a starting price near $90,000, the Escalade is usually the brand’s third best-selling model in Canada. It’s the only Caddy with any kind of name recognition and certainly the only one to break into pop-culture consciousness in the last 30 years, or maybe more. At least 600 songs name-drop the Escalade, according to Lyrics.com, and it’S probably been in nearly as many movies and television shows. HBO’s mob-boss family-man Tony Soprano drove a white Escalade, which sold for US$119,000 at auction. It’s an anti-hero’s chariot.

The bumper is a vertical wall of chrome. It’s a glorious and terrifying sight, the vehicular equivalent of an aircraft carrier.

The Escalade's front bumper is a vertical wall of chrome.

But is it too big? From the driver’s seat, the tall hood completely obscures anything directly in front of the vehicle – such as, say, a child. The Escalade’s 360-degree cameras help, but maneuvering it in a busy area near pedestrians or cyclists can still be unnerving. (It would help if the surround-view cameras were easier to access quickly.)

James Nava is a father of four children and the national marketing and communications manager at Cadillac Canada. “I feel really safe in my driveway with my kids around because of all the technology in the vehicle,” Nava said. The Escalade has front and rear pedestrian alert and automatic emergency braking that works even if the vehicle is in reverse.

Those driver assists are a necessity in such a gargantuan machine, but, in this or any other vehicle, these assists do not work perfectly, especially at night or in low visibility. A pedestrian struck by an SUV or pickup truck is two to three times more likely to be killed than one struck by a car, according to research cited in a 2015 report by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Since that report was published, most trucks and SUVs – not just the Escalade – have become even larger.

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The spacious, luxurious interior features rare and exotic wood finishes.

In the Escalade, parking spaces feel small. Everyday errands became nerve-wracking adventures. One Starbucks barista winced as the Escalade squeezed through a drive-through lane with only inches to spare on either side. Taking a usual shortcut through a local alleyway was a no-go. Venturing downtown or to an underground parking garage was a pain.

But other errands were a breeze in the Caddy. It carried six adults in comfort and wowed everyone who clambered aboard, both with its palatial size and that huge dashboard screen.

Everyone had a cupholder for their Starbucks and space for their things.

The fully-loaded Sport Platinum model has air suspension and adaptive magnetic dampers, and while it’s not as cushy as a Mercedes S-Class around town, it’s not far off on the highway. There, where the Escalade was born to roam, you barely feel the road. For 2021, Cadillac ditched the pickup-truck-style live rear axle and used independent suspension. It’s a compact design, which has the added bonus of providing much more interior space for passengers and cargo.

The Escalade is made for places where “too big” doesn’t exist. It’s made for suburban homes and gated communities with ample driveway space. It’s made for limo services and VIP guests. It’s made for families who have an 8,000-pound boat or some horses to tow, or those who aspire to tow something, someday. Because the Escalade is the most technically impressive thing Cadillac has made in a long time, it should have no problem finding happy customers.

Do so many people really need a luxury SUV this large? It doesn’t matter; people want one. Cadillac, Lincoln, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce all make colossal luxury SUVs because they are profitable and popular. In fact, according to GoodCarBadCar data, some of those SUVs are more popular this year than they were last year, despite the global pandemic. We have not seen the end of bigger-is-better SUVs, and at this rate, perhaps we never will.

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The massive new Escalade is the most technically impressive vehicle Cadillac has released in years.

Tech specs

2021 Cadillac Escalade
  • Base price: $89,798 (as tested $126,463)
  • Engine: 6.2-litre V8, or 3.0-litre turbo diesel I6
  • Transmission/drive: 10-speed automatic / four-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 16.8 city, 12.4 highway (V8)
  • Alternatives: Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX, Mercedes-Benz GLS, BMW X7, Range Rover Sport, Infiniti QX80


Looks

A statement piece, but a familiar-looking one. The Escalade makes 22-inch rims look small.

Interior

Finally, it’s not just a leather-lined Chevy anymore. The rare and exotic wood looks lovely, and there are several interesting colour and trim options.

Performance

Cadillac says its customers love the 6.2-litre V8, which is why it was carried forward. Still, we would have liked to see a plug-in hybrid or even a fully electric version instead of the diesel. But, Cadillac is lagging behind on electrification.

Technology

The OLED dashboard screen is amazing, but the user interface – which is split between several screens and physical controls – can be unintuitive. Cadillac’s Super Cruise, an advanced driver-assistance system, will be available as an option but wasn’t equipped on our test vehicle.

Cargo

All three rows of seats are big enough for adults. The trunk made a 50-inch television look tiny. Power folding second- and third-row seats make loading incredibly easy. It’s a minivan with a rugged vibe.

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A big-screen television looks small in the Escalade's cargo area.

Verdict

The most impressive Cadillac in a long time.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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