2021 Cadillac Escalade Diesel Is Smooth, Fuel-Sipping Euphoria

When you imagine a semi-autonomous vehicle, you probably picture a sedan, something with a little maneuverability. Maybe it’s electric and has a “T” on its snout. Makes sense. We’ve got a Tesla Model 3 in our long-term fleet, and its Autopilot driver-assist system enjoys widespread name recognition (even if it doesn’t actually deliver the capability promised by its moniker). But Tesla’s system, for all its hype, doesn’t allow hands-free driving. That capability is currently available only from Cadillac, and they’re confident enough to offer it in a towering six-foot-four SUV with a Duramax diesel under the hood.

The 2021 Escalade joins the CT4 and CT5 as the only models available with General Motors’s Super Cruise hands-free driving technology, which was introduced on the CT6 sedan and can operate on more than 200,000 miles of divided highways in the United States. Our test car arrived with that $2500 option, as well as the Escalade’s new 3.0-liter turbo-diesel option, which comes at no extra charge. A 6.2-liter V-8 is the standard powertrain.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

At 277 horsepower, the inline-six is considerably less powerful than the standard 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8, although its 460 pound-feet of torque matches the V-8. Diesel engines are renowned for their towing capabilities, but selecting the 3.0 diesel actually knocks 200 pounds off the Escalade’s maximum tow rating (to a still-robust 8000 pounds in rear-wheel drive form, 7800 when equipped with four-wheel). The diesel’s strength is its fuel economy. The EPA estimates rear-wheel-drive models will achieve 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, compared to the 6.2’s 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Selecting the four-wheel-drive configuration saps a single mile per gallon from each measurement. We didn’t get the chance to test the diesel-equipped Escalade on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy loop, but the four-wheel-drive 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax achieved 27 mpg (1 mpg better than its EPA estimate) in our test, so we can expect similar results from the big Caddy. The EPA figures that choosing the diesel in a four-wheel-drive Escalade will save you $1000 per year in fuel costs.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Even though the diesel’s muted grumble sounds odd coming from an opulent six-figure luxury SUV, it’s never too intrusive in the cabin. Mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, the engine is smooth, linear, and provides robust torque throughout the power curve. Cadillac says that Escalades equipped with the diesel will reach 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, although our test Tahoe reached that speed in 7.8 seconds and went from 50 to 70 mph in 6.1 seconds. An Escalade powered by the 6.2-liter V-8 reached 60 mph nearly two seconds quicker.

Drag races aren’t the diesel Escalade’s specialty, but long-range highway driving certainly is. Combine exceptional fuel economy, hands-free driving, and a luxurious cabin, and you’re on your way to highway euphoria. This fifth-generation Escalade’s dash is dominated by a 38-inch curved OLED screen that brings to mind a Best Buy Black Friday bonanza. Cadillac took advantage of that huge display, introducing augmented-reality navigation that overlays directional arrows on a video feed from the front-facing camera. There’s also a night vision camera—a $2000 option—that highlights animals and pedestrians with bright yellow squares. Our Platinum-trim test truck came equipped with a rear-seat entertainment system, so we plugged in an Xbox and, using the onboard Wi-Fi, dropped into a match of Call of Duty: Warzone. Climb into the third row, and you’ll be surprised at the amount of space back there—a dividend from the new compact independent-rear-suspension setup. At six-foot-seven, even I could last a few hours back there.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Combine the nicest interior from Cadillac with the optional air suspension and magnetorheological dampers, and the result is an exceptionally luxurious family SUV that can also tow your boat or horse trailer. Of course, all this slick versatility carried an $111,865 as-tested price, but that doesn’t seem to bother Cadillac shoppers, who are readily forking over more than $100,000 for their 2021 Escalades. But if you hung onto your GameStop stock a little too long and want an Escalade that’s slightly less financially profligate, we have some advice: Skip the night vision, keep the Super Cruise, and go diesel.

Specifications

Specifications

2021 Cadillac Escalade Duramax Diesel

VEHICLE TYPE

front-engine, rear- or rear/4-wheel-drive, 7- or 8-passenger, 4-door wagon

BASE PRICE

RWD, $77,490; 4WD, $80,490

ENGINE TYPE

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement

183 in3, 2993 cm3
Power

277 hp @ 3750 rpm
Torque

460 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm

TRANSMISSION

10-speed automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 120.9 in

Length: 211.9 in

Width: 81.1 in

Height: 76.7 in

Passenger volume: 172 ft3

Cargo volume: 26 ft3

Curb weight (C/D est): 6000–6200 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)

60 mph: 7.7–7.9 sec

100 mph: 23.9–24.1 sec

1/4 mile: 15.9–16.1 sec

Top speed: 110 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/city/highway: 22–23/20–21/26–27 mpg

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