In recent years, the high-performance SUV segment has taken an expected but unfortunate turn. It’s as if offering a blend of power, luxury, and practicality is no longer enough; they must also be athletic. It’s why the Lamborghini Urus Performante ditches a plush air suspension system in favor of firm steel springs and why BMW’s XM is as stiff and bouncy as a Porsche GT car despite its positioning as the carmaker’s most opulent offering. It’s all starting to go a bit sideways.
Then there’s the Cadillac Escalade-V, a refreshingly old-school take on what a powerful and luxurious family hauler can be. Like the Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG that kicked off the segment in the late 90s, although I won’t argue if you want to give the title to Lamborghini’s LM002, the V takes a lavish body-on-frame SUV and stuffs a massive 682-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8 under its hood. The result is a tall, plush muscle car.
The key word here is “luxurious.” Whereas some of its pricey competitors seem to accept unnecessary compromises to outdo one another, the Cadillac Escalade-V remains firmly in the luxury space. It may have a great big engine, but its plush seats, cushy air suspension system, and overall laid-back demeanor offer tremendous performance without sacrificing usability. It may look and sound like a muscle car, but the V is still a luxury SUV through and through, and it’s all the better for it.
The list of hardware changes that take a standard Cadillac Escalade into V territory is surprisingly short, aside from the 2.65-liter supercharger sitting atop its engine that is. Six-piston Brembo brakes, a quad-tipped exhaust system, stiffer rear air springs, new 22-inch wheels, and updated bumpers round out the physical changes. The rest of its updates, like those applied to its 10-speed automatic transmission, air suspension with magnetic ride control, and standard all-wheel-drive system, come through software calibration improvements.
The big differentiator, of course, is the V’s supercharged V8, which dominates the driving experience. From the moment it roars to life, producing one of the loudest cold starts this side of a Lamborghini Aventador, to when you slam your foot down, and this SUV’s rear end squats as you rocket forward, this 6.2-liter supercharged powerhouse is always the center of attention. Borrowed from the CT5-V Blackwing and now producing 682 hp and 653 pound-feet of torque, it overwhelms the laws of physics with brute force. The Escalade-V may weigh 6,217 pounds, or 6,407 lb in lengthened ESV form, but it sprints to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, or quicker than most sports cars.
Its tendency to squat reveals all you need to know about the Cadillac Escalade-V’s suspension. Although it offers two profiles, Tour and Sport, the latter of which firms things up ever so slightly and reduces its ride height by 0.8 inches (20 mm), it’s by no means stiff. Pick up the pace, and you’ll still feel its body float at higher speeds and, in the bends, roll considerably. The V’s quick-shifting 10-speed auto, limited-slip differential, and standard all-wheel-drive system, which allow it to put all of its power down, only further showcase that on a twisty road, this Cadillac always feels like it’s being lugged around by the monster upfront, not tackling the road as one single entity.
However, its handling trade-offs are well worth it. While much effort has gone into taming the Escalade-V’s balance, it’s racing between stoplights and triple-digit blasts on the highway that it excels at. It’s a genuinely comfortable machine to putter around town in or rack up serious miles, whereas many of its rivals are not. Even with its steering, suspension, brakes, and engine in their most aggressive settings, none of the V’s inputs are particularly sharp. There’s a light layer of delay that ensures that although you may be ready to haul ass, you’re going to do so smoothly.
The Cadillac Escalade-V is an SUV that never forgets its primary purpose, a clear rejection of what the Europeans are up to. Sure, I could knock it for being a pricey truck-based body-on-frame SUV with a great big engine, but it’s so plush despite its impressive performance stats that I just can’t. Blistering 0-60 times and record-breaking lap times are great to brag about, but are they all that valuable when you’re bouncing around in afternoon traffic in what’s supposed to be your quick but practical daily?
A significant contributing factor to the V’s stellar comfort is its interior, which starts as that of an Escalade Platinum before gaining a plethora of sporty adornments. My tester, whose dark two-tone Auburn and Black finish compliments its Argent Silver exterior color nicely, features big plush chairs for its first and second rows. Even its hidden third set of seats is more comfortable than expected.
Compared to previous generations of the Escalade, this latest model’s detail work and overall fit and finish are surprisingly pleasant. It also reduces outside noise beautifully, creating a quiet space despite its large wheels and a slightly firmer ride. However, some of the switchgear you interact with most, such as that on its steering wheel and center console, feel flimsy, especially in an SUV with a $154,865 as-tested price. Still, this Cadillac’s impressive array of overlapping 16.9, 14.2, and 7.2-inch screens are not only bright with crisp graphics but also give its cabin a distinct look.
This cabin’s greatest strength, however, is its sheer size. There’s a massive 72.9 cubic feet of space behind its second row, whereas a Range Rover offers only 40.7 cu-ft. Opt for the even larger ESV variant, and that number grows to 94.1 cu-ft, or as much as the Rover with its back seats folded. These are all impressive figures before you even consider the V’s remarkable output and straight-line speed.
Step outside, and the Cadillac Escalade-V gets subtle but impactful visual updates. Its front fascia, for example, features a prominent black mesh grille, a large lower air intake, and subtle lower lip spoilers below its daytime running lights. Out back, an updated rear bumper with a body-colored central diffuser flanked by quad exhaust tips gives the V its distinct look.
Although it’s easy to tell the Escalade-V apart from other trim levels, it isn’t overly sporty. Sure, there’s a bit of gloss black trim here and a little sharpened bodywork there, but it isn’t particularly over-the-top. To most people, it just looks like an Escalade, which, I’d say, is a good thing given its softer edges and overall luxurious intentions.
The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V starts at $151,090, including a $1,895 destination charge. Because most of its features come standard, my tester’s as-tested price comes in at a slightly elevated $154,865. This is about in line with what you’d pay for a BMW X5 M Competition or Audi RS Q8, although it’s worth mentioning that these are much smaller SUVs.
For slightly more, however, the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 and Alpina XB7 get closer to matching the V’s footprint and offer all-around nicer trimmed cabins. On the flip side, neither the Alpina nor the AMG’s V8s can match the rowdiness of the V’s supercharged unit. So you’ll have to pick between quick and refined, or soft but rowdy.
The Cadillac Escalade-V is a performance-oriented luxury SUV that knows precisely what it is and isn’t. It may house a powerhouse of a supercharged V8, but it’s by no means overly compromised for the sake of pointless performance metrics. Its sheer brute force, however, allows it to best most sports cars between the lights, all while its suspension nicely dampens road imperfections, creating a plush ride that’s becoming rare amongst competitors.
It may not be the quickest performance SUV, nor the most athletic, but the Escalade-V doesn’t seem particularly concerned with what’s going on across the pond. Instead, by sticking to the attributes that make an Escalade great in the first place but sprinkling in some proper thrills, Cadillac’s latest holds a unique spot in a growing segment.