The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is shaping up as General Motors’ leading technology platform. Unveiled in Los Angeles and New York this week, the wow-factor feature is a 38-inch OLED display in front of the driver. The big SUV also has a raft of driver-assist and safety features standard or available, most notably the second generation of Super Cruise, the Level 2 autonomous driving that locates the car precisely on the road because Cadillac has lidar-mapped 200,000 miles of US and Canada highways.
The Escalade will also implement augmented reality in the form of a forward-facing camera that places the road-ahead view in the instrument panel and then overlays turn info onto the turning point. Expect the 2021 Escalade in the later part of 2020. It’s several inches longer than the outgoing Cadillac; we expect prices will start around $75,000.
The Escalade has been sold since late 1998; this will be the fifth generation. It’s no secret that the GMC Yukon / Yukon Denali and Chevrolet Silverado share a common chassis with the Escalade. Given that Denali is itself a high-end GM sub-brand, the Escalade is getting many luxury and technology treatments to a) justify its higher positioning and pricing versus Yukon/Suburban and b) keep at bay a resurgent Lincoln and its competing plus-size Navigator.
First of all, Cadillac made the 2021 Escalade bigger. The wheelbase is 4.9 inches longer (4.1 on the stretched Escalade ESV). The 2021 Escalade is 211 inches long (up 7.1 inches); the Escalade ESV is 226.9 inches long (up 2.1 inches). They are 81 inches wide and 76.6 inches tall. That’s big. The grille is honking big, especially. All this provides very comfortable second and third-row seating. Part of the third-row comfort comes from switching to an independent rear suspension, allowing for a lower floor.
We have to explain a little bit about the 38.3-inch “total display area” OLED display, which is supplied by LG and is really three panels matched by LG for color fidelity. It is OLED, it is curved (slightly), and Cadillac requires the panels to have a 15-year service life, according to Craig Zinser, director of Cadillac’s infotainment division. (Early OLEDs had a limited service life.) It’s really three separate components:
- A 7.2-inch (diagonal) touch panel on the left called a driver information center.
- A 14.2-inch cluster display (main instrument panel) that sits in a frame in front of the other two displays.
- A 16.9-inch infotainment panel in the center stack with standard onboard navigation.
The OLEDs are so bright, there’s no need for hoods or shading over the panels. The OLED panel segment above the center stack can be manipulated by touch or a control wheel. When your hand approaches the screen, the icons arrange themselves into a grid; otherwise, they’re in a circle for use by the control wheel, the shape matching the rotation of the wheel.
Infotainment is by AKG, a Harman sub-brand making its first-ever appearance as an automobile offering. The base audio system comprises 19 AKG speakers and an enclosed subwoofer; the big boy audio upgrades option takes it up to 36 speakers and lets the passenger set his/her own volume levels. Wireless charging and seven USB jacks come standard.
Cadillac will use augmented reality for some audio alerts. As the car gets closer to a turn, the voice prompt comes from that side of the speaker array, and the prompt increases in volume.
The standard engine is a 6.2-liter, 420-hp V8 with 17 “dynamic fuel management” patterns, meaning ways of shutting off cylinders when not needed. Optionally, Cadillac will offer a 3.0-liter V6 diesel with 277 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque and, Cadillac says, it will meet all emissions rules. It’s good to see somebody still has faith in diesels. Both will use 10-speed automatic transmissions. MPG numbers aren’t yet available.
Standard convenience and safety features include haptic feedback through a vibrating safety-alert seat instead of beeps, emergency and automatic emergency braking, front and rear pedestrian detection, and lane keep assist, plus surround vision cameras to provide a seeming-overhead view of the car as it moves at low speeds.
Other driver assists are not offered on the entry Escalade model called the Luxury, but they are standard on the four trim lines above: blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning on top of the lane change alert, and a rear camera mirror embedded in the inside optical mirror.
Other features are optional on two middle trims, Premium Luxury and Sport, and standard on the upper crust Platinum Luxury and Platinum Sport models: Super Cruise, enhanced auto emergency braking, reverse automatic braking, and automatic seat-belt tightening (after you buckle up). Night Vision is optional on the top four lines.
Super Cruise is enhanced Level 2 self-driving, meaning the car lane-centers and paces the car ahead. Unlike other L2 vehicles, it uses lidar reference maps of major US highways to help the car know exactly where it is. (There is no onboard lidar on shipping Cadillacs.) The 2021 Super Cruise also does automatic lane changes after the driver flicks the turn signal to show intent.
The driver-assist offerings are solid on higher-end models. But it’s somewhat unusual that on a premium vehicle that blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control (if not Super Cruise) aren’t on all five trim lines, standard. GM recently announced it would migrate Super Cruise to 20 vehicles across the GM line, outside the Cadillac brand.
The Escalade can be had with four-wheel drive, air-ride suspension, adaptive shock absorbers (Magnetic Ride Control), and a premium trailer package that includes multiple rear-camera views (one lets the driver seemingly see through the trailer).
The Escalade’s LA intro featured an appearance by Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, and the event was just days before the Oscars ceremony. But back in 2013, it was the NYC reveal that made news of its own. Then, the special guests at the unveiling were New York businessman and book author Donald Trump and his wife, Melania. The event was at an exhibition space on 18th Street in Manhattan.
Trump in the 1980s had teamed with Cadillac to produce a custom limousine, heavy on gold trim inside, with a fax machine and paper shredder. Fifty Trump Edition limos were planned and two were built.
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