"Nope, I don't like it," I declared to my large son sitting in the 2021 Cadillac Escalade 600D's second-row captain's chairs.
“Why?” he asked, staring in awe at the opulence around him and with his very own touchscreen staring back.
“It’s too big. This thing’s gonna suck to park,” I replied. And it did. Even with multiple camera angles, including a 360-degree view, the big Cadillac was a pain to navigate in parking lots.
But, slowly, the big lug — the car, not my son — began to grow on me. Sometimes I had to remind myself that this was the diesel Escalade. I couldn’t really hear the clunking of the motor up front or the exhaust running out the rear. I double-checked the tach for the telltale lower redline, and was reassured that I was driving the vehicle I was told would be delivered.
Under the hood is GM’s Duramax 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder turbodiesel engine providing a somewhat meager 277 horsepower – considerably less than the standard 6.2-liter V8’s 420 hp. But the Duramax boasts a robust 460 pound-feet of torque, the same torque figure as the V8. The advantage here is that peak torque is accessible from a low 1,500 rpm, while the V8’s full twist doesn’t arrive until much higher in the rev range, at 4,100 rpm.
The result is an SUV that feels eager to jump off the line and scoot about the neighborhood (if “scoot” is a word that can be applied to such a behemoth). That initial torque hit is almost instantaneous, but the diesel’s staying power does have its limits. It’s on expressway on-ramps that the Duramax finally seems to labor under this Escalade’s 6,015-pound curb weight. The numbers on the speedometer just don’t tick away with urgency once you approach highway speeds. That tends to happen with only 277 horsepower.
While the sound deadening does a fabulous job of hiding the motor's sound when inside the Escalade, standing outside with the Duramax running leaves no doubt about the diesel mill powering this dressy brute. It’s not particularly loud or harsh, but the clatter is distinctive when you’d normally expect to hear the humming of a V8 at idle.
The 10-speed automatic transmission feels like a good fit for this powertrain. With a redline just over 5,000 rpm, the extra gears minimize time spent at the top of the rev range — a good thing in a vehicle for which low-end torque is king. The transmission isn’t super quick to shift, but it does so smoothly, complementing the general quiet refinement the diesel Escalade affords its occupants.
Equipped with four-wheel drive, the diesel Escalade returns an EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. That’s about 6 mpg better than the gasoline-powered model that requires premium gasoline. It also represents an EPA-estimated $1,350 fuel cost savings per year. At the time of this test, Michigan’s average price for a gallon of diesel is $3.265, while premium is $3.778. A year ago, according to AAA, the differential was smaller — about 39 cents — but still favored diesel.
This seems like a perfect time to mention that despite the Duramax's many benefits, you probably won't be able to find an Escalade with one any time soon. Since my drive of the 600D, GM paused production of the 3.0-liter turbodiesel, blaming a supplier shortage. The automaker said it will resume production “as soon possible.” If for whatever reason the pause extends and you can’t wait any longer for an Escalade, know that regardless of what’s under the hood, the 2021 model is a massive improvement over the previous generation.
The Escalade joins a spiritually light-years-different vehicle — the Chevrolet Bolt EUV — in being among the first vehicles to benefit from the availability of GM’s updated Super Cruise advanced driver assistance system. And despite it using an internal combustion engine and being a far larger vehicle than the electric Chevy, Super Cruise works just as well in the Escalade. Being able to take your hands off the wheel in a vehicle that could probably take out a house is, surprisingly, quite relaxing. Having more miles of mapped roads than the previous iteration of Super Cruise is a bonus, as is the fact that this Escalade will change lanes safely for you when you activate your turn signal.
The Escalade features a new independent rear suspension and, as our truck had, the available combination of Air Ride Suspension and Magnetic Ride Control. These help the Escalade adapt to varied surfaces and terrains, and allows it to sop up many of the imperfections that would upset a lesser suspension, but there’s no way to isolate this big beast from the road entirely. The resulting ride is mostly smooth — especially sitting up front, but there’s a bit of truck-like livelihood as the suspension fights against this thing's weight. There are no creaks and rattles coming from the truck itself, but motion in the rear makes things like car seat buckles and unsecured cargo issue their own clattering soundtrack. This is all still better than the more truck-like old Escalade.
The new Escalade also improves upon the previous generation with genuinely beautiful materials and superior fit and finish. Especially in our tester’s Gideon Whisper Beige interior with woven fabric and striped wood trimmings. This is a far cry from the airport shuttle feel of the last Escalade, with its aging design awash in rough-grained plastic and loose-fitting trim. It's also much better than other, currently sold Cadillacs and signals a new era of craftsmanship for the brand that has us excited about the gorgeous upcoming Lyriq and Celestiq.
Add on top of all that an impressive array of curved OLED displays arranged in a clever and useful configuration in front of the driver, and this Escalade feels far more at home in and well equipped for today’s tech-dependent world. This showy system also happens to be quite functional, with intuitive inputs through either the touchscreen or the scroll wheel, and information displayed in a clear and attractive way. You can display a map, or even a night vision feed, right in the instrument cluster.
And, obviously, there’s oodles of cubic feet of passenger volume. People of all ages will appreciate the generously roomy third row should they find themselves back there (another advantage of the new independent rear suspension). And getting to the way back is easy, even without folding one of the second-row captain’s chairs — there’s ample room in front of and between them to maneuver.
With other goodies like a center console cooler and a rear-seat entertainment system, our Cadillac SUV was a luxury liner on wheels. So, yes, I grew to enjoy the Escalade not just for having a more economic engine with a different character, but also for its rich, tasteful interior, flashy but helpful technology and generous space. And yes, the refinement and economy of the diesel are nice to have. But, yeah, it sucks to park.
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