HOLLYWOOD, CA – With the redesign of the ’21 Cadillac Escalade, one of the SUV’s major flaws is resolved: Adults can ride in the third-row seat. In comfort. Even when the second-row seat is in its rearmost position.
A 4.9-ins. (124-mm) wheelbase stretch helps resolve the comfort problem, but the main solution is implementation of an independent rear-axle suspension. Lincoln learned this trick almost 20 years ago, bolting an IRS onto the Navigator for the ’03 model year. With Cadillac, the result is a claimed 40% increase in third-row seat room and a 68% increase in cargo space behind the third row.
Validation of these claims was in order. At the ’21 Escalade’s reveal at a movie studio here, I sampled the third-row seat. Carrying 260 lbs. (118 kg) on my 6-ft. (2-m) frame, getting into the third row was easy. Once seated, the new Escalade’s way-back bench seat felt just as comfortable as the Navigator’s.
There’s thigh support, so passengers no longer dine on their knees. Cadillac also claims a 10-in. (25.4-cm) increase in legroom, and mine painlessly fit behind the second-row seatbacks. My size-13 feet even partially tucked under the second-row seat. The second-row seats now slide fore and aft, adding legroom.
Around back, the cargo area is appreciably larger. Cadillac says it measures 25.5 cu.-ft. (722 L) behind the third row in the standard Escalade and 42.9 cu.-ft. (1,215 L) in the extended-length Escalade ESV.
These measurements exceed those of the Navigator, which offers 19.3 cu.-ft. (546 L) in the standard-length version, and 34.3 cu.-ft. (971 L) in the Navigator L.
In the front row, the ’21 Escalade’s new curved organic light-emitting diode instrument cluster and center display definitively surpasses the Cadillac User Experience layout. Beautifully integrated into the Escalade’s dashboard, it offers 38 ins. (97 cm) of diagonal display area and double the pixel density of a 4K television.
This new setup is a collection of three separate displays: a 7.2-in. (18-cm) touch-sensitive panel to the left of the steering wheel, a 14.2-in. (36-cm) instrument display and a 16.9-in. (43-cm) infotainment display to the right of the steering wheel.
From a design and appearance perspective, the result compares favorably with similar technology from rivals such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
However, in an apparent misstep, the system does not offer fully natural voice recognition. You’ll still need to learn basic prompts to request navigation directions, find points of interest, change radio stations and adjust temperature.
Also, though the technology is instantly intuitive to anyone who owns a smartphone, it appears to overcomplicate access to favorite radio stations and station-by-station tuning. Cadillac could have added a couple of tuning buttons just above the volume knob on the center console, providing quick and easy station-by-station tuning.
Aside from these minor oversights, the Escalade’s new instrumentation and infotainment technology is impressive, right down to the Google Street View function embedded into the Find a POI feature and the augmented-reality live street view using the SUV’s forward camera.
So, too, is the new optional 36-speaker AKG Reference audio system. The recording and music industries have used AKG microphones and headphones since 1947, and the brand now is applied to the Escalade’s standard 19-speaker and optional 36-speaker sound systems.
During a demonstration of the top-shelf AKG Reference system, Cadillac highlighted how the front-seat passenger has separate volume controls for that side of the vehicle; how navigation instructions issue from the left-side or right-side speakers depending on the direction of the next turn; and how the Conversation Enhancement feature makes it easy to communicate with second- and third-row passengers without yelling.
Up close and in person, the new Escalade looks good, is exceptionally comfortable, and in Platinum Luxury or Platinum Sport trim oozes quality and sophistication. Prices are not finalized, but expect the new Escalade to command a slight premium over the Lincoln Navigator when it goes on sale during the third quarter.