Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 27, 2021
Big trucks and diesel engines are two peas in a pod, a combination so effective that they are still around even after the whole Dieselgate mess. You see, diesels offer a gobsmack of torque, great towing capacity, and can go extraordinary distances without ever refueling. Large trucks with traditional gasoline V8 engines tend to be incredibly thirsty, and rising fuel prices here in Canada aren’t helping their case.
The same goes for the Cadillac Escalade. It’s a large and in-charge three-row, seven-seater SUV meant to ferry around passengers while pampering them with crispy OLED screens, an adept air suspension, and the softest American leathers, but the standard 6.2-litre V8 is a thirsty companion. Our own test drive net us an average of 15.5 L/100km. But instead of migrating over to a plug-in hybrid like its competitors from Lincoln and Land Rover, Cadillac has decided to offer its iconic SUV with a no-cost diesel option. Hallelujah.
The diesel on tap is a 3.0-litre Duramax turbocharged inline six-cylinder that dishes out 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. That’s quite a drop from the 420 horses offered by the V8 but the torque remains the same, as does the 10-speed automatic transmission. And yes, that’s the same Duramax engine that also underpins the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Sierra - Cadillac trucks never really had exclusive engine options anyways, not like the Blackwing sedans.
Still, the diesel is the smart choice for those conscious about their weekly fuel expenses, or who just love the idea of travelling 1,000 km on a single tank. Armed with the semi-autonomous Super Cruise system, and it really is the ultimate road trip warrior. Diesel prices are even cheaper than regular 87-octane gasoline here in Toronto at the moment of this review, ringing in four cents under. Yeah, you might struggle to find a diesel station in small towns, but when you have a thousand kilometres to decide where to fill up, you’re definitely better off than an electric vehicle. Furthermore, during our first 100 kilometres, the digital fuel gauge didn’t even budge, to the point that we thought it was broken. We averaged an impressive 10.9 L/100km with a mix of both city and highway driving.
But the diesel does have its drawbacks. It is quite noisy and a lot of its tractor-like clatter can be heard from the cabin. It rumbles like a truck under acceleration and the vibrations undermine its premium pretense, and has us missing the smoother and quieter 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 despite the gobsmack of low-end torque. The start-stop system is a little clunky too, shaking the entire car when the engine fires up, which makes us appreciate EVs and plug-in hybrids even more.
Due to the meager army of just 277 horses, the Escalade runs out of breath quickly when accelerating at freeway speeds, and you have to mat the gas pedal to the floor to get this behemoth up in a jiffy, whereas you had to work much less with the V8 and were able to make more last minute manuevers. The diesel takes a little more pre-planning. Again, this is strictly when you are cruising at triple digit speeds. At low speeds, the diesel benefits are great, with the full flurry of 460 lb-ft of torque tagging in right at 1,500 rpm. It offers solid acceleration off the line too, making it feel lighter and more agile than the Lincoln Navigator.
Handling is exactly as you would expect from a substantial body-on-frame truck, and is pretty much the same as the V8 counterpart. But the Escalade isn’t that unwieldy, managing low- and high-speed corners with impressive stability and body control. The independent rear suspension really isolates a lot of those vertical motions that jitter the spine, and while the harshness still comes through when negotiating pockmarked roads and bumps, it’s more subdued and significantly less intrusive than before.
Choosing the diesel option does not change any exterior sheetmetal or interior amenities. That’s a good thing as this is Cadillac’s most upscale interior in recent memory. The attention to detail is impressive, from the keyless entry sensor on the door handle shaped like the Cadillac badge, to the high-grade buttons and knobs that may appear plasticky, but give positive and expensive feedback. Many of the contact panels will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in a Cadillac CT5 or XT5 but there are a few upgrades, like the HVAC control screen that is fully digital and looks better than the variation on the XT6.
The star of the show is the curved OLED screen that comes standard on all Escalade models, and runs nearly 100 cm of diagonal display. There are three OLED displays that layer on top of each other for a stacked visual effect, giving it added depth. The left screen is 7.2-inches, the one in front of the driver is 14.2-inches, and the center screen measures 16.9-inches. The best part about OLEDs? They are only as thick as a sheet of paper. Bright, crisp, and housing twice the pixel density as the Sony 4K TV in my living room, Cadillac has managed to leapfrog its rivals with the highest definition screen I’ve ever seen in a motor vehicle. The curved angle looks good too, enclosing the cabin yet somehow amplifying the dashboard’s width. But like the Porsche Taycan that also uses extensive widescreens, the steering wheel rim constantly gets in the way, meaning you adjust your head back and forth to view the information you need.
To augment its road-trip appeal, the wide center console houses a cooler compartment ($805) with two fridge settings (+5 and -5 C) that can hold about 4-5 standard water bottles. There is also a new feature called Conversation Enhancement. There are little microphones scattered across the interior that capture the voices of the driver and front passenger, and blend them into the audio transmitted to the rear seats, so that they can hear them better. When you opt for the 36-speaker AKG, the rear microphones also transmit dialogue back to the front. Furthermore, the Escalade uses a conventional gear shifter instead of a column stalk like other trucks, but it doesn’t impede the flow of the console and its large array of cubbies and cup holders.
When you are sitting in the driver’s seat and can’t reach the passenger side door handle, you know you are in a big car. Thanks to the larger platform and improved packaging, there is 40% more third-row legroom than before, and 80% more cargo space behind the third row. And with the new independent rear suspension, the floor isn’t awkwardly elevated for third-row passengers, giving them a more comfortable seating position without their knees shoved into their chests. Need even more space? The extended ESV model offers an additional 618 litres of cargo volume.
The 16-way adjustable front seats look fantastic, and the checkered stitching on the semi-aniline leather is exquisite, matching the Mercedes and BMW seats in its soft, tactile qualities. They are as comfortable as they look too - heated, ventilated, and with a strong massage function with multiple modes to fine tune your masseuse. Shame that the window sill is too narrow to rest your arms on. The second row is cavernous with seats that are easily adjustable with two levers. The first lever slides the seat front and back on its rails, allowing easier ingress into the third row, while the second lever flips the seat down for loading large items.
The diesel remains the more practical and efficient option in the Escalade lineup. With Mercedes, Range Rover, and even Lincoln opting out of this type of alternative fuel in favour of hybrids and fully electric vehicles, the Escalade remains the only SUV in its segment to still offer a diesel. As such, it sits in a unique position with all the benefits of long-range driving with the cost-efficiency of a smaller engine. The turbodiesel may lack the high-speed acceleration and polished delivery of the V8 but it more than makes up for it in other areas, and is the no-brainer option for Cadillac’s iconic SUV.
Model: 2021 Cadillac Escalade Platinum 600D
Paint Type: Crystal White Tricoat
Base Price: $118,398
Price as Tested: $126,318
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,382 / 2,059 / 1,948
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder
Horsepower: 277 hp @ 3,750 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.9