The Cadillac Escalade has been around for about 20 years. During that time, it’s become something of a cultural touchstone, a modern-day automotive icon. Even though it’s never been the most luxurious or refined option in its class, the Escalade’s daring design and powerful engines have won it plenty of customers. Over the last two decades, GM has delivered more than 900,000 copies, making it, at least according to Cadillac, the king of large SUVs.
For 2021, this big, boldly styled body-on-frame SUV has been completely redesigned from roof to rocker. This was a necessary overhaul, because the current version is getting pretty long in the tooth compared to rivals like theÂ Audi’sÂ high-techÂ . Of course, these aren’t the only competitors this Cadillac faces. There’s , the stylishÂ Â and arguably its most obvious rival, Lincoln’sÂ .ÂandÂ
As that old adage goes, variety is indeed the spice of life. The powertrains offered in these vehicles are quite different, with each automaker taking a slightly different approach.Â
Between the 2021 Escalade’s front fenders, one of two different engines will be available, at least for now. The standard unit is GM’s tried-and-true 6.2-liter small-block V8. It’s rated at 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Beyond that, Cadillac is also offering a Duramax diesel, the excellent inline-six available in GM’s other light-duty trucks. Displacing 3.0-liters, it delivers 277 ponies and 460 lb-ft. Both engines are matched to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The Mercedes-Benz GLS is available with a turbocharged straight-six or a twin-turbo V8, both of which are electrically boosted for greater performance and efficiency. The six delivers which delivers a healthy 362 horses, the V8 a stampede of 483. Both engines are matched to a 9-speed transmission. BMW follows the same formula, offering a boosted base engine with six cylinders arranged in a neat little row as well as a force-fed V8.
Maximizing choice, Britain’s Range Rover is offered with a dizzying array of powerplants. A diesel is available, as are two versions of a gasoline-burning inline-six. There’s also a four-cylinder engine augmented by a hybrid tech and two supercharged V8s on the menu, the most potent of which delivers 557 horsepower.
As for the Navigator and Q7, they’re similar in that each one comes with just one engine for the latest model year. The Lincoln features a 3.5-liter, turbocharged V6, the Audi a smaller-displacement version of essentially the same thing. The ‘Gator is graced with 450 horsepower, the Q7 a more reasonable 329. The Audi used to be available with a turbocharged four-banger, but that is no longer the case.
The BMW is offered with three powertrains. Serving base duty is a turbocharged inline-six, one with 335 horsepower. If, for some reason that’s not enough, you can also get a twin-turbo V8, one that serves up 456 ponies. Finally, there’s an M version of the X7, which turns up the V8’s wick even further to deliver 523 horsepower.
Given that many of its rivals offer performance-tuned variants of their large SUVs, it will be interesting to see if Cadillac does the same. GM’s lovely, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 has got to fit under the Escalade’s massive hood.
Engine and transmission comparison
|Vehicle||Engine||Power (hp)||Torque (lb-ft)||Transmission|
|Cadillac Escalade||6.2-liter V8||420||460||10-speed automatic|
|Cadillac Escalade||3.0-liter turbodiesel I6||277||460||10-speed automatic|
|Audi Q7||3.0-liter turbo V6||335||369||8-speed Tiptronic|
|BMW X7 xDrive40i||3.0-liter turbo I6||335||330||8-speed Steptronic|
|BMW X7 xDrive50i||4.4-liter turbo V8||456||479||8-speed Steptronic|
|BMW X7 M50i||4.4-liter M-tuned turbo V8||523||553||8-speed Steptronic|
|Land Rover Range Rover Hybrid||2.0-liter turbo I4 hybrid||398||472||ZF 8-speed hybrid automatic|
|Land Rover Range Rover Diesel||3.0-liter turbodiesel V6||254||443||ZF 8-speed automatic|
|Land Rover Range Rover Gas I6||3.0-liter turbo I6 with electric boost||355||365||ZF 8-speed automatic|
|Land Rover Range Rover High-Output Gas I6||3.0-liter turbo I6 with electric boost||395||406||ZF 8-speed automatic|
|Land Rover Range Rover V8||5.0-liter supercharged V8||518||461||ZF 8-speed automatic|
|Land Rover Range Rover High-Output V8||5.0-liter supercharged V8||557||516||ZF 8-speed automatic|
|Lincoln Navigator||3.5-liter turbo V6||450||510||10-speed Selectshift|
|Mercedes-Benz GLS450 4Matic||3.0-liter turbo I6 with electric boost||362||369||9-speed 9G-Tronic|
|Mercedes-Benz GLS580 4Matic||4.0-liter turbo V8 with electric boost||483||516||9-speed 9G-Tronic|
Styling is incredibly subjective. Scratch that, it’s entirely subjective. What’s a visual hate crime to one person may be just what floats your proverbial boat.Â
In the design department, Cadillac’s new Escalade is handsome enough, though it’s hardly a showstopper. Breaking with tradition, it is cleaner and more tastefully styled than before, having lost much of the in-your-face look that defined ’90s bling culture and made earlier generations stand out from the crowd. For 2021, in some ways, the new model resembles an overinflated.
As for the Navigator, it’s also fairly boxy and comes with a large, squared-off grille, which can be fitted with a light-up Lincoln star. The jury’s still out on whether this is an upgrade or not.
Perhaps appropriately for this class, the newÂ BMW X7 features a twin-kidney grille, one that is disproportionately large. Some will love this design element, and others, well, not so much. Aside from that front end, the rest of its body is quite elegant. And that’s a word that also perfectly describes the GLS family. This SUV is handsome from just about every angle, adorned with plenty of traditional Mercedes-Benz styling elements. As for the Audi, it’s probably the most restrained of this Germanic triad. Nothing about its design is revolutionary, but neither does it offend. Based on looks, it’s the Honda Accord of the luxury SUV world.
Finally, there’s the Range Rover, which may be the most attractive vehicle of this bunch. Its styling is incredibly clean, almost minimalist, devoid of any surface swoops or tacked-on trim. Designers who worked on this vehicle clearly knew when enough was enough, and their restraint is greatly appreciated.
Since the 2021 Cadillac Escalade isn’t slated to go on sale until the third quarter of the year, no pricing information is available right now, however, it should be competitive with the outgoing model, which starts at right around $80,000.
In comparison, the BMW X7 xDrive40i starts at $74,895, while the X7 xDrive50i variant kicks off at $93,595. The somewhat smallerÂ Audi Q7 is much more aggressively priced. The base trim begins at $61,795 and, of course, goes up from there.
At $76,945, theÂ Mercedes-BenzÂ GLS-Class is undercut by the BMW. And if spending big bucks is your thing, you’ll have no trouble pushing one of these SUV well past the six-figure mark.
The Lincoln Navigator is competitively priced with the X7 and GLS, but the Range Rover is something else. It starts at 92 grand and change, but you can easily push it past the $200,000 mark if you start checking options boxes with reckless abandon. (Screw it, your kids can pay for college themselves!)
|Vehicle||Price (incl. destination)||Destination|
|Cadillac Escalade||$80,000 (estimated)||$1,295 (estimated)|
|Audi Q7 55 TFSI quattro Premium||$61,795||$995|
|Audi Q7 55 TFSI quattro Premium Plus||$64,795||$995|
|Audi Q7 55 TFSI quattro Prestige||$72,195||$995|
|BMW X7 xDrive40i||$74,895||$995|
|BMW X7 xDrive50i||$93,595||$995|
|BMW X7 M50i||$100,595||$995|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB Td6||$92,995||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB Td6 HSE||$98,245||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB P400e HSE||$97,245||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB P400e Autobiography||$131,595||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB 3.0 I6||$92,195||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB 3.0 I6 HSE||$97,445||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB 5.0 V8 HSE||$107,245||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB 5.0 V8 Autobiography||$145,095||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB 5.0 V8 SVAutobiography Dynamic||$179,795||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover LWB 5.0 V8 HSE||$111,245||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover LWB 5.0 V8 Autobiography||$151,595||$1,295|
|Land Rover Range Rover LWB 5.0 V8 SVAutobiography||$210,795||$1,295|
|Lincoln Navigator Standard||$77,765||$1,295|
|Lincoln Navigator Reserve||$83,305||$1,295|
|Lincoln Navigator Black Label||$98,710||$1,295|
|Lincoln Navigator Reserve L||$86,505||$1,295|
|Lincoln Navigator Black Label L||$101,910||$1,295|
|Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4Matic||$76,945||$995|
|Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4Matic||$99,795||$995|
Tech and safety
Yes, even though the latest Escalade is still decidedly old school, featuring a pushrod V8 and riding atop a traditional, ladder-style frame, it actually brings loads of technology to the segment. Cadillac’s praiseworthy Super Cruise system is coming to this venerable nameplate, which enables hands-free driving under select circumstances. Newly updated, it should be better than ever and is now capable of changing lanes automatically. Beyond that, the Escalade finally gets an independent rear-suspension design, which dramatically improves interior space and passenger comfort. Magnetic dampers and even an adjustable, four-corner air suspension are on the menu.
Unquestionably, this Caddy’s most significant new feature is a massive, curved OLED display, which dominates the interior. Comprised of three individual panels, it offers more than 38 inches of diagonal screen real estate with twice the pixel density of a 4K television. A 7.2-inch unit sits to the driver’s left, while on the center of the dashboard is a 16.9-incher, which serves as the main infotainment screen. Finally, between these displays is a reconfigurable digital instrument cluster that clocks in at about 14 inches.
Two AKG sound systems are also offered in the new Escalade, one with 19 speakers and another with a whopping 36 sound emitters.
The BMW X7 features a healthy amount of standard tech, including a 12.3-inch screen in the instrument cluster, which is complemented by another 12.3-incher atop the center stack. Other standard features include a 20GB hard-drive-based navigation system, in-vehicle Wi-Fi, six USB ports, wireless charging and a 205-watt and a 10-speaker audio system. A Harman Kardon premium audio system is standard equipment on the X7 xDrive50i.
The Navigator isn’t exactly cutting-edge, but it’s not stuck in the stone age, either. It offers Ford’s much-improved Sync 3 infotainment system with a prominently placed 10-inch touchscreen. The optional Revel stereo is great, and can hang with the Bang & Olufsen unit in the Benz and is much nicer than the Bose system in the Audi. The Range Rover’s base Meridian system is good, but the optional Reference system is something else entirely.
The Range Rover’s dual-screen infotainment system may be slow, but it’s still a huge improvement over previous offerings. Still, it feels quite lethargic compared to iDrive or more recent versions of Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND setup.
The GLS comes standard with the automaker’s latest MBUX infotainment system. This includes a pair of 12.3-inch screens, one for the instrument cluster and another on the center of the dashboard. An in-vehicle digital assistant, gesture controls and more are included. A full-color head-up display is optional.
On the technology front, Audi’s Q7 is fitted with a host of features. Standard is their latest MMI touch response system. This includes a 10.1-inch upper display and an 8.6-inch lower panel. The automaker’s virtual cockpit system is included as well, which brings a 12.3-inch, reconfigurable digital instrument cluster to the table.Â
The new Cadillac Escalade offers a host of safety and convenience technologies, as do its rivals. When properly equipped, the X7, for instance, can parallel park itself with the help of front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera system. It can also be fitted with front cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and hands-free adaptive cruise control. Some partially automated driving features like automatic lane-changing, collision evasion assist, automatic high beams and adaptive LED headlamps are also offered.
Audi’s Q7 offers a similar range of standard and optional safety and security features. Its adaptive cruise control system features traffic-jam assist and active lane assist. A 360-degree camera is available, as are traffic-sign recognition and intersection assist, which can help prevent low-speed crashes.
The new GLS comes standard with many similar features, but for extra cash, it can be equipped with things like active stop-and-go assist to take the stress out of rush-hour traffic, evasive steering assist, active lane-change assist and much, much more.
The Navigator can also be had with a number of advanced driver-assist features, including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, self-parking ability and more, but nothing especially revolutionary for the segment. The Range Rover’s ADAS suite is similar, but has a number of off-road-focused systems that make things both fun and safer when the going gets dirty.
Thanks to its new rear suspension design, the Escalade offers far greater interior space than before, with around 68 percent more storage capacity behind the third row. That equates to 25.5 cubic feet in the way-back. Fold the third row down and that figure grows to 63. Drop the second-row and you get more than 109 cubes of junk-hauling space. The extended-length ESV model will offer even more, 42.9 cubic feet behind the third row, 81.5 behind the second and nearly 127 when both of those are folded.
The Navigator’s interior capaciousness is similar to what its cross-town rival offers. There are 19.3 cubes behind the third row, 57.5 aft of the second and 103.3 with both rows folded flat. The extended-length L model is, naturally, even more spacious, topping out at a whisker more than 120 cubic feet.
The BMW X7’s maximum cargo capacity clocks in at a respectable 90.4 cubic feet. The smaller Q7 offers significantly less space — just 69.6 cubes. That’s comparable to SUVs that are a whole size-class down the food chain. Splitting the difference between its German rivals, the GLS serves up a maximum of about 85 cubic feet of whatever-hauling space.
Range Rover must assume you’ll have a valet to carry your possessions, because it’s got the smallest boot of the bunch, though only just. It clocks in at 68.6 cubic feet. The long-wheelbase version is, interestingly, essentially identical to the short version in carrying capacity. Â
We won’t know how good (or bad) the new Escalade is until we drive it later this year, but on paper at least, the Caddy looks like a very strong contender in the large, luxury-SUV segment. In comparison, the BMW is a good bet if you want all the latest and greatest tech and can stomach its unusual design. The Audi remains a bargain option if you’re willing to live with smaller cargo capacity and are fine with the single powertrain offered. The GLS provides loads of technology and a premium interior. As for the Range Rover, it’s the prettiest vehicle here and almost certainly has the best off-road capability, though some of its electronics could be improved. Finally, there’s the Navigator. It’s an excellent alternative to the Escalade, especially if you want something from Detroit. It’s spacious inside, has upscale trimmings and the performance its twin-turbo V6 provides is more than ample.
Cargo volume comparison
|Vehicle||Behind third row (cubic feet)||Behind second row (cubic feet)||Behind first row (cubic feet)|
|Cadillac Escalade ESV||42.9||81.5||126.6|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB||N/A||31.8||68.6|
|Land Rover Range Rover LWB||N/A||24.5||67.4|
|Lincoln Navigator L||34.3||73.3||120.2|
|Mercedes-Benz GLS||17.4||up to 48.7||84.7|
Headroom and legroom
It takes more than just generous amounts of cargo space to make an excellent SUV. Passenger-carrying capacity is just as important. In this area, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade should excel. Its third-row seat offers more than 10 inches of additional legroom compared to its predecessor, and this rearmost bench can actually accommodate full-size adult passengers now. The second-row has been made more comfortable, as well.
Legroom is a concern for everyone, because no one likes wedging their knees into a dashboard or seatback. Lincoln offers plenty of room to stretch your stems in the front seat, with nearly 44 inches of sprawlin’ space. The Range Rover sits at the back of the pack with just 39.2 inches. The second row is where things start getting interesting, thanks to the long-wheelbase versions of the Navigator and the Range Rover. Here the Rangie really makes up ground with a staggering 46.8 inches of legroom, while the X7 scrapes the bottom of the barrel with 12.2 inches less room.
|Vehicle||Front headroom (inches)||Front legroom (inches)||2nd row headroom (inches)||2nd row legroom (inches)||3rd row headroom (inches)||3rd row legroom (inches)|
|Cadillac Escalade ESV||42.3||44.5||38.9||41.7||38.2||36.6|
|Land Rover Range Rover SWB||39.5||39.1||39.4||39.3||N/A||N/A|
|Land Rover Range Rover LWB||39.5||39.1||39||46.8||N/A||N/A|
|Lincoln Navigator L||41.8||43.9||40||41.1||37.4||36.1|
The third-row passenger typically gets the least amount of consideration where legroom is concerned. Of the vehicles highlighted here that are available right now, Navigator has the most, with 36.1 inches, which should be just fine for many adults. The New Escalade will come close to that figure, but the extended-length ESV model will eclipse the Lincoln’s third-row legroom, offering 36.6 inches of space.
If an Audi Q7 pulls up, don’t volunteer to sit in the third row unless you are able to squeeze into tight spaces, otherwise you’re going to have a bad time of it. Blame the tight 29.2 inches of room that the engineers in Ingolstadt, Germany have allotted.
As far as driving enjoyment and how all these different space and powertrain metrics feel out in the real world, we’ll have to wait until we can get our hands on the 2021 Cadillac Escalade for a proper first test. Until then, however, Audi, Mercedes and the rest of the three-row, premium SUV firmament had better watch their backs.