First Drive: 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V


First Drive: 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V


Roughly two decades ago, Cadillac went through a metamorphosis of sorts. Eager to ditch its image as the aspirational brand for geriatrics, the company set its sights on the customers that its German rivals like BMW and Mercedes-Benz were winning over – the younger, more stylish, and performance-oriented luxury buyers. Part of Cadillac’s effort included the establishment of the V Series line, a division whose focus would be to create hot rodded versions of Cadillac’s vehicles in much the way that the M division and AMG have for BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Escalade-V Overall

"V" badges, red calipers, and unique front and rear fascia give the Escalade-V a more aggressive look, but it’s still kind of a sleeper overall.

Over the years that’s led to some seriously impressive V-Series models like the Nürburgring record-breaking CTS-V and the CT5-V Blackwing, one of the most stunning, capable sport sedans of the last few years.

But while Dodge made headlines with its fire-breathing Durango SRT Hellcat and European rivals like Mercedes introduced their own twin-turbocharged three-row monster in the form of the AMG GLS63, Cadillac has never given a V-Series makeover to its most well-known model, the Escalade. Until now, that is.

The V Treatment

Escalade-V Rolling Stock

Unique 22-inch wheels and six-piston Brembo front brakes are standard equipment.

As the brand’s first V-Series sport-utility, the limited-production Escalade-V ushers in a number of changes throughout the vehicle, but the biggest news is the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 under the hood. It’s the same block and forged rotating assembly found in the CT5-V Blackwing, but in this application it uses the C7 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1’s larger, 2.65-liter TVS supercharger to provide a bit more oomph without driving the blower quite as hard. The result is 682 horsepower and 653 pound-feet of torque, gains of 262 horsepower and 193 lb-ft of torque over the naturally-aspirated V8 in the standard model.

This, as you can imagine, transforms the Escalade’s straight-line performance. Putting the power down to all four corners through a uniquely calibrated ten-speed automatic transmission, official estimates peg the Escalade-V’s 0-60 mph sprint in 4.4 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 12.74 seconds at 110 mph on the way to an electronically-limited top speed of 125 mph. Considering the fact that this full-size SUV weighs in at more than 6200 pounds, this is legitimately absurd performance in the best possible way.

Cadillac engineers also made a number of tweaks to the chassis and suspension to help manage all of this newfound power. Magnetic Ride Control and Cadillac’s Air Ride adaptive suspension system are standard here, and both systems have received new software calibrations for Escalade-V duty. Unique, stiffer rear air springs are also on hand to help corral body motions while ensuring the grunt gets put to good use. Of course, all the power in the world isn’t worth a whole lot if you can’t rein it in when you need to, so the supercharged SUV scores six-piston Brembo calipers up front as well.

Escalade-V Engine Bay

The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the Escalade-V is very similar to the power plant in the CT5-V Blackwing, but Cadillac decided to use the larger 2.65-liter TVS supercharger from the previous generation Corvette ZR1 rather than the Blackwing’s 1.7-liter unit. The combination used here makes 682 horsepower and 653 pound-feet of torque.

To keep things simple, the Escalade-V also gets a unique V-Mode button just in front of the shifter that dials up the steering weight, exhaust volume, suspension stiffness, front-to-rear power bias, and other performance-related settings with a single key press. These settings can also be adjusted to one’s preference by way of the V-Mode menu in the infotainment system.

Coming in at a lofty starting price of $148,195 ($150,640 as-tested with destination fee), the Escalade-V is more expensive than the aforementioned Mercedes-AMG GLS63 as well as BMW’s Alpina XB7. But in the Cadillac’s defense, it does come fully loaded straight out of the gate: Our tested boasted features like semi-aniline leather, heated, cool and massaging front seats, a 36-speaker AKG audio system, a console refrigerator, and curved OLED displays for the gauge cluster and infotainment system. Our tester was not equipped with Cadillac’s Super Cruise hands-free driving system – blame supply chain constraints for that. The company says the feature will be optionally available on the Escalade-V later this year, though.

The V’s exterior doesn’t look wildly different from a standard Escalade, but there are some subtle tweaks that help to set it apart from the pack. Unique front and rear fascia give the SUV a more aggressive look that’s still understated, while V badges, unique 22-inch wheels, and quad-tipped exhaust pipes out back provide a few hints that this is something more than your typical luxury hauler.

At Speed

Escalade-V Exhaust

The active exhaust system offers a soundtrack that’s just as rowdy as any factory supercharged Camaro or Corvette that we’ve driven in recent memory. While it’s raucous in the Sport setting, the default Tour mode setting can be pretty mellow if you’re restrained with the throttle.

The first time we hopped behind the wheel of the Escalade-V it didn’t seem all that different from a garden-variety Escalade – albeit a very well-appointed one.

That changed we pressed the ignition button. If we’d been standing outside the SUV blindfolded, we would have sworn that someone had just started a C7 Corvette Z06 in front of us, as the active exhaust roars to life with authority before settling into a menacing burble. It’s a more subdued affair inside the Escalade-V thanks to thick glass and copious sound deadening material, but if you want to enjoy a proper muscle car soundtrack, all you have to do is roll down the windows and press that V button to open up the exhaust valves.

To get a better sense of how the V-Series upgrades have changed the Escalade, we headed out of central LA and into the Angeles National Forest to let the big machine stretch its legs on some fast, winding mountain roads. The Escalade-V rides a little stiffer than a standard model around town and on the highway when left in its default mode, but it’s still far from stiff.

Escalade-V Interior

The Escalade’s curve OLED display offers sharp, high-resolution visuals, and the infotainment system is admirably responsive to inputs. The wireless charging “sleeve” located between the center console storage and infotainment controls keeps your phone out of the way but still easy to access. The cabin is well thought-out and eminently comfortable, but not really performance-oriented.

In fact, if you keep your foot out of it, it actually feels pretty normal in everyday driving situations: The transmission seamlessly does its work under the radar while the steering and brakes are as effortless to operate as you’d expect from Cadillac’s flagship. Turn on the massage seats and crank up the stereo and it’s still every bit the luxury SUV experience you’d expect from a loaded Escalade. The story changes when go to make your first pass, though. Dip into the throttle and the Escalade-V unleashes sonic fury and acceleration that’s just flat-out stunning for an unsuspecting driver, or passengers, or other drivers. Anyone in the vicinity, really.

The handling isn’t quite as awe-inspiring, however. There’s only one tire available for this 682hp monster, and it’s the same all-season rubber that the standard Escalade is equipped with. Even with all of the V-Mode settings set to full attack, the big bruiser is a handful in the canyons. The upgraded brakes provide decent stopping power, but limited grip and soft suspension tuning don’t equate to a vehicle that’s happy change direction quickly or hold a tight line. And even though the performance is impressive for a vehicle this size, the Escalade-V’s acceleration ultimately isn’t as stunning as its soundtrack would imply. A Durango Hellcat, for instance, hits 60 mph and runs through the quarter mile a full second quicker than the Cadillac while offering a top speed of 180 mph. Yes, the three-row Durango is a mid-size three-row and thus smaller than the Escalade, but the BMW and Mercedes offerings are not, and they’re also significantly quicker than the Escalade-V.

Escalade-V Rear View

This digital rear-view mirror is also standard on the Escalade-V. Because it uses a camera mounted on the outside of the vehicle, it effectively eliminates blind spots caused by the B, C, and D pillars, as well as any outward visibility issues that could arise with a conventional mirror due to passengers or cargo inside the vehicle.

A few days later we spent part of the day on the road with the big Caddy driving from LA to Thermal, California and back. It’s a job that seemed better suited to the Escalade-V’s strengths, and indeed it was a lovely drive there and back despite not having Super Cruise – one of Cadillac’s showpiece technologies – onboard to automate the less exciting parts of the drive. Still, along the way it occurred to us that – aside from the wicked exhaust note and copious passing power – a similar experience could be had in a standard Escalade for about thirty grand less.

The Escalade-V feels more like “peak Escalade” rather than a thoroughly sport-tuned SUV. That might fall short of expectations for those who’re looking for a more well-rounded machine, but we suspect this won’t be much of a problem for the Cadillac faithful – especially after they hear that exhaust. This supercharged beast still hits a lot of the right notes, and we doubt Cadillac will have any trouble selling every last one of them.

Escalade-V head-on


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