Cadillac has done to the Escalation something it should have done nearly two decades ago: give its full-size SUV the V treatment. Admittedly, the ethos of the American luxury brand’s performance arm has become somewhat muddled in recent years, what with the V lineup now split between tamer V-badged models and full-on V Blackwing high-performance variants, such as the 10Best-winning CT4-V Blackwing and CT5-V Blackwing. But there’s nothing confusing about the new 2023 Escalade-V. Its mission is one of power and prestige.
We certainly won’t call the Escalade-V tame, as it packs a 682-hp wallop from a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8—a hand-built mill that’s closely related to the 668-hp supercharged V-8 found in the CT5-V Blackwingthough the engine in the SUV trades the sedan’s 1.7-liter Roots-type blower for a larger 2.7-liter unit. With the help of standard all-wheel drive and a 10-speed automatic transmission, this blown V-8 propels the standard-wheelbase Escalade-V to 60 mph in a claimed 4.4 seconds. Opting for the heavier, longer-wheelbase ESV version supposedly adds 0.1 second to that time. If Cadillac’s acceleration figures hold up in our testing, then the V should cut over 1.5 seconds off the regular Escalade’s 60-mph run. A recent test of a 6270-pound Escalade ESV with the default 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 saw it hit that mark in 5.9 seconds.
Set aside the stopwatch and the Escalade-V feels properly quick from the driver’s seat. A tap of the model’s V mode button in front of the shift lever activates this brute’s highest dynamic settings and engages its launch-control feature, which holds the engine’s revs at around 1500 rpm when the driver has both pedals mashed to the floor. Lift off the left pedal and the immediate acceleration provided by the torque-rich V-8—Cadillac claims 80 percent of the Escalade-V’s 653 pound-feet of torque is available from 2000 rpm—is akin to the initial surge of a moderately powerful electric vehicle.
Unlike an EV, though, the subtle whine of the Escalade-V’s supercharger and the raucous wail of its active exhaust system brings a symphonic quality to its straight-line acceleration. Even at idle, the V’s quad pipes emit a threatening burble (a Stealth mode does let you quiet things down for the school pickup lane). At speed, the system exhales with loud crackles and pops when you abruptly lift off the accelerator.
Cadillac has also altered the Escalade’s suspension and braking systems for V duty. Tweaks to its air springs and adaptive dampers lessen this elephantine SUV’s body motions with little sacrifice to its ride quality. And six-piston Brembo front brake calipers endow the V with a firmer and more responsive brake pedal, though its initial bite comes off as a bit too grabby for our tastes.
While the V treatment does make for a better-handling Escalade—which in standard form we’ll grant is already one of the more athletic examples of its kind—the enjoyment that comes from being behind the wheel of this body-on-frame Caddy still falls short of that offered by unibody competitors such as the Mercedes-AMG GLS63 and the BMW Alpina XB7. Both of those quicker and nimbler Germans can hit the mile-a-minute mark in under four seconds and be outfitted with sticky summer tires from the factory. The Escalade-V, on the other hand, rides exclusively on all-season rubber. While the 22-inch Bridgestone Alenza A/S 02 tires of the Escalade-V ESV we drove in Arizona offered enough grip to handle the sweeping corners around Theodore Roosevelt Lake without protest, their less aggressive compound seems unbefitting of a vehicle with this much power .
Then again, Cadillac is not pushing the Escalade-V as an SUV alternative to its sports sedans. Given that most high-performance SUVs spend far more time driving around town than tearing up twisty roads, the brand’s decision to temper the Escalade-V’s peak handling prowess with a comfortable ride and three-season tires seems like a smart move for the real world .
However, this approach does limit the appeal of the $149,990 Escalade-V (add $3000 for the ESV model) when a less powerful yet similarly equipped Escalade Sport Platinum costs over $40,000 less. Sure, the Sport Platinum lacks the V’s supercharged thrust and sound, but those qualities are largely irrelevant when you let General Motors’ SuperCruise hands-free driving assist, which is standard on both Escalade-V models, take control of the steering, brakes, and accelerator on certain divided highways.
Nor does the Escalade-V’s styling relay its greater potency, as its model-specific bumpers, wheels, badges, and red-painted brake calipers fail to make it look notably different from other Escalade models. In practice, the V model is a sleeper, which frankly is a bit out of character for a vehicle whose commercial success has come in large part from its ostentatious design. It’s taken Cadillac nearly 20 years to give the Escalade the V treatment. Let’s hope the brand doesn’t need as much time to produce an additional variant (or two) that both looks and feels as over-the-top as the 682-hp V-8 under the Escalade-V’s hood.
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