The Cadillac Escalade is an imposing beast — the long-wheelbase model, in particular. So, it was all the more impressive to hit the start button on the new V-Series version for the first time, its supercharged V-8 responding with a menacing roar and a rumble I could feel in my fillings.
Weighing in at roughly 3 tons, it takes a lot to move Caddy’s full-size barge. But for those who’ve always wanted the acceleration of a sports car with the room and the luxurious appointments you expect from General Motors’ flagship brand, you’ll likely want to check out the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.
Under its imposing hood lives a supercharged 6.2L V-8 that will launch you from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.4 seconds. That’s just 0.4 seconds slower than the Porsche Carrera S. And seeing it make a jackrabbit start from a stoplight is an impressive sight.
The engine is lifted almost whole from the even quicker, albeit substantially lighter, Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing sedan. Stuffed into the Escalade-V’s engine compartment, the V-8 gets a 60% larger supercharger — it pumps out 2.7 L of air — enough to boost output by 14 ponies to 682 horsepower, though torque dips by 6 pound-feet to a nonetheless mighty 653 pound-feet.
2023 Escalade-V Review
World’s Most Powerful — With an Asterisk
Caddy officials describe their first V-Series utility vehicle as the world’s most powerful full-size SUV. That’s an important caveat considering the new Aston Martin DBX 707 delivers another 25 horsepower. And the pony count for the Tesla Model X Plaid is 1,020. But both are smaller vehicles and, of course, the Tesla is all-electric.
There is nothing for Cadillac to be ashamed of — quite the contrary, as I found out during a day’s drive in and around Phoenix. The Escalade-V handily burns up the pavement and, if you’re so inclined, will tow up to 7,000 pounds.
That engine is assembled by a single worker at the Bowling Green, Ky., plant that also produces the Chevrolet Corvette. If that brings to mind the approach taken by Mercedes’ performance brand AMG, the likeness is less than coincidental. You even get a badge that’s signed by the technician who assembled your particular V-8.
To handle all that power, Caddy engineers have beefed up the 10-speed automatic normally found in more mundane versions of the ’Slade. It’s then directed to all four wheels. Drivers can manage all that torque with a selector that lets them switch between normal, sport, and snow/ice mode.
But I spent most of my time behind the wheel in V-Mode, activated by a button on the steering wheel.
V-Mode instantly adjusts a variety of vehicle functions, including throttle response. Gear shifts are quicker — and more aggressively jarring — while nanny functions, such as electronic stability control, are dialed back.
The magnetic ride control dampers tighten up, and the active suspension system lowers the brutish SUV by 0.8 inches. It also lets you activate Launch Mode, which will give you the fastest burnout possible.
V-Mode also amps up the Escalade’s exhaust note. On the other hand, you can also activate Stealth Mode, explained Chief Engineer Mike Symons, “when you want to drive through your neighborhood and don’t want to wake everyone.”
V or ESV?
There actually are two versions of the new Escalade-V, buyers getting to choose a standard-length model starting at $149,990 including delivery fees, or a long-wheelbase package jumping up to $152,990.
I spent my time in broiling hot Phoenix sitting in the comfortably cooled cabin of the stretched Escalade-V ESV model.
Both versions of the V adopt a more aggressive take on the stock Escalade front end. The grille surround goes menacing black mesh, as does the windshield surround, and all the chrome has been stripped away.
Somewhat surprisingly, the grille is the same size as the stock ’Slade. But to keep the powertrain from boiling over during hard runs, Caddy has beefed up the cooling system, among other things adding a third fan.
There are now quad exhaust tips and a rear diffuser. Both of the V SUVs ride on unique 22-inch wheels and tires.
No Boy Racer
When you pack that much power into a mass this large, you also have to consider ways to slow back down. The Escalade-V gets six-piston Brembo brakes measuring 16.1 inches up front and 13.5 in the rear. They are, of course, painted “Edge Red.”
While all that might scream “Boy Racer,” the cavernous, three-row interior is anything but. The V is positioned as the “pinnacle” of the most luxurious Escalade Platinum series, explained Caddy’s Global Product Manager Dave Schiavone.
Both versions of the 2023 Escalade are roomy, but the ESV takes things to extremes. The 6,407-pound behemoth is so large inside that third-row passengers won’t feel like they’ve been stuck in the penalty box. And there’ll be plenty of cargo space for everyone, at 94.1 cubic feet, or 21.2 cubic feet more than the standard-length SUV.
The cabin is lavished in double-stitched leather, with zebrawood accents along the instrument panel and doors. The modern definition of luxury puts a premium on technology, and Caddy delivers.
It comes through with 38 inches of curved OLED displays. That includes a 7.2-inch touchscreen to the left of the steering wheel that handles numerous vehicle functions, a 14.2-inch digital gauge cluster, and a 16.9-inch infotainment touchscreen. And, you can add additional screens for rear-seat passengers.
There are the now-requisite features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. And then there’s that sweet AKG premium sound system, all 36 speakers of it. I played a few “lossless” tunes and discovered sounds —such as fingertips moving over guitar frets — I had never heard before.
Updated Super Cruise
There aren’t many options beyond GM’s $2,500 Super Cruise system. The easiest comparison is to the Tesla Autopilot technology — except Super Cruise actually allows you to drive hands-free on more than 200,000 limited-access roads. That includes about 40 miles of divided state highway I cruised along during my test drive.
Super Cruise is reasonably easy to operate, activated by a tap of a button on the steering wheel. It requires you to be centered in your lane and to relinquish control of the steering wheel.
I had several false starts, once because the driver monitoring system detected I wasn’t watching the road. Once engaged, the lightbar at the top of the steering wheel glows green, alerting you that it’s safe to let go.
The latest Super Cruise iteration adds several useful features, including the ability to automatically change lanes to pass slower vehicles. It becomes yet another big plus for those who expect to take long trips inside the Escalade.
And, let’s face it, despite the occasional fun of flogging this big beast around at high speed, you’ll be driving much more moderately on most occasions. The V is just as good a grand touring machine as the standard-issue versions of the Escalade.
Pushing the Limits
When you do want to push the limits, an electronic limited-slip differential helps direct torque on the back axles to help maximize both acceleration and cornering.
The ESV was surprisingly agile and well planted when driving hard. However, it doesn’t handle like a Corvette — especially the ESV, which is 190 pounds heavier and roughly a foot longer than the standard-length model.
But, all things considered, the added power and features like the magnetic ride control suspension give the 2023 Escalade-V an added dimension you simply won’t find in any other full-size luxury SUV.
The Cadillac Escalade has maintained its edge for a long time, managing to be the bestselling vehicle in its segment for 17 of the last 20 years. With the addition of the V models, it’s all but certain to remain king of the full-size SUV.