2023 Cadillac Escalade-V Road Test: Somehow this thing rules


The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V is the luxury muscle SUV to rule them all. Handling? What handling? This is a freakin’ Escalade. Noise? Oh, this entire review could exclusively consist of noise impressions, and there would still be more to say. Luxury? You bet. Nothing about the Escalade-V’s pursuit of performance interferes with its traditional role of being a driving barcalounger, which is as it should be. 

Unlike other performance-focused SUVs, Cadillac simply said no to worrying about things like skidpad figures, high-bolstered seats and a boy-racer appearance makeover. Frankly, it’s refreshing that a new “performance” SUV isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t — Cadillac has the CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwings for those purposes. That’s not to say SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne high-po variants, BMW M models or wide-reaching AMG range don’t have appeal. They’re fun in their own ways, but I can say with 100% certainty that the Escalade-V apes that hot-SUV class in pure fun by lots and lots of quarter miles. The funny part is, the Escalade-V will lose pretty much every quarter-mile drag race versus other top-rung performance SUVs, and yet, I couldn’t care less.

Senior Editor James Riswick was right about the startup sound being downright alarming on the Escalade-V’s first drive. I stood behind the subtly-styled quad exhaust pipes for the remote start every single time I took the Escalade-V out for a drive. Owners should do the same. On the first startup, I visually flinched and took a step back. This is somehow legal, I think to myself. It makes the remote start sound of the C8 Corvette seem tame. At one point during the week, I was walking back to the Escalade-V post-dinner and remote started it from a distance while some college-aged kids were strolling by it. You know, for science purposes. Two of them leapt backward and one literally started into a jog down the sidewalk in reaction. Yeah, that was rather rude of me, but science required it be done. Now we all know what the public thinks of this thing.

Similar reactions to the Escalade-V followed it around all week long. Simply puttering around town will result in the Escalade-V’s exhaust banging and crackling like that’s its job. Plenty of cars will burble on the overrun, but lift off the throttle on the Escalade-V, and it will loudly talk back at you from 60+ mph on down to nearly idle. Excessive? Sure. Will folks stare in shock at you at the red light? Also, yes. That’s just the Escalade-V experience. Other car enthusiasts will giggle along — don’t mind the tsk-tsks of any offended motorists.

This glorious ode to combustion engine technology is thanks to the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 under the Escalade-V’s hood. Its output is higher than even the CT5-V Blackwing’s V8, at 682 horsepower and 653 pound-feet of torque. Unlike the supercharged engines in Hellcat-powered vehicles, this one doesn’t come with obnoxious supercharger whine that could be mistaken for a lack of refinement in a Cadillac. There’s a subtle hint of a blower under the hood, but Cadillac would rather your attention stay on the bespoke exhaust system.

Mat the throttle in normal mode, and the Escalade-V’s 10-speed automatic transmission slurs gear shifts together in a rapid manner, but still not outwardly sporty. Swap into the no-holds-barred V Mode, and this 10-speed does a convincing impression of the 8-speed DCT you’ll find in the Corvette. Each shift is punctuated with a loud crack that could be mistaken for a gunshot, emphasizing just how quick the transmission is swapping gears. The Escalade’s cabin may be one of the quietest and best-insulated out there, but it’s no match for the V’s loud pipes. Going 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds is great and all, but it’s really not that quick in the context of other expensive, performance SUVs. The difference is, you’re getting an SUV that doesn’t give up one inch of livability in return for performance.

Cadillac says it re-tuned the Magnetic Ride Control and air suspension alongside adding some V-specific suspension hardware, but don’t think for a minute that the Escalade-V is fun to drive on roads where a Porsche Cayenne might be. The enormous SUV handles a lot like a regular Escalade. The Mag-Ride dampers ensure this heavy beast isn’t a wobbly mess, but neither agile nor shifty are apt descriptors. Its steering weights up, but there’s still the uneasy disconnected sensation that comes with a body-on-frame SUV. Judicial use of the brakes is necessary to keep the 6,217-pound Escalade-V on the road when it accelerates so quickly, and heavy use on a winding road is enough to bring about fade. The all-season tires that come standard do fine, but they’re not performance tires like you’d find on European performance SUVs. If it wasn’t clear before, it should now be abundantly obvious that the Escalade-V is about going quickly in a straight line. Dodge’s Durango Hellcat is a more capable corner carver, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into with three-row SUVs. You just pay for it in ride comfort.

Don’t interpret the lack of handling prowess as a negative thing in this context. We’re talking about an Escalade here, and when you dump everything into its “Tour” comfort settings, the Escalade V does the job of comfy family hauler to perfection. If Cadillac’s unique tuning to the air suspension and dampers does anything to reduce ride quality, it’s nearly impossible to perceive. GM’s full-size platform with its independent rear suspension design provides a superbly riding vehicle with both excellent control and minimal cabin toss. And sure, its body-on-frame design is impossible to get around when the occasional pothole causes a minor jiggle to be transmitted through the chassis, but I’m picking nits at this point. If Caddy had fitted rubber band-like low-profile summer tires with even bigger wheels to the V, ride quality would have surely suffered. But it didn’t, and everything about the way this V comports itself down the road just screams Escalade.

The same goes on the inside. There’s a little “V” on the steering wheel and the addition of a “V” mode button on the center console, but Cadillac left everything else alone. Soft, beautiful thrones mean you’ll remain comfortable on long highway hauls. Pretty wood trim keeps the focus on craftsmanship — no gaudy carbon fiber to be found here. It’s a sleeper-spec in a way, as your passengers will only realize they’re in an Escalade-V via the engine, exhaust and how often you need to stop for fuel.

Eight months ago during our first drive of the Escalade-V, gas prices were at absurd highs, making the inefficiency of this bruiser an impossible angle to dance around — the headline literally included “$5 gas.” As of this review’s publishing, we’re down to a much more reasonable mid-$3 range for the nation. Over the course of a few hundred miles in mixed driving, I averaged just under 12 mpg, losing out to the 13-mpg combined EPA number the Escalade-V is rated for. It’s hard to do better when a car sounds this heavenly all of the time, and trying for good fuel economy is a losing game — just give in and use that heavy right foot.

 

The argument for the V over a regular Escalade largely comes down to paying an extra $50,000 for one of the greatest from-the-factory noise-makers of all time. You’re never going to be able to buy anything else like it once Cadillac ultimately takes it away in the shift to electric cars. Just like the Blackwing twins are a last gasp at peak internal combustion performance, the Escalade-V tries to be the best and last of its kind, too. 

There’s no real reason to chuck this supercharged V8 into the Escalade outside of the sheer laughter it produces. Cadillac built this thing because it could. One day, there could be an electric Escalade-V, and it might be quicker, more refined and handle better, but it’ll never replicate the childish appeal this V brings to every drive. Go get one while you can, because nobody else is currently screwing together something just like it, and there’s a good chance nobody ever will.

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