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2021 Cadillac Escalade loads up on tech and comfort to fend off Lincoln and Mercedes

LOS ANGELES – Cadillac will pump up the technology, room and comfort in its flagship Escalade SUV when an all new model goes on sale in the second half of the year.

The new Escalade, introduced Tuesday in Los Angeles, is the best-seller in its super-profitable class, but it faces increasing challenges from high-end SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes GLS and BMW X7.

The new Escalade’s self-driving Super Cruise system will raise the bar for hands-free highway driving, while more than a yard of high-def screens – if it were a fish, you’d mount it on the wall – promises a sharper display than your 4K television.

The Escalade grows longer thanks to a new chassis that increases leg room and an independent rear suspension that promises better handling and a more comfortable ride, particularly for passengers in the third row of seats. The architecture is shared with the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.

Cadillac will build the Escalade in two lengths: the 211-inch long SUV that debuted Tuesday and a 226.9-inch model that will be unveiled in the spring.

Prices will be announced later this year, but they’re likely to start just under $80,000 and peak above $100,000.

High class and high-def

“The current Escalade doesn’t have a plush enough interior, so that’s been a significant area of focus for Cadillac designers,” Autotrader executive editor Brian Moody said. “It’s getting harder for luxury brands to justify their cost. Even non-luxury SUVs like the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, and Toyota Highlander have versions where the interior look and feel is fairly plush.”

The 2021 Cadillac Escalades instrument panel can display a camera view of the road ahead. (Photo: Cadillac)

Much has been made of the Escalade’s instrument panel, which consists of 38 inches of high-contrast OLED screens.

A pair of touch screens to the right and left of the steering wheel control everything from lights to nine camera views for towing.

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A 16.9-inch display in the middle shows everything from speed and fuel to camera views of the road ahead, where video game-like augmented reality arrows pop up over the real landscape to indicate turns and destinations.

The interior features suede, eight wood trims and leather seats with multiple perforation patterns – including one where every tiny opening is the shape of a mini Cadillac crest.

One of the neatest touches isn’t visible from inside the car, a lighted Cadillac crest facing outward through the windshield in welcome when the driver returns to their Escalade.

Notable features on 2021 Cadillac Escalade:

  • Thin, high-definition OLED instrument panel consisting of three high-contrast screens.
  • Augmented reality-enabled navigation system.
  • 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference audio with separate volume controls for driver and front passenger.
  • 19-speaker standard AKG audio.
  • Night vision.
  • Rear camera mirror.
  • Two 12.6-inch rear seat touch screens for video, games and music.
  • Electric motors to close the doors quietly.
  • Independent rear suspension.
  • Super Cruise hands-free driving assistant with automated lane change.
  • Increase cargo and passenger space.
  • Optional refrigerator/freezer.

You’ll know it when you see it

The Escalade’s exterior design has big, expressive grilles and LED lights for a distinctive face that should be recognizable at a distance.

The big, deep five-sided grille comes in satin chrome of glossy black for luxury and sport models, respectively.

The lights feature tall, thin vertical light blades for running lights and even longer rear light blades that bend inwards at the midpoint to reduce the appearance of bulkiness.

Engineering changes include a third row with 10 inches more legroom and a more natural seating position thanks to the independent rear suspension, which also increases cargo space behind the third row.

Combining the IRS with optional magnetic control shocks and air suspension, should give the new Escalade a comfortable, quiet ride.

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade's Super Cruise hands-free driving system will add automated passing. (Photo: Cadillac)

Power comes from GM’s stalwart 420-horsepower 6.2L small-block V8 or a new 3.0L 277-hp diesel straight-six. Both engines produce 470 pound-feet of torque and are mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Follow Mark Phelan on Twitter: @mark_phelan.

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