2023 Cadillac Escalade-V First Drive Review: 682 horses, loud exhaust, $5 gas

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PHOENIX – The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V was not always in the cards. According to designer Robert Hunwick Jr., his team did a rendering of a more performance-oriented version of the next-generation Escalade during that truck’s development. Focus groups loved it, commenting that it should be part of the lineup from the get-go. Obviously, it wasn’t – the current Escalade debuted for ’21 without a V. But two years later, that performance-oriented Escalade is here, complete with a 682-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V8. Just in time for gas prices to hit $5 per gallon.

Cadillac conveniently made the Escalade-V available for press drives before official EPA gas mileage estimates are available, but considering the regular 4x4 Escalade and its naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 returns 16 miles per gallon combined, one can assume adding 262 extra horses is going to make it a wee bit thirstier. Maybe 13 mpg combined? The trip computer showed 14.5 after 150 miles of highway driving. So yeah, that’s terrible. As is Cadillac’s timing. Or luck. Either way, the purchaser of an Escalade-V will have to be OK shelling out loads of excess cash to Shell.

Now, we frequently hear the argument that people happily doling out giant sums of money for giant SUVs ­couldn’t care less if their gas tank costs more to fill up than someone else’s more efficient giant SUV. Gas mileage? Who cares! The environment? Ha, good one. Very well, then. Let’s just accept that those with sufficient financial largesse to afford the Escalade-V’s starting price of $149,990 do not care about such things.

Perhaps they will instead care about the 682 hp and 653 pound-feet of torque that pours out of the hand-built V8 to the tune of four fat exhaust pipes that blare, warble, crackle and pop enough to completely reimagine the Escalade soundtrack. When it comes to the V, the tunes outside matter just as much as those inside ­– though we’ll be touching on the punching AKG sound system a bit latter. There are actually three exhaust sound levels, including a not-exactly-accurate Stealth mode that you’ll need to have the foresight to engage before early-morning start-ups. The ignition bark is otherwise so loud, borderline startling and some would say absurd, that you’re bound to make enemies amongst neighbors and family members alike.

“You woke up the baby with your damn Escalade again,” seems like a likely refrain among the Escalade’s surprisingly young, 40ish average buyer.

The Escalade-V’s engine shares architectural similarities with the CT5-V Blackwing V8. The biggest change is the larger supercharger, which gusts 2.65 liters of air per rev into that small block. The Escalade’s higher inlet pressure and higher exhaust pressure necessitated the larger blower. There are also bigger charge coolers, an extra electronic fan for a grand total of three, and a swap to an electronic throttle body. The end result is an engine that can catapult 6,217 pounds worth of full-size SUV from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. You can add a tick or two for the 6,407-pound, Suburban-sized Escalade-V ESV we drove, but dude. This is some seriously quick family transport.

And indeed, that’s exactly what the Escalade-V is intended for. There was no ridiculous talk of canyon carving, nor were we taken to the dusty confines of a track somewhere to fully test the fat six-piston Brembo brakes and magnetically controlled, adaptive air suspension with V-exclusive components. It’s a much faster and louder Escalade, and is certainly more responsive to drive, but it’s still authentically an Escalade. It has three rows of seats habitable by even tall adults (unlike the even-quicker Mercedes-AMG GLS 63) and a class-leading amount of cargo space. The latter swells even further with the ESV.

Escalade Sport left, Escalade-V right

The design team also mercifully restrained itself, refraining from goofy carbon fiber appliques and the sort of extravagances of questionable taste past Cadillac V models were festooned with.

“Our goal was to make a sleeper,” said Hunwick. “We wanted it to be subdued, dialed back. Subtle. Look at (Jaguar-Land Rover’s) SVR or AMG. They don’t go nuts.”

If anything, the Escalade-V is even sleepier (in a good way) than an AMG GLS. Those quad pipes are the biggest giveaway, along with the V badges, and although there are extra “grillettes” alongside the vertical DRLs and a small, extra air intake at the bottom of the fascia. It’ll take someone in the know to differentiate between the V and an Escalade with the existing Sport line appearance package.

Even the interior gets this sleeper treatment. Escalade global product manager David Schiavone said they did not want “a boy racer interior” with red accents, carbon fiber and other flourishes you’d find on other Cadillac V cars. Customers get a choice of Jet Black or Dark Auburn interior colors with the same Zebra wood found in the Escalade Sport. Frankly, this approach is more akin to BMW M’s glory days than anything currently served up by BMW M today. AMG too, for that matter.

2023 Cadillac Escalade-V
2023 Cadillac Escalade-V
2023 Cadillac Escalade-V
2023 Cadillac Escalade-V

Our drive of the Escalade-V largely consisted of winding highways northeast of Phoenix, with plenty of elevation to ascend and descend. The seemingly unavoidable body-on-frame jiggling is still present on various imperfect pavement types, meaning you do pay for its truck roots relative to a GLS or high-powered BMW X7. The handling is assuredly worse than those as well, but caring about that seems even less likely than fretting about the gas bill. The important takeaway is that the V does indeed tighten things up relative to the base Escalade or other GM full-sizers.

There’s a special V mode, which is effectively a customizable drive setting easily accessed by a button north of the electronic shifter. Finding the Sport steering to be unnecessarily hefty, the perfectly appropriate Tour setting remained engaged. The difference between Tour and Sport suspension is awfully subtle, but on crap pavement, the body-on-frame jiggle is definitely more noticeable when the suspension lowers and mag dampers firm up – we toggled between the two depending on the road. The brake pedal effort can also be changed (it’s similarly subtle) along with engine response, AWD power distribution and the three-volume exhaust. There are also preset drive modes, including ones for towing and poor weather, selectable by a button to the left of the wheel, adjacent to the headlight controls and suspension raise/lower buttons.

2023 Cadillac Escalade-V
2023 Cadillac Escalade-V

Oh, and there’s launch control. Select V mode, hold down the brake, apply the accelerator fully, wait for the traction control light to flash, and release the brake. Bam. The exhaust blares, your head snaps back and there’s suddenly a lot more sky in the windshield as the Escalade-V rather hilariously squats down at the rear as it launches toward the horizon. It’s more race boat than race car. Plenty of dive when braking, too.

Now, should you rather not drive the Escalade-V at all, Super Cruise is available. We didn’t get a chance to try it out while trailering, as it’s capable of doing, but it had plenty of opportunity to ably pass slower vehicles on its own volition. It really is well-executed, and checking the Super Cruise options box should be a no-brainer. Just sit back, put your hands in your lap and enjoy the view forward while the 36 speakers of the standard AKG Studio Reference sound system do their thing. Anything with bass seems to be its forte, and we can probably all agree that in an Escalade, it probably should be its forte. Still, we listened to a variety of music, and the AKG was damned impressive for it all.

From a sonic perspective, then, not many SUVs can top the 2022 Cadillac Escalade-V – if any. It’s got plenty of show-stopping tech as well, plus suitably luxurious features and materials. Family-friendly space? Acres of it. And yeah, it blows the doors off a Navigator while putting up a good fight against those smug Germans. It’s hard not to like until you remember that price tag – both to purchase and to fill ’er up. Then again, remembering is not the same as caring.

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