Review: The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V Is a Roadgoing Mega Yacht With Rocket Power
A supercharged V8 in a three-ton SUV…what could possibly go wrong?
The Saturn V was the king of all rockets, a towering, 363-foot monument to escaping the surly bonds of Earth, its 7.6 million pounds of thrust defying not just gravity but also its own 3,100 tons of mass on the way towards pushing manned spaceflight further into the solar system than ever before.
Back on the surface of our planet, Cadillac has just unveiled its own ultra-heavy rocket: the Escalade-V, a startling merger of the brand’s largest sport-utility vehicle and its most powerful supercharged V8 engine. Taken together, the Cadillac Escalade-V recasts the space race on America’s own highways with its own terrifying tandem of over-the-top acceleration and back-breaking curb weight.
Detroit’s hyperballistic bruiser serves as the swan song for an entire era of heavy iron, an uber-truck that trades trick footwork for the unstoppable momentum of a football forward line. With the Escalade-V, the realm of bigger, faster, louder (and pricier) has reached its logical conclusion in a display of near-cosmic conflagration in the pursuit of pure speed. What’s it like to strap in and prepare for launch? Glad you asked.
V8 Engine Meets ESV Body
The Escalade-V-as-land-missile analogy holds up when the Cadillac SUV’s engineering details are examined up close. Much like its NASA predecessor, the Escalade-V is a hulking metal shell built entirely around an explosive power source, in this case a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 whose open-pipe exhaust roar denotes 682 horsepower and 653 lb-ft of torque.
Those numbers dwarf any production Cadillac in history, and indeed position the Escalade-V near the top of the entire General Motors lineup when it comes to output. With an additional 262 horsepower versus the standard Escalade, it slices nearly two seconds off the gigantic people mover’s 0 to 60 mph trajectory, which occurs in the low four second range depending partly on whether the vehicle is found in regular or extended-wheelbase body styles.
I drove the latter, the Escalade-V ESV, whose nomenclature sees a double-dose of Cadillac’s most potent consonant. Beyond ponderous at the best of times, the SUV’s mega-yacht proportions (just shy of 19 feet long) take on an entirely new level of urgency when hurtling forward with the relentless confidence of its standard all-wheel drive system and the security of enough mass to punch a Caddy-sized hole through any potential obstacle.
Pedaling-down on a straight stretch of highway induces lift-off conditions posthaste in a truly awe-inspiring display of the pushrod engine’s pinnacle, and I was glad to have six-piston Brembo brakes up front to help haul the Escalade’s three tons down from low orbit. Engaging the vehicle’s single-button V mode adds a louder rumble (and off-throttle crackle) to the proceedings, along with more aggressive interactions with its 10-speed automatic transmission and a lower stance from its adaptive air springs.
Dumbo Doesn’t Dance
Don’t be misled into thinking that V mode in any way cancels out the Escalade-V’s staggering heft when it comes time to pray for cornering capability. The latest iteration of Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control dampers can’t help but be overwhelmed at extremes, and it doesn’t help that its 22-inch rims are shod in all-season rubber, either. Eager to surge forward at the slightest provocation, the Escalade-V protests almost immediately when asked to engage in any directional maneuver that could be described as “spirited.”
This is a key area of differentiation between the Escalade-V and its similarly named siblings, sedans like the CT5-V and CT4-V that balance their forward progress with exceptional handling. Cadillac’s tacit acknowledgement of the Escalade platform’s inherent impossibilities in the soft-shoe department separates it from similarly quick three-row luxury machines like the Alpina XB7, which feature far better mechanical grip and class-above rubber at all four corners.
Cadillac’s Final Space Shot
It’s clear that the automaker is focused on the shock-and-awe aspects of the Cadillac Escalade-V, as evidenced by taglines like “luxury that roars,” as well as the gargantuan proportions of its slab-faced grille and somewhat racy V-specific styling cues. It’s a vehicle that’s difficult to ignore, whether it’s detonating car alarms on cold-start or bearing down on you, Duel-style, on a lonely ribbon of road.
However, with prices hovering around $150,000, both the standard and ESV editions of the Escalade-V will have a tough time convincing the SUV’s traditional buyer base to pony up nearly double the MSRP asked by its 420-horsepower entry-level models. After a few full-throttle blasts, the pursuit of drag strip glory quickly transitions to a trembling arms-length respect for the overwhelming firepower lurking in the V’s arsenal. Combine that with combined fuel mileage that barely scrapes into the double-digits, and similarly luxurious, but far more affordable (and less thirsty) versions of the Escalade make a more convincing case for those inclined towards plus-size plushness.
As a send-off, the Escalade-V makes some sense, a fitting multi-ton megalith standing tall in a cloud of tire smoke one last time before EVs launch ICE performance trucks straight into the sun. Whether you’re interested in buying your own ticket for a seat alongside the fiery funeral pyre will depend entirely on how much missile you personally need to pilot on your way from one gas station to the next.
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