The door to the garage swung open and my wife, Karen, appeared, asking, “what the heck is going on out here?”
She heard a tremendous noise, but was confused when she saw a Cadillac Escalade in the driveway.
The fleet guys had just delivered the 2023 Escalade-V and revved it as we spoke about the powertrain and exhaust. Karen heard the roar loud and clear from her office on the second floor, in the back of the house.
That’s how my week with the supercharged Escalade kicked off, and it served as a theme for my time with a 682-hp SUV.
After spending a week shuttling kids around and taking a Canadian fishing trip with a bunch of buddies in the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V, here’s where I found it hits and misses.
Hit: All the power and the squat
The Escalade-V is simply all about the power. GM finally shoved its well-known supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 into the Escalade. What took so long? Here, it’s rated at a completely reasonable 682 hp and 653 lb-ft of torque. Mashing the accelerator induces giggles as the rear end squats and the front end lifts, even with four adults aboard and a cargo area completely full of gear. Despite weighing in at 6,217 lb, this three-row, body-on-frame SUV rips from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which never ever gets old. Passing power is never in short supply. The power and sound ask to be tapped into on a constant basis.
Miss: Sloppy in Touring
The Escalade-V defaults to Tour Mode, which leaves the steering, suspension, all-wheel-drive system, and brake feel in their least sporty tune. But it partially opens the exhaust baffles and, surprisingly, cranks the engine and shift tuning up one out of two notches. Around town, the 10-speed automatic transmission—which was beefed up to handle the extra power— works just fine in Touring mode, but when the full fury of all 682 horses is called upon for a passing maneuver on the highway, the transmission will slur its shifts and cause a slight pause in the power. Sport Mode cranks up the transmission programming two notches but prevents quick upshifts for better fuel economy during highway cruising. There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium for quick shifts but also relaxed cruising after calling upon all the power.
Hit: The fire and fury
After unloading all the gear at the boat launch, I fired up the Escalade-V to park it. My three fishing companions had already become used to the engine’s bark upon startup, but our guide Anders had no idea what was in store. Anders, who was hundreds of yards away, was startled by the supercharged V-8’s battle cry piercing the Canadian air.
To say the Escalade-V is hilariously loud would be an understatement. Karen will tell you it’s straight obnoxious. She’s wrong, but don’t tell her I said that. The active exhaust has electronic valves that open and close depending on the mode and throttle position. When open, the exhaust will snap, crackle, and pop as the revs drop and the Escalade slows. It’s childish and fun. Your neighbors will hate it, and possibly you. Drivers can choose to have the valves open at all times by saving Engine Sound as level two in the MyMode settings. This is the way.
Miss: Mixed mileage
Stating the obvious: The Escalade-V’s EPA fuel economy ratings aren’t great at 11 mpg city, 16 highway, and 13 combined. The combined rating might even be slightly optimistic. Over the course of 91 miles of mixed suburban driving, the supercharged SUV averaged 11.3 mpg, according to the onboard trip computer. That’s bad, and I wasn’t even being that ill-behaved.
But in a surprising twist, the Escalade easily bests its highway rating. For much of the journey to Canada we averaged 18.4 mpg. All in after 703 miles, my average fuel economy settled at 17.3 mpg. I could’ve saved some gas money had I driven slower on the highway, but the V isn’t about going slow.
Hit: Sleeper status
Karen was confused as to what was making such a loud noise in the driveway because the V looks mostly like a normal Escalade. The front end features a different lower intake, the brake calipers are red, the rear fascia has been tweaked to accommodate V-specific quad exhaust tips, and it gets V-specific 22-inch wheels (which aren’t particularly attractive), but even those are wrapped in the standard Escalade’s Bridgestone Alenza luxury truck tires. Three small “V” badges (one on each front door and one on the tailgate) are all that truly give away what this thing is, aside from the exhaust note, which is so present it might as well be visible. Those seeking attention in L.A. and at the golf club are going to hate that nobody will really know this is the $150,000 Escalade and not just that $88,000 peasant model.
Miss: That’s just greedy
At $151,865 as tested, the Escalade-V is laughably expensive. It’s basically a gilded Chevrolet Tahoe. In what can only be called a cash grab, GM’s fantastic Level 2 hands-free Super Cruise driver-assist system is a $2,500 option. My tester didn’t have it (and it will be a late availability feature due to supply chain issues). This feature is standard on the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate, which costs less than $85,000. It’s also worth noting the leather in the Lincoln Navigator is still a full cut above what’s found in the Escalade, both in look and feel.
Bonus: Blackwing what?
Cadillac has royally screwed up its naming hierarchy for its gas-powered models, and the Escalade-V only serves as a shining example. The top-dog, fire-breathing CT5 and CT4 models are the V Blackwings (though ironically they don’t have the dead-on-arrival Blackwing V-8 engine). But there will be no Escalade-V Blackwing. Just the V model, which has basically the same engine as the CT5-V Blackwing. That just serves to highlight how confusing the naming is. We can only hope the marketing gets better in Cadillac’s electric era, but things aren’t looking great with the adoption of newton-meters for badging. At least real names are coming back to Cadillac. It’s a start.
What’s truly astonishing about the Escalade-V is that it’s more than a decade late. Cadillac’s already begun its transition to an all-electric future with the terrific Lyric and upcoming Celestiq flagship. The best-selling and most well-known Cadillac should’ve been available with an absurd, overpowered engine forever ago, and yet it took until the fifth generation. That’s a failure of GM’s executive leadership past more than anything.
The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V is exactly what it needs to be: An absurdly overpowered, quick, three-row luxury SUV. Those looking for under-the-radar speed and power in this package will be happy, but those seeking attention with a flashy design will be disappointed. Just try not to scare anyone and everyone you come across.
2023 Cadillac Escalade-V
Base price: $81,590, including $1,795 destination
Price as tested: $151,865
Powertrain: 682-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, 10-speed manual transmission, four-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 11/16/13 mpg
The hits: Hilariously quick, ridiculously loud, sleeper-like design, beats EPA fuel economy ratings on highway with ease
The misses: Super Cruise isn’t standard, guzzles gas around town, can startle people upon starting, laughably expensive, a decade late
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