2023 Cadillac Escalade V First Drive Review: The Ridiculousness Is the Point

Cadillac’s busy making EVs—but also not too busy to find the time to make this.

byPeter HolderithJun 13, 2022 12:01 AM
2023 Cadillac Escalade V First Drive Review: The Ridiculousness Is the Point
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There's no getting around it, the 2023 Cadillac Escalade V is ridiculous. It weighs more than three tons, it has damn near 700 horsepower, and in mixed driving, I got right around 15 miles per gallon. It's also just a hair over $150,000. I'm just gonna say it: What's not to like? If being ridiculous is the point—if being a rolling punchline is the objective—then this truck nails it.

Every now and then, a car comes along that has an almost totally insular character. At a time when General Motors has pledged Cadillac to be its first all-electric brand and is already selling its first EV, it also goes ahead and releases this thing: A 6.2-liter supercharged behemoth that seems to exist without a care in the world. Whatever you have to try and flex on this car—a G-Wagen, a Range Rover, a Lamborghini Urus—you're absolutely spent. This is bigger, this is louder, and even if it's slower, nothing can truly catch its spirit. 

Peter Holderith

I feel like a football coach at a halftime huddle when I say this, but: To all the other luxury brands, you’re just gonna have to play harder.

2023 Cadillac Escalade V ESV Specs

  • Base price: $152,990
  • Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 | 10-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 682 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 653 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
  • Curb weight: 6,407 pounds
  • 0-60: 4.5-seconds 
  • Seating capacity: 7
  • EPA fuel economy: TBA
  • Quick take: Every other rowdy truck is trying to be the Escalade V.
  • Score: 9/10

The Escalade V is simply the most powerful and capable version of the very good Escalade, a car I have personally reviewed twice but never in the longer-wheelbase “ESV” form like the one I drove here. 

For those who don’t know, the ESV is basically what the Chevy Suburban is to the Tahoe. It's not completely new, so there’s a lot of the same stuff is here as it is in the normal truck, but there are updates in the drivetrain and beyond that make it the undisputed flagship in the automaker's lineup. A big update is the latest version of Super Cruise, arguably the best driver-assistance system on the market, which now enables the truck to not only drive hands-free but also change lanes completely independently. Older versions required the driver to either prompt the system or take control in order to do so.

This is something I liked a lot, because it enabled me to enjoy the top-trim Platinum-spec interior every Escalade V gets: heated and cooled massage seats, one of the best stereo systems in the business—it has 36 speakers—and a massive curved OLED to display the endless bells and whistles; things like the customizable V-spec drive mode, for instance. The V-mode system allowed me to change how hard I wanted the transmission to shift, how soft the suspension should ride, and more, like the volume of the exhaust note.

Interestingly, the Escalade V doesn't just get a clone of the CT5-V Blackwing's engine, though. It gets the same basic block and forged rotating assembly, but a different supercharger better suited to providing the low-end grunt necessary to haul around a three-ton steel brick. As a matter of fact, it's the same 2.65-liter blower from the C7 ZR1 Corvette, just not driven as hard in this application.

Considering what this vehicle is, you might be surprised it doesn't look more extreme. That would be missing the point, though. Robert Hunwick, the designer in charge of transforming a regular Platinum Escalade into the high octane V, told me as much. "You should've seen the early sketches," he said, walking me around the car. Hunwick, who clearly has a handle on Cadillac's identity, said early design visions were far out, but this truck is first and foremost an Escalade, even before it's a Cadillac. That means a level of sophistication that doesn't even exist in the same universe as a "boy racer," in Hunwick’s own words. The exterior of the V simply tells you more about the car's character. It's a little angrier in the fascias, and a lot louder than the regular truck. The four squared-off exhaust tips hint at that fact.

It's also not a Blackwing, which means no lips, wings, or anything like that. Likewise, the interior is relatively unchanged as compared to the regular Platinum Escalade. There are a few V badges and a button to enable the custom drive mode—there are also a few standard settings included there—but besides that, it's pretty vanilla. Even the seats are the same. This is because the Escalade V isn't a track car. As everyone at Cadillac told me, it might surprise you on a closed course, but it doesn't have any business whatsoever competing for lap times. I only drove on public roads during the media preview event, anyway.

And what I found was that the Escalade V is absolutely quick for what it is: it can hit a quarter-mile in under 13 seconds and 60 in about four and a half seconds. True, a lot of smaller, lighter cars will still eat its lunch (a 3.0-liter Toyota Supra has an edge on it, for instance), but that's not really what this truck is about, though. Let me tell you what this thing does: it makes more noise than God. Hellcats, G-Wagens, Mustangs, it doesn't matter what you got, this feels louder. It also squatted harder than almost any other car I've driven under hard acceleration. The result of all of this is it felt fast all the time; smaller, lighter, and faster cars be damned.

This sensation was accentuated by a 10-speed automatic transmission that smacked shifts harder than a lot of dual-clutch-equipped cars. Yes, a DCT will do a slick gear change with a crisp and satisfying thump, but it also prioritizes smoothness and efficiency above all else. I'm sure there is a sophisticated computer in the Escalade V carrying out all sorts of logic to make sure no harm is being done to anything, but this thing felt like there was absolutely nothing between the shift paddles and whatever made the transmission change gears There was a brutality to the whole experience. It felt like the shift paddle was a light switch—like there was a single wire leading to the transmission, telling it to change gears now. Not after lunch, not when we were at the ideal rpms. Now.

The very surprising part of all of this was that the transmission used here is very nearly the same unit as the one found in the regular Escalade, just tuned differently and with some hardened shafts and a stronger first gear, assumedly to make launch control a more repeatable proposition. And, oh, speaking of launch control, just listen to this thing.

And despite all of the aggression, noise, and performance, this is still just an Escalade. It handled effortlessly despite its mass, had plenty of space for anything I could think of, and was quiet on the highway. It's a luxury continent on wheels. I’d say it’s almost an invaluable experience—but there are obviously costs associated with the truck that are especially extreme in this day and age. This thing costs $152,990 after destination and gets right around 15 mpg no matter what you do—at a time when gas has just crept over $5 a gallon. And this Escalade V only takes premium in order to fill its 28.3-gallon fuel tank. Do some math: Premium is $5.50, at least where I am in the Northeast. That’s $155.65 per tank of fuel, and you only get to go about 400 miles—even less in the short-wheelbase Escalade. This truck is a ton of fun, but the inefficiency and cost to operate are borderline shocking.

Just the same, there are a few other small issues worth mentioning. The ride, even in its softest setting, really didn’t like washboard-type road imperfections. The combination of the magnetic shocks and air springs produced an awkward shudder over them. Uneven dirt roads were dealt with in a similar manner. This is not unique to the Escalade V, however. Other air ride-equipped Escaldes also do this. Just like the gas it gulps, it seems like the Escalade V also prefers premium streets.

Likewise—and here’s an extremely first-world problem—the massage seats were awkward to use. The various modes are selected using a knob on the side of the seat. Once I turned the knob, the central display lagged for several seconds before I got to see the massage options. Then, once they were displayed, I could only use the knob to select them. Attempting to do so on the touchscreen produced a message telling me to just use the knob. So it knew I touched it but didn’t let me actually select anything despite that? Come on. 

Peter Holderith

These are tiny things, but they do break the ultra-luxury immersion. It also didn’t help that waiting for the massage menu and then selecting what I wanted took more than five seconds; enough time for Super Cruise to notice that I wasn’t watching the road. So the truck couldn't load a menu fast enough and then got upset at me for it. 

As far as options go, the Escalade V has all of them thanks to being basically an angrier top-trim Platinum car. The biggest choice to make will be between the standard wheelbase version or the longer and more spacious ESV extended-wheelbase version, which is $3,000 more. The shorter car is a bit cheaper, a bit faster, but really they're virtually the same. The biggest difference is interior volume.

In terms of competition, this truck sort of has some. I would argue close competitors aren't necessarily SUVs of a similar size since Lincoln doesn't make a hot Navigator and there is no Hellcat Wagoneer. Instead, vehicles of a similar attitude are the true contenders. The Mercedes-AMG G63, the Aston Martin DBX707, the Lamborghini Urus, and the upcoming BMW XM. They're all candidates. Somebody who wants the most ridiculous truck on the block is probably drooling over this.

Peter Holderith

That's really the value of this thing: being ridiculous. There is scant logic here. This is more of an emotional purchase even than a supercar. It could cost $50,000 more than it already does and sure, someone will still pay it. Why not? Just listen to it.

What this truck really reminded me of was a description of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield I once heard. In short, Dangerfield wasn't a successful comedian because he simply told jokes. That was just a fraction of who he was. He also had a funny name, he looked funny, he moved funny; everything about the guy made you laugh. Was he the greatest comedian ever? No. But who cares? He absolutely didn't. He existed for the enjoyment of the people who got and understood him.

The Escalade V is Rodney Dangerfield in car form. It's big, fast, loud, thirsty, angry. Everything about it is superlative. It scares children and wildlife. It's competing with a group of cars that thrive on being the biggest and the loudest in the room and it's the least subtle while barely even trying. It does all that without even being that different than a regular Escalade.

Just like the Blackwings, this will likely be the last Escalade of its kind. So it makes sense that Cadillac would want to celebrate it—and all the guilty pleasures that come with it—in this fashion.

Email the author at peter@thedrive.com