Payne: Super-charged, Super Cruise, super-ute Cadillac Escalade-V is Hulk on wheels

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 16, 2022

Scottsdale, Arizona — The Cadillac Escalade-V’s specs seem like something out of a Marvel comics creative session: Big as Hulk, seats seven, built on a steel truck frame, cruises on autopilot — yet accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, dances on Corvette-inspired magnetic shocks, and stops on a dime with Brembo brakes the size of Captain America’s shield. Superhero stuff.

Oh, but it’s very real.

Like Hulk in that desert tank scene, I bounded across Arizona’s Tonto Basin northeast of Phoenix gulping miles of Route 188 real estate. ROARRRRRR! went the 682-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 as I took high-speed corners like a locomotive on rails. HUUUUHHH? went my brain wondering how this was possible in a 6,407-pound, three-row SUV that could comfortably transport the Phoenix Suns’ starting five plus standout sixth-man Cam Johnson.

The Escalade has been Cadillac’s halo vehicle for 23 years, setting the brand’s tone in style, design and notoriety. But adopting the V-series performance badge for 2023, Escalade-V takes its ambitions to another level: a halo vehicle for all SUVs. Forget your Merc G-wagons and Bimmer X7s. This super-ute represents the industry’s pinnacle in performance, design, comfort, driving-assist tech and just plain ol’ visceral fun.

Let me count the ways.

Power. At the heart of the Escalade-V is the same nuclear power plant that motivates the 662-horsepower Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing that I hammered around Pittsburgh International Racing Complex last fall. Only the Escalade-V, ahem, increases the Blackwing’s output by another 20 ponies, thanks to the 2.65-liter supercharger ripped off the Corvette ZR-1 (the CT5-V’s supercharger merely gulps 1.7 liters of air).

My Marvel comic imagination thought that kind of power (and heat management) would require a hood scoop the size of my front door to manage, but no. The sheet metal changes are subtle, with larger “grillettes” on the fascia’s flanks and chin feeding air to the beast within.

Not so subtle are the four quad exhausts out back that burp at start-up like Hulk digesting an ox and a side of grenades. WAAWWRHGHH! Chief engineer Mike Symons and his devious minions were determined that the V have an assertive voice. The voice grows more pronounced in V-mode (the same selectable mode as the Blackwing, and a close cousin to Corvette’s Z-mode), complete with popping exhaust backwash when you let off the throttle.

The heart of the beast. The AWD 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V features a longitudinally-mounted, supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 engine under the hood that makes 683 horsepower. It's similar to the powerplant found in the CT5-V Blackwing.

At a rural intersection, I engaged Launch Control. Yes, Launch Control in a three-row SUV. Flatten the brake with my left foot, flatten the accelerator with my right. Release the brake, release the Kraken.

The monster erupted off the line, slinging rapid upshifts on its way past 60 mph in 4.5 seconds (the shorter wheelbase model will get you there a tenth quicker, says Symons).

Driver assist. After breaking every window in Gila County with a few more launches, I settled into a long, comfortable drive on Arizona-87, a divided four-lane perfect for Super Cruise, GM’s state-of-the-art driver-assist system. I recently self-drove an Escalade Diesel home largely hands-free on I-75.

Route 87 was similarly effortless, while its climbing hills and downhill switchbacks added a degree of complexity not present on pancake-flat I-75. Super Cruise kept an eye on me to make sure I was paying attention (the green light on the steering wheel turns red if it thinks I’m inattentive for too long) but otherwise let me relax in the driver’s seat — hands in my lap like it was a Barcalounger.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V comes with Super Cruise, the industry's best-performing hands-free drive assist system.

Super Cruise smoothly passed slower truck traffic — automatically engaging the turn signal — without breaking stride (unlike the Mercedes EQS I recently drove that runs up on a slower car’s rear bumper before passing), then respectfully moved back in the right lane.

Encountering sharp curves along the route, Escalade-V slowed to 65 before resuming my set speed of 75. Only on curves would the big ute balk at passing, preferring that I give the OK by tugging the left turn signal for an automatic pass.

Tech ‘n’ utility. Confidence in Super Cruise’s abilities allowed me to interface with the cutting-edge interior. Big screens are all the rage these days, and Caddy puts up a big number — 36 inches (to match the 36-speaker AKG sound system) — of curved display. With three screens in one, it manages multiple functions, including head-up display, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, Sirius XM, massaging seats, and the rear jacuzzi (kidding about that last one).

An independent rear suspension (IRS) means more footwell for third-row passengers to enjoy the ride under a cabin-length panoramic sunroof. And since those seats are in another ZIP code, a microphone (accessed via a button on the steering wheel) allows the front row to communicate with the third. Hey, kids, where do you want to stop for dinner?

The Escalade’s sinister looks (get it in black) and 7,000-pound towing capability make it an excellent race-car hauler, and V comes in an extended wheelbase version (for an extra three grand) so you have more storage room behind the third row for helmets and gear.

The ride is buttery smooth, and IRS means no crow hop when you have to maneuver through tight parking lots.

The instrument cluster in the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V offers multiple views -- including a full camera for Augmented Reality Mode when navigating. The screen shows you where to turn on the road.

Naturally, 682 horses means you can break up long Super Cruise stretches by putting on Superman’s cape. As a particularly long, curvy stretch of AZ-87 loomed, I tapped the V-mode button behind the monostable shifter. Oh, joy.

The shocks stiffened, the steering tightened and the 10-speed tranny shifted down a gear to access all 653 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 RPM. BOOOM! Hulk was off again, its massive body crouched another half-inch for a lower center of gravity.

Cadillac may be experimenting with a new age of battery power, but it was the Escalade that dominated the brand’s fan activation zone at the Detroit Grand Prix.

For quick family trips with a glorious V-8 soundtrack, the Escalade-V will tow up to 7,000 pounds.

Like race cars on track, Escalade-V is a technology showcase that allows even a mega-ute to defy physics like a Marvel superhero, while providing 380 miles of range in a cabin as comfortable as the passengers’ living room. That basket-full of goodies will ring the cash register at a $152,990 — about the price of a tank of gas — when V goes on sale later this summer. That’s on par with the Mercedes G-Wagen and three-row Range Rover Autobiography.

Yet the Caddy is bigger, faster, more high-tech. The V in Escalade-V is for Valhalla.

2023 Cadillac Escalade-V

Vehicle type: All-wheel-drive, seven-passenger performance SUV

Price: $149,990, including $1,795 destination charge ($152,990 long wheelbase model as tested)

Powerplant: Supercharged 6.2-liter pushrod V-8

Power: 682 horsepower, 653 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds (mfr. short wheelbase, 4.5-seconds long wheelbase as tested); towing capacity, 7,000 pounds

Weight: 6,407 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 12 mpg city/17 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Glorious V-8 soundtrack, serene, high-tech interior

Lows: drinks fuel; pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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