Peggy Hill was right when she said the city of Phoenix is a monument to man's arrogance. This place is insufferably hot (and that’s coming from a Florida Man), with temperatures touching 103 degrees Fahrenheit while I was there and the forecast calling for 115-degree days later that week. But there's a reason I willfully baked myself in the desert like a chocolate chip cookie: The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.
This monster is excessive in every sense of the word. It weighs over 6,000 pounds, has 682 horsepower, and is swankier than a five-star hotel room inside. The extra-long ESV model I tested further hammers home that ridiculousness with its daunting size (Editor’s Note: The red Escalade-V pictured here is a non-ESV model). And yet, for all of the outlandish contradictions that this vehicle represents, the Escalade still feels like a V-Series vehicle through and through.
Gallery: 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V First Drive Review
V For Vroom
GM's supercharged 6.2-liter V8 from the CT5-V Blackwing carries over, but it's not exactly the same here as is in the sedan. All of the forged internals are identical, sure, but this version of the V8 boasts a bigger 2.7-liter Eaton blower as opposed to the 1.7-liter setup in the CT5. It's actually closer in size and scope to the C7 Corvette ZR1's supercharger, and that extra liter helps compensate for the Escalade's size.
The end result is a hearty 682 horsepower and 653 pound-feet of torque, all of it routed through a well-tuned 10-speed automatic transmission with a full manual mode. Eighty percent of that available torque arrives at just 2,000 RPM, with the Escalade-V able to hit 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds with launch control and a sports car-rivaling quarter-mile of 12.74 seconds. The larger ESV model loses a tenth of a second to 60, but it still absolutely rips.
Activate launch control by pressing the V Mode mode button near the shifter, which turns every setting to its most aggressive. From there, all it takes is mashing the brake pedal first, then the gas, building the revs to about 1,800 RPM, and hanging on for dear life. If you've ever seen a grizzly bear in an all-out sprint, that's basically what the Escalade-V looks (and sounds) like at full tilt.
With 70 percent of the available power shifting to the rear wheels at launch, as opposed to the default 50/50 split, this 6,407-pound luxury SUV moves with ridiculous hustle. The big back end squats and the nose juts up skyward as the massive Caddy races to 60 and beyond. And it brakes just as well, too, with 16.1-inch, six-piston Brembo rotors on the front wheels.
Then there's the sound; the Escalade-V roars to life at startup like a sports car and burbles loudly at idle. Full throttle uncorks the full muscle car-like noise of that V8, which sounds nearly as good to my ear as the CT5-V Blackwing. And since this is a V-Series for the whole family, Cadillac brought Stealth mode over from the Blackwing, which allows you to mute the exhaust entirely so you won't wake up your neighbors on an early morning.
Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 and an Air Ride suspension, with full-time four-wheel-drive, all come standard on the Escalade-V, which means this massive SUV isn't shy with corners. The adaptive dampers tighten up in Sport mode to their tensest setting, affording the Caddy un-SUV–like agility and impressive handling chops for a three-row SUV of this stature.
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Physics, though, remain undefeated, so there's no escaping some obvious body roll in tighter turns. And when in its sportiest setting, the Escalade-V does feel stiffer and more aggressive than your kids and spouse might enjoy for more than a few miles.
But as the roads straighten up, so too does the Escalade-V. Keeping it in Tour tames the throttle, exhaust, and suspension, transforming the roaring SUV into a solid highway cruiser. While the MagneRide suspension obviously improves handling, combined with the standard air suspension, the duo also aid with on-road comfort. Not even the standard 22-inch wheels make the Escalade-V feel unsettled. Admittedly, Phoenix does have more perfectly paved roads than most cities; but even over some dirt and rocks, the Escalade wasn’t harsh.
Adding to that upscale on-road driving experience is the latest Super Cruise driver assistance system. It's one of only a handful of options on the Escalade-V, and worth every penny of its $2,500 asking price (although, the chip shortage will delay Super Cruise until the end of the year). This updated version includes an automatic lane change assist, which means you don't even have to tick the indicator stalk for the vehicle to move into the next lane.
Once you set the desired speed, the Escalade-V will automatically navigate to the left around a slower vehicle in the lane. A vibration in the seat and an audible ding alert you that the car is overtaking, no hands necessary. Even on the relatively twisty highways surrounding Roosevelt Lake, the Escalade-V cruised for over an hour without driver interference, changing lanes and keeping up with traffic, with only one or two minor quibbles the entire way.
The same trio of screens found in the standard Escalade adorn the dash here, measuring 16.9 inches, 14.2 inches, and 7.2 inches from right to left. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, as does a wi-fi hotspot, augmented reality navigation, night vision, and a head-up display with a bevy of selections. The only thing separating the V from the non-V model are a few special graphics within the digital cluster that give off a sportier vibe – and they’re not really all that special, anyway.
And that’s sort of the theme with the visuals of the Escalade-V in general. Designers tell me that they purposely went for a “sleeper” look on the exterior, but I’d argue that the Escalade-V is too similar to the Escalade Sport. It’s still a handsome vehicle, but beyond the oversized V badges on the front doors and rear bumper, the moderately updated front fascia, and the revised rear with exhaust tips, there aren’t a ton of eye-catching upgrades on the outside of this car.
The interior is oh-so-similar, as well – but that’s less of a criticism. The standard semi-aniline leather finished in a handsome burgundy in this tester is a nearly perfect look alongside the bright white exterior, with that high-end hide extending to all three rows.
Class Of One
The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V will set you back at least $149,990 (or $152,990 for the long-wheelbase ESV). That’s quite the price to pay for any SUV, but Escalade-V feels worth the cost. And with only a few options to choose from – basically everything comes standard – an extra $2,500 for Super Cruise feels like a no-brainer.
As far as alternatives go, there really isn’t anything close – that’s why Cadillac says it can lay claim to the title of “the industry’s most powerful full-size SUV.” But a Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 will cost you $133,150, and an Alpina XB7 will set you back at least $141,300. Both of those alternatives are down on power compared to the Caddy, though it must be said that they’re still faster to 60 mph and more nimble in corners.
But if it’s power, poise, and an excellent noise you’re after, look no further than the Cadillac Escalade-V. This supercharged SUV is truly one of a kind.
Escalade-V Competitor Reviews:
2023 Cadillac Escalade-V ESV