Gasoline or diesel? In the new Escalade, there’s no wrong way to go.
Here's the good news for full-size luxury SUV buyers: Not only does the 2021 Cadillac Escalade diesel drive nearly identically to the excellent, gasoline-chugging model, it also costs the exact same amount, is just as impressive inside, and gets notably better fuel economy. The bad news? Well, there isn't any, unless you're a hardcore V-8 partisan.
Added as part of the Escalade's wholesale redesign for 2021, the diesel version lacks the gasoline model's ferocious growl under full-bore acceleration, as well as its mid-range and top-end muscle during freeway-speed passing maneuvers. But the diesel delivers in virtually all other circumstances. In terms of output, here's how they stack up: The gas V-8 churns out 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, while the Duramax inline six-cylinder turbodiesel is rated for 277 hp and an equal 460 lb-ft.
After punching the diesel's ignition button, the first thing we noticed was the massive, bladder-busting 560 miles of range indicated in the gorgeous OLED digital instrument panel—note we didn't say "diesel clatter." Sure, anyone attuned to diesels will be able to pick up the telltale cues, but the smooth Duramax is quiet and refined enough to go undetected by most. Under acceleration, it's a bit gruffer in tone than the V-8, but those who have owned or spent time in European diesel SUVs from, say, Audi or Mercedes won't bat an eye.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade diesel, which is visually separated only by the "600D" badge on its liftgate and a lower redline on its digital tachometer, pulls away smartly from a stop, its 10-speed automatic shuffling through gear ratios completely invisibly. We recently tested the mechanically similar but longer-wheelbase Chevy Suburban with this same diesel engine, and it chuffed its way to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds; figure this Escalade to register a time in the same neighborhood given comparable curb weights. The Caddy isn't a scorcher, but neither does it ever feel slow.
How The Diesel Drives
The new Escalade's refined and fine-driving chassis is here, too, with linear and accurate steering that allows easy placement in parking lots and on freeways, back roads, and everywhere in between. The suspension on our example had the optional magnetorheological dampers, and it rode as smooth as you can reasonably expect given the Escalade's body-on-frame construction, ginormous 22-inch wheels, and the atrocious quality of Michigan roads we tested it on. They remain devoid of feel regardless of engine, but the brakes are predictable and well up to the task of slowing down such a hefty boy, though we have yet to test their efficacy with a trailer strapped to the back of the Caddy.
The maximum tow ratings are basically aligned between diesel and gas Escalades—sensing a theme yet?—with the diesel rated to pull 7,800 pounds with four-wheel drive and 8,000 pounds with rear-wheel drive. Those numbers are 200 pounds shy of the V-8's due to the overall mass differences between the powertrains; the diesel is about 190 pounds heavier than the V-8 when accounting for all accessories, such as the diesel exhaust-treatment system. Even so, frequent luggers may want to opt for the Duramax, whose maximum torque is available at just 1,500 rpm versus the 6.2-liter's 4,100 rpm.
Everything That's Great About The Escalade
Like other 2021 Escalades, the diesel model is stuffed with hugely luxurious and technology-rich innards. There's the trio of highly impressive OLED screens placed in front of the driver, with a touch-sensitive trip and driver's info readout to the left of the steering wheel, a configurable instrument panel, and a sweeping central infotainment touchscreen. The software is quick to respond and gorgeously rendered, and we love the fact automakers are starting to install screens in shapes that complement a vehicle's interior aesthetic. The Escalade's approach mitigates what could be an overwhelming digital experience.
Instead, the experience is rich, the decadent cabin slathered with wood, metal accents, and supple leather upholstery. This particular diesel Escalade was delivered with the $2,000 Brandy and Very Dark Atmosphere interior option—that's caramel brown and dark gray for those who don't speak "pretentious"—that also adds stylish diamond stitching to the seats. There are a number of interior colors available, with a plethora of additional options for wood trim, stitch patterns, and more. The available $1,995 rear-entertainment system features large, high-resolution screens and tons of connectivity options, and we'd consider it a must if you anticipate frequently shuttling passengers. There were a few minor missteps—one or two wavy stitches/bits of piping, some parts-bin switchgear—but the 2021 Cadillac Escalade's cabin is quiet and comfortable, with the design and execution you'd expect to find in a six-figure vehicle.
The Cost Of Excellence
And that's where the diesel-powered, short-wheelbase Premium Luxury 4WD model we drove landed: $104,910, with $17,620 worth of options factored in. We won't get into the value proposition of adding $1,750 in power-retracting side steps or the amazing-sounding $4,300 AKG audio system or any of the other goodies; if you're shopping for an Escalade, cost probably isn't a problem. That also means the financial implications of the Escalade diesel's fuel economy don't matter, either. But it's still nice that the Duramax returns 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with rear-drive, or 20/26 with four-wheel drive; those are up from 15/20 and 14/19 in the V-8 model.
Choosing which 2021 Cadillac Escalade engine is right for you is as much about what you plan to do with it than anything else. Tow or hit the highway a lot? Diesel. Strike a showy stance best augmented by the chest-thumping rumble of a V-8? Gasoline. Based on this initial experience, though, it's clear that whatever your choice, it won't be a wrong one.