2023 Cadillac Escalade-V First Drive: A Big SUV Gets a Big Performance Upgrade

What can top the audacity of a regular Cadillac Escalade? Why, a $150,000, 682-horsepower Escalade that can rocket to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds despite being large enough to double as an RV. Dave Burnett, Puppyknuckles

The Cadillac Escalade has always been a bold, in-your-face luxury machine. First, it’s a Cadillac and that carries a certain cachet as a luxury brand people aspire to own. Second, it’s about the size of an Abrams tank so you can almost see it from space. Despite that presence, the good folks at Cadillac decided it needed a little something extra. Enter the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V.

This newest Escalade adds a bonkers amount of horsepower and performance-focused handling to this unlikely luxury hotrod.

The V-Series is an exclusive lineup of Cadillac vehicles that blends all the luxury and refinement of the brand with high-horsepower engines and a slew of performance enhancements that put them in a class above the rest. While some brands make special versions of their vehicles that look fast but don’t deliver, the V-Series does both and it does so with style.

2023 Cadillac Escalade V grille
The V-Series has been around for nearly 20 years, but in all that time Cadillac has never built a V version of its best-selling Escalade, until now. Dave Burnett, Puppyknuckles

This lineup isn’t a new undertaking for Cadillac. The CTS-V was the first V-Series and it debuted back in 2004. It was a part of Cadillac’s efforts to change the public’s perception of the brand. Yeah, I’ll say it. Cadillac was fast becoming the car your grandparents drove and not in the cool, vintage car kind of way. The V-Series proved Cadillac could very much build a luxurious, thrilling vehicle with wider appeal and it has maintained that stance ever since.

Despite that long V-Series history, the Escalade has never received the V treatment until now. This three-row SUV is now the most powerful full-size SUV on the market thanks to a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine with 682 horsepower and 653 pound-feet of torque. That engine gets paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission specifically calibrated for this vehicle. 

Together, they blend the power and responsiveness of a sports car with the velvet glove plushness of the regular Escalade.

2023 Cadillac Escalade V engine
The heart of the beast is a supercharged 682-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 similar to the one used in the CT5-V Blackwing, which was the most powerful Cadillac ever until this new Escalade. Dave Burnett, Puppyknuckles

How Fast Is It?

This is not a small, sleek sedan. It’s a massive SUV that is a challenge to maneuver through congested city streets and equally challenging to park. You don’t expect something this large to be fast. This isn’t a CT5-V Blackwing, and by rights it should be a bit ponderous with sloppy handling that makes high-speed driving a worrisome proposition. But this is a V-Series and just as much of a real performer as its sedan sibling, so you can toss aside what you think you know about big SUVs.

The Escalade-V has a zero-to-60 time of 4.4 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 12.74 seconds at 110 mph. Not so long ago, these were supercar numbers and this is still very fast for a sedan, let alone a full-size SUV. 

It’s aggressive when you stomp on the gas with a burbling, popping exhaust and a rich, throaty burble. You’ll wake up the neighbors when you push the start button. If you don’t want them to hate you, then you can switch the engine sound to Stealth as you creep out of the neighborhood but flip it back to Tour or Sport mode as soon as you can to crank that sound back up to the fun zone.

2023 Cadillac Escalade V ESV
Yes, you can buy a V version of the stretched, 225-inch-long Escalade ESV. There aren’t any other vehicles this large that can go this fast. Dave Burnett, Puppyknuckles

Refined Performance

I drove the Escalade-V from Scottsdale, Arizona to Theodore Roosevelt Damn along highways and winding roadways and found it impressively refined. The power promised by its numbers was there every time I pressed on the gas making it feel like the performance car I expected. Whether accelerating out of a turn or passing slower vehicles, the Escalade-V delivered a responsive, engaging ride in a way few SUVs can match.

It had plenty of power with aggressive acceleration, but it didn’t forget that it’s also supposed to be a refined luxury vehicle. You will hear the engine and feel its power, but not in an intrusive way. Instead, that V8 provides a welcome background soundtrack to the constant calm of the cabin. That’s exactly what you want in a luxury vehicle, especially one that has seating for seven, some of whom are likely to be kids.

Adding to that sense of refinement is a remarkably controlled ride. Driving an SUV, especially a big one, can be downright disconcerting on winding roads, but not so with the Escalade-V. 

2023 Cadillac Escalade V steering wheel
2023 Cadillac Escalade V Wheel
2023 Cadillac Escalade V three quarter
2023 Cadillac Escalade V forward camera

It stayed planted and level making it fun to take through swooping highway turns. Rather than feeling the need to constantly tap the brakes and scrub off speed on downhill stretches, I easily maintained speed without sacrificing control or passenger comfort.

Much of the credit for this feat goes to the standard Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 and Air Ride Adaptive Suspension. It includes stiffer rear springs and specially tuned damper hardware and software calibrations that strike a balance between the stiffness you need in a sports car with the comfort you want for a family hauler. There are also standard 6-piston Brembo front brakes that provide consistent, even braking power for more spirited driving.

Luxury at Warp Speed

At its core, the Escalade-V is still a Cadillac, so it offers the premium luxury experience that badge demands with a long list of standard features. There are 16-way power front seats with both heat and ventilation along with massage ideal for longer trips. Leather trims on the steering wheel, doors and center console are accented by rich Zebra Wood accents for added visual appeal and the 36-speaker AKG audio system delivers premium sound quality no matter where you sit.

Across the dashboard is a 38-inch curved OLED display that includes a 16.9-inch infotainment screen. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard along with navigation and a unique augmented reality feature. This puts a live image of whatever is in front of the car right onto the 14.2-inch instrument cluster, including navigation when the system is in use.

2023 Cadillac Escalade V surround monitoring
The Escalade is an enormous vehicle, and as on its lesser siblings the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, surround-view monitoring makes maneuvering one much easier. Dave Burnett, Puppyknuckles

Standard safety includes automatic emergency braking, automatic parking assist, lane keep assist with lane departure warning and lane change alert. Optional is GM’s Super Cruise driver assistance technology that allows for hands-free driving on over 200,000 miles of roads in North America. This latest iteration of the system can even automatically change lanes to safely go around slower vehicles. It requires the driver’s attention but makes driving in heavy traffic or on longer trips a less taxing proposition.

All this luxury and performance come at a steep price, however. The standard, regular-wheelbase Escalade V rings in at a towering $149,990 and $152,990 for the long wheelbase ESV. That’s far higher than what you’ll find in competitive vehicles including the Infinti QX80, Lincoln Navigator, or Jeep Grand Cherokee L or Grand Wagoneer, with their exceptional off-road capability. 

Why spend the extra? Because none of those competitive offerings come close on power. It’s true that BMW’s X5M and the Mercedes-AMG G63 will offer somewhat similar performance, but they come in much smaller and very different packages.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V is a unique combination of features. It has the room for people and cargo that can only be found in a truly full-size SUV. It adds in a luxurious interior with materials that look and feel elegant. And it rounds out the package with a powerful V8 engine makes this a compelling choice for those with a budget generous enough to buy one.

Cadillac says that the V will arrive at dealerships late this summer.

2023 Cadillac Escalade V
2023 Cadillac Escalade V key

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