You feel a fair amount of guilt while driving a full-size SUV with a 682-horsepower supercharged V8 at a time when. But this sort of rampant overindulgence is exactly what the new Cadillac Escalade V is all about.
So instead of asking, “Why now?” Perhaps the better question is, “What took ’em so long?” The Escalade’s been more synonymous with Cadillac than any CT-whatever sedan will ever be, yet it’s only now being invited into the hi-po V-Series club. Chief engineer Mike Symons chalks it up to past Escalades relying too heavily on stock full-size pickup truck platforms, while the new SUV has sophisticated underpinnings like an air suspension, Magnetic Ride Control dampers and an independent rear axle. It’s true; those attributes pay dividends towards making the Escalade V great to drive. Of course, having a bazooka of an engine certainly helps, too.
I’m of course talking about Cadillac’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8, the same one you’ll find in the awesome. In addition to 682 hp, this V8 pushes out 653 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission. That’s enough motivation to move this roughly 6,000-pound behemoth to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, or 4.5 seconds if you opt for the long-wheelbase Escalade V ESV tested here.
Cadillac spent a lot of time tuning the Escalade V’s exhaust. The equal-length pipes exit through quad tips, and the aural quality is downright rude. There’s an almost excessive amount of burble on overrun that you can hear throughout the cabin, and neither the engine or exhaust are artificially ‘enhanced’ through the speakers. When something sounds this good, there’s no need for amplification.
The 10-speed automatic transmission is perfectly tuned to make the most of the Escalade V’s power. Toddle around town in Tour mode and the gearbox shifts smoothly and quietly, befitting of a full-size luxury SUV. Put the Escalade in its most aggressive V mode, however, and you’ll enjoy rapid-fire upshifts and downshifts that are delightfully violent, the kind that kick you through the back of the seat. Even the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are enjoyable to use. That’s something I don’t often say, and I certainly didn’t expect it in an Escalade.
I also didn’t expect this thing to handle as well as it does, though I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Cadillac’s fourth-generation Magnetic Ride Control system is about as good as modern suspension tech gets, and combined with the standard air setup, it works wonders. Body roll is quelled enough to keep the Escalade V mostly flat while cornering, but not so much to make you forget you’re driving an absolutely enormous SUV. The steering is appropriately weighty with plenty of feedback from the road, and the standard Brembo six-piston front brakes do an admirable job handling the brunt of the stopping force.
These improved road manners don’t kill day-to-day comfort, either. There’s a wealth of power under your right foot, but it’s easy to manage and never rears its head unexpectedly.
My one complaint with the ride quality isn’t actually unique to the V, it’s something I’ve experienced in other Escalades, as well. On the standard 22-inch wheels, the ride is quite chatty over minor pavement imperfections, despite the excellent suspension tuning and thickly sidewalled 275/50 all-season tires. A smaller wheel/tire package might mitigate this somewhat, but Cadillac doesn’t offer one from the factory, though an engineer tells me 20-inch wheels will still clear the brake rotors.
Great as the Escalade V is to drive, it’s just as lovely when you let the driver-assistance technology do the heavy lifting. While it won’t be available at launch, Cadillac will offer the Escalade V with its excellent Super Cruise system, which allows for legit hands-free operation on a whole bunch of pre-mapped highways throughout North America. Even on a steep and windy section of two-lane highway through Arizona, Super Cruise keeps the Escalade V smoothly humming along, executing automatic lane changes when safe to do so.
There’s a ton of great tech packed into the Escalade, and it all carries over to the V. Cadillac’s curved OLED dashboard display offers 38 inches of diagonal digital real estate, with pretty colors and crisp graphics, as well asand smartphone mirroring, both of which connect wirelessly.
The V builds off of the Escalade’s highest Platinum trim level, so the interior is as loaded as it gets. The cushy front seats are trimmed in soft leather, and feature heating, cooling and massage functionality. Second- and third-row passengers have ample head- and legroom, as well as charging ports and storage cubbies for days. And don’t forget, the Escalade V is huge; the long-wheelbase ESV can accommodate as much as 142.8 cubic feet of cargo behind the front chairs.
That makes the Escalade V roomier than its closest competitors, the new Land Rover Range Rover and. It also makes the Escalade’s $149,990 base price (including destination) seem like a relative bargain. Add $3,000 for the long-wheelbase ESV and $2,500 for Super Cruise and you’re looking at $155,490 for an Escalade V equipped like my test car. No one ever said indulgence is cheap.
Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET’s staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.