I will admit it; when Cadillac asked if we wanted to spend a day with the new 2021 Escalade, I was in two minds about saying yes. A 6,000lb body-on-frame SUV is about as far from my automotive comfort zone as it's possible to get with a regular driver's license. And while there is a choice of gasoline V8 or turbodiesel inline-six, there's not a sniff of a hybrid option—not even the 48V mild kind, which feels inexcusable in the year 2020.
On the other hand, Cadillac has turned up the technology dial in an effort to regain its crown as the King of Bling. From the driver's seat you can see 38 inches of OLED screen wrapping around you. The highlight is an augmented reality mode that's cool enough to tempt you away from navigating by CarPlay or Android Auto and worthy of Ars' attention on its own.
The body-on-frame light truck is an American speciality. It's where the domestic automakers make their money, and the new Escalade is built on General Motor's latest and greatest body-on-frame platform. And I do mean greatest. Our test vehicle was a $105,995 Escalade ESV 4WD Platinum, which stretches out across 226.9 inches (5,766mm), with a 134.1-inch (3.407mm) wheelbase. More than one neighbor remarked on how large it was as it jutted out of my parking space, which luckily is slightly wider than the Escalade's 81.1 inches (2,059mm). At 76.4 inches (1,942mm) tall, I was grateful for the retractable running boards that emerge when you open a door; if you're shorter than average, it is a $1,750 option you might want.
Body-on-frame isn't a synonym for primitive, as evinced by the Escalade's underpinnings. It uses independent suspension front and rear, and the Platinum Luxury, Sport, and Platinum Sport trims all feature standard magnetorheological dampers, an electronic limited slip differential, and optional air suspension.
The 6.2L V8 engine is common to many a GM machine and does feature the latest in cylinder-on-demand technology. It provides the Escalade with 420hp (313kW) and 406lb-ft (623Nm), and regardless of whether you pick two- or four-wheel drive, it uses the same 10-speed automatic transmission. Later this year the 277hp (207kW), 460lb-ft (623Nm) diesel option becomes available, but that's it on the powertrain front. Simply put, GM doesn't have a hybrid system on its shelves it could stick into the Escalade and evidently doesn't think its customer base cares enough for it to need one.
Once you climb up and ensconce yourself in the driver's seat—a 16-way adjustable power seat with a pretty decent massage function to go with heating and cooling functions—the sense of modernity continues. There are little touches, like the transmission lever that sprouts from the center console as opposed to poking out from the steering column, or wireless charging slot for your smartphone. But mainly it's the big touches—all that acreage of OLED.
Although Cadillac's press materials make many references to the car's 38-inch OLED display "at twice the pixel density of a 4k TV," it's actually three separate panels. To your left is a 7.2-inch touchscreen: this one is where you can see your trip information, as well as select what to display on the main instrument panel. That is a 14.2-inch screen, mounted just in front of the other two. And to your right is a 16.9-inch touchscreen where you interact with the infotainment system and the car's settings.
The first couple of modes of the main instrument panel are pretty conventional—you can display a big virtual speedometer gauge, and there's also a moving map. Night vision is a $2,000 optional extra and works a lot like it did in the Cadillac CT6, although the Escalade uses a higher-resolution infrared camera to go with the better screens.