PHOENIX — When it comes to luxury nameplates, BMW has long banked on the 3 Series sedan, billed as the ultimate driving machine, while the E Class sedan has carried the torch for Mercedes-Benz and the RX crossover has been a gold mine for Lexus.
Cadillac, feeling some heat in the light-truck market on its 120th anniversary, is cranking up the volume on its undisputed crown jewel.
Large luxury SUVs are moving more upscale in price, content and performance — see the 2022 Range Rover with optional third-row seating — and new entrants such as the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which can top $100,000, are crowding in, so the Cadillac Escalade is getting fortified with an extreme performance model.
The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V, packing a 682-hp, 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine with 653 pound-feet of torque, is a 3-ton luxury SUV that zips from 0 to 60 mph in under 4.4 seconds.
Priced at $149,000, including shipping, it will become the most expensive Cadillac on the market, delivering more profit to General Motors, though volume will be low. The Escalade-V also will be available as an extended- wheelbase ESV, a variant representing about 30 percent of Escalade volume, priced from $152,990.
The Escalade is the first utility vehicle from Cadillac to wear a V Series badge, aimed at taking on the likes of BMW’s M performance brand or Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division.
Cadillac launched the V subbrand with the 2004 CTS-V sedan, which had a 400-hp V-8, and customers have become key advocates for the brand.
One of GM President Mark Reuss’ top requests for the team developing the newest Escalade was to ensure it turned heads and sounded like a V Series.
Based on research, Cadillac officials are convinced there is nothing comparable to the Escalade-V in the three-row luxury SUV market today. In addition to the latest Range Rover, powered by a 523-hp, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 built by BMW, the closest rivals would be BMW’s Alpina XB7 and the Mercedes-AMG GLS63, though some analysts classify the latter two models as midsize SUVs.
A frequent question, given the Escalade’s success over the years, is what took so long to bring a V Series variant to market? Cadillac officials say changing corporate priorities, rigorous development requirements and the pandemic all played a role in the timing.
Aside from the Lyriq electric crossover, the Escalade-V is the biggest launch for Cadillac this year. The two vehicles are aimed at buyers that likely prize fuel economy in far different ways.
The SUV’s V-8, a version of the engine powering the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, is bolted to an Eaton supercharger and hand-built at GM’s Performance Build Center in Bowling Green, Ky. Each one bears a badge featuring the signature of the builder.
It is equipped with standard gear found on many extreme performance vehicles: a quad exhaust, six-piston Brembo front brakes and 22-inch aluminum wheels. Standard extras include Magnetic Ride Control and Air Ride Adaptive Suspension, and a selectable V-Mode with individual settings for AWD, engine performance, steering, exhaust sound (stealth, tour and sport) and brake pedal that can be customized by the driver.
GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driver-assistance technology will be available late in the model year.
“We wanted an Escalade for every aficionado,” said David Schiavone the longtime global product manager for the Escalade who is retiring from GM this month. “We’re confident we’ve created the most engaging full-size SUV ever.”
The Escalade became Cadillac’s top seller in 2021 and remained so in the first quarter as GM prioritizes its most profitable models. Because of tight supplies caused by the microchip shortage and other bottlenecks, U.S. incentives on the Escalade have dropped below $300 in recent months, down sharply from $2,398 in May 2021, Motor Intelligence data shows, further padding dealer and GM profits on the vehicle.
It has become Cadillac’s bona fide franchise since it launched as a 1999 model, drawing more younger buyers than the rest of the brand’s lineup. And it has been the top-selling full-size luxury SUV in 18 of the last 20 years, according to the Automotive News Research & Data Center.
While Cadillac struggles to retain buyers more than the top-selling luxury brands — BMW, Mercedes and Lexus — the Escalade has traditionally drawn new buyers and kept existing owners in the Cadillac family at a higher rate than the brand’s other models.
It likely will be one of the last new Cadillac programs with an internal combustion engine as Cadillac shifts to an all-electric lineup by 2030. An Escalade-size electric vehicle is slated to be introduced in 2024, followed by a small crossover the same year and a larger crossover in 2025, according to AutoForecast Solutions.
Beyond the Lyriq and the Celestiq sedan, Cadillac hasn’t confirmed specific plans for any more EVs.
The multicultural marketing plan for the Escalade-V will be heavy on digital platforms, with regional television advertising, and will tap actress Regina King, Latin artist and producer Maffio, and rapper Killer Mike. Cadillac is reuniting with Maffio, an Escalade promoter since he composed the score for the redesigned 2020 Escalade’s ad campaign, “Never Stop Arriving.”
Orders for the Escalade-V opened May 19 and production begins in July at GM’s Arlington, Texas, assembly plant, with sales starting in late summer.
“We aren’t worried about selling [the Escalade-V,]” said Lizzy Dinnella, assistant marketing manager for the Escalade. “The Escalade has enjoyed a wide following and the V Series just puts more sizzle on the package.”