There are certain cars in this business that come close to being perfect. This one is the perfect family crossover, that one is the perfect sport sedan. You know the type. And then there are others that are imperfect, sometimes in a bad way and sometimes in a this-has-an-abundance-of-character way. The 2023 Cadillac Escalade V is the latter. And thanks to some wildly good timing, I got to share it with about 50 other gay car enthusiasts over a weekend in Minneapolis.
I thought I was going to be writing about the “regular” Escalade. Those are supremely nice, comfortable, and not at all sporty – perfect for highway miles but less ideal for a backroads blast. My trip to Minneapolis, though, was planned around an annual “pizza run” that covers some 120 miles of back roads. Most of rural Minnesota and Wisconsin is flat and straight, these roads and people were neither. And then Cadillac surprised me. The Escalade V would be ready in time for my trip – surprise, have fun on your back roads run.
What Is It?
This is a 2023 Cadillac Escalade V. It is An Escalade as we all know it, but the this-just-won’t-do 6.2 liter V8 is yoinked and replaced with a supercharged version that displaces the same amount but makes substantially more power, thanks to a 2.65 liter supercharger strapped to the top. 682 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque are at your disposal thanks to “the Blackwing V8” that is actually not the same as what’s in the CT5-V Blackwing but very close, differing in internal configuration to make it a bit more truck-friendly.
Power and torque are flung to all four wheels through GM’s corporate ten-speed and full-time all-wheel drive that defaults to a 50:50 split and can proportion 70-some percent of everything rearward as needed. Front brakes are upgraded to Brembo six-piston calipers, an active, valved exhaust is added, and bumpers are more aggressive. Other than some interior details tweaked a bit, those are the changes and the Escalade V is otherwise a loaded Escalade Platinum. It’s swanky.
The only option added to my Escalade V was $1,225 of Radiant Red Tintcoat – the only free paint is black – which brought the MSRP just shy of $152,000.
Straight Lines in the Escalade V
My friend Mason summed it up well. “This feels very 1970s-muscle-car in that they put a huge engine up front and didn’t do much otherwise.” It’s true. The Escalade V is like a one-and-a-half-trick pony in that it goes like hell and sounds absolutely wild doing so, but could use a bit more work in the steering and stopping departments.
“Going” is a hilarious process that will get you grinning every time you dig more than a few millimeters into the throttle. Even in its meekest “Tour” drive mode, the Escalade V’s exhaust just can’t help itself above 2,000 rpm and the big V8 shoves you back with ease. But the real fun comes with whatever on ramp you can find. Hit the V button in front of the shifter to take everything to eleven. Shocks stiff, air springs lowered, steering heft increased, exhaust at full bellow.
Point the Escalade V straight ahead and mat it. Ignore the brief change in horizon as the air springs and Magride attempt to handle their business through most of first. Upshifts come with alacrity, a crack that feels DCT-esque. You and the rest of the interstate – and nearby neighborhoods and perhaps the entire county – will be surrounded by exhaust. The Escalade’s AKG “3D Surround” sound system has nothing on this. Glance down at the heads-up display and realize that you’re going wildly fast despite having six gears left.
Lift, relax, and cackle at the complete absurdity of what you just did. Take a cloverleaf exit and do it again. And again. And again.
I got to share in this experience with thirty or so friends on Saturday afternoon. We gathered for a barbecue and I somehow managed to inhale a cheeseburger in between all the fully-loaded rides I gave. Even with seven adults on board, the Escalade V feels monstrously fast. I mean, it is. Nine-ish pounds per horsepower is nuts for a body-on-frame SUV.
Back Roads in the Escalade V
The morning after our backyard get-together saw all fifty of us gather at the Mall of America to start that “pizza run.” Things got twisty, rapidly, which exposed the bits of Escalade V that could be a bit more touched than they are.
Tires are a set of Bridgestone Alenzas, a fantastic “SUV touring tire” that I happen to have on my Porsche Cayenne and like quite a bit. They are great for things like road noise and towing stability and wet weather traction. They are less great at doing what you’re eager to do in a 682-horsepower anything. Turn-in is soft and understeer is abundant, though to the Escalade V’s credit, you can modulate the throttle and get the truck to tuck the nose back in and rotate well enough. Roll back onto the power with enough restraint leaving the corner and you won’t even trip the traction control light, instead washing out just a touch but not enough to be a real problem.
So yeah, the Escalade V is under-tired (whereas most of us are simply tired) but the traction control and chassis dynamics are actually pretty good. It’s predictable. We like predictable. Steering is also a surprising high point – you can feel exactly what those poor Alenzas are doing as they dream of rubbing against curbs outside Nordstrom or anything but this please.
Brakes, despite being upsized, were not as strong as I’d hoped. Initial bite is only okay, with a springy pedal that doesn’t inspire much confidence as you lay into them more and more. Six pistons only tell some of the story, and a more aggressive pad would go a long way here.
Despite all of this, once I got in a groove with the Escalade V, I was keeping up with sports cars on our drive. Manual shift mode let me hold whatever gear I wanted for those left-right-left corners, I turned in early to deal with the tires, and used the throttle to keep the big Cadillac rotating as I wanted. Friends ahead of me were astonished at how often their rearview mirrors were simply filled with grille, friends behind were doubled over with laughter at how easy it seemed despite very visible roll and pitch.
Grabbing six Escaladies (thank you, Danity Kane), strapping in and going for a full-throttle joyride down an on-ramp was one of the best memories I was able to make all year. Cars are fun in a bubble, but being able to share them with others is perhaps my favorite part of this whole hobby and related passion.
Cadillac claims they won’t be selling internal combustion vehicles by 2030, which makes this Escalade V and related-ish Blackwing sedans a bit of a last hurrah for the brand. I absolutely love how wild the Escalade V is, and despite my desires for more tire and more brake, I think it might not hold as much appeal if it had ‘em. Being technically perfect makes it far harder to imbue such charm in a vehicle, and the outright charm of the 2023 Cadillac Escalade V is its biggest appeal.