“Hello? What is your location?” A random woman’s voice rang out from all 36 of the Cadillac Escalade V’s AKG speakers as I jogged back to the open driver’s door. I hadn’t crashed – merely stopped aggressively in a straight line – but the Escalade thought I was in what we call a predicament.
My location was in fact Gingerman Raceway, a racetrack halfway between Detroit, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. I’d rented the place to host our first-ever trackcross in the midwest. With plenty of attendees and a fun variety of cars, new and old, I was using the Escalade V as a support vehicle for the event. It spent the weekend transporting people, shuttling antennas and timing gear and speaker stands around the facility, and leading groups of cars around the portion of track we were using at any given moment to show them the line. Its tow hitch receiver ended up in use once, to pull a broken BMW back in to the paddock.
The Cadillac wasn’t at the track to be driven competitively, or even very hard. That’s not the point of the vehicle, compared to its CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwing sedan siblings. It’s more or less “just” an Escalade that’s been made very fast, and making the 6,217-pound condominium and retail facility handle wan’t really Cadillac’s goal.
Making the Escalade V Turn
I first experienced the Escalade V last year, bringing one to a gathering of gay car enthusiasts near Minneapolis, Minnesota. It held its own on the back-roads drive we took, though said drive featured wide, sweepers of corners that weren’t especially taxing on the suspension or tires.
Gingerman, meanwhile, is a racetrack, meant for sports cars. And here I was using the Escalade V to show our drivers the line for each heat we ran, albeit at a slow pace. Sweepers? There were a few, but Gingerman is also a track with quick transitions between left and right corners. Even at low speeds – I’m talking 25 to 30 miles per hour – I had to learn how to make the Escalade V turn without sending the stability control into a tizzy.
To start, I disabled both traction control and stability control on the center touchscreen. It was a great idea, in theory, but stability control turns back on once you get above 20 or so and shuts down the fun hard. Power gets cut substantially and the system takes a bit to reassure itself that all is well before giving it back. All the while, the brakes are furiously tap-dancing to keep the big Caddy upright. The power cut is noticeable, but I only knew the brakes were being worked because I smelled them after two slow sighting laps.
Clearly, I had to be better.
Cars respond to inputs and the Escalade V was simply doing what it was programmed to do based on what I was also programmed to do. My quick inputs work in a low car with some camber and grippy tires. They absolutely do not work in a tall SUV with soft air springs, whether it’s got a blower under the hood or not. So, I changed my inputs.
With the Barbie soundtrack turned down and a more dedicated focus on being incredibly smooth, I realized that the Escalade V would handle quicker left-right-left sequences if I stopped sawing at the wheel so much and found the exact racing line around the bits of racetrack we were using. Making every corner as straight as possible was the answer, which left the stability system’s jimmies decidedly un-rustled and even allowed for power application on corner exit if I was careful with the throttle.
It’s Still Stupid in a Straight Line
Corner-carving (or corner coasting) still isn’t the Escalade V’s purpose. It’s best when pointed dead ahead with the skinny pedal buried in the carpet and the “V” drive mode selected. The transmission shifts nearly DCT-fast and the exhaust is hysterically loud as the big 6.2 and its supercharger convert dollars to noise and motion as rapidly as possible.
The same pillowy suspension that made the Escalade V handle a bit like a baby deer learning to walk three paragraphs ago makes it relentlessly entertaining here. Floored from a stop, the nose pitches up to roughly the same angle the Titanic achieved before slipping beneath the sea. But all that sinks here in this case is the fuel gauge, which you can truly watch drop if you’re spending most of your time acting so juvenile.
When you do have to stop, the six-piston Brembo front brakes and whatever-piston rears do a fine job of slowing you down. I don’t love the pedal feel; despite a nice initial bite it can feel pretty wooden as you work through its travel.
I had blasted up to about 65 miles per hour in a straight line and stopped hard, putting the Escalade in Park and hopping out to turn on our finish line “eyes” as we resumed competition after a lunch break. There was no drama, the ABS never kicked in, but standing the truck on its nose was enough to have a nice woman on the telephone check in on me.
I reached out to Cadillac to ask about the parameters for an OnStar call, given I hadn’t hit anything and no airbags had deployed. I was told that “these driving behaviors, such as change in velocity, must have replicated those of a minor collision-type incident, which triggered a wellbeing call from our OnStar Emergency Advisors. Of background, OnStar has put parameters in place, based on customer feedback and comprehensive testing, to address driving events that don’t meet the criteria for Automatic Crash Response, but may still signal an OnStar call for current OnStar subscribers. This can include change in velocity, seat belt pretensioners and more.”
So then, the brakes will perform enough change in velocity to worry a call center. I guess they’re good enough.
SuperCruising in Public
Other than my slow-yet-smooth antics and some straight line blasts, much of my time in the Escalade V was spent on the interstate. Gingerman Raceway is roughly three hours from the Detroit airport, and the Cadillac’s killer feature was not its ample levels of passing power but a single button on the steering wheel.
I’ve gushed about GM’s SuperCruise before – it’s let me tow over 1,000 miles hands-free in a few Chevrolet and GMC trucks – but using it with no trailer is even more of a treat. Once you’re on a highway that the system recognizes, one button push turns the whole system on and illuminates a light bar on the steering wheel. Messages in the gauge cluster show you what’s happening; all you do is keep your eyes looking (mostly) forward.
Come up on slower traffic? SuperCruise will check for an opening and change lanes for you. Unlike most parking assistance systems I’ve sampled, automatic lane changes happen relatively quickly, as if you’re doing it yourself and thus keeping up with traffic. The Escalade did a good job identifying other cars merging in to its desired center lane a few times, holding off on moving to the right even though they’d barely began coming over on us. If there was a second car worth passing given our speed differential, it’d keep me in the passing lane and get around both.
The system continues to feel brilliantly programmed, and I used it for about two-thirds of my interstate driving. Certain construction zones and other irregularities will disable some or all assistance, but every prompt of “take over steering” came with plenty of warning.
Tesla owners will crow about “Full” Self-Driving (which is… not any of those words) despite it relying solely on cameras to get around. General Motors is using a far, far safer approach with mapped highway routes, cameras and various sensors as they implement SuperCruise, and while I generally loathe subscription fees, it’s one I’d be pleased to pay after the free trial expired.
It’s What It Says on The Label
My initial impressions of the Cadillac Escalade V were generally positive, and they remain so now. Some cars are better off with imperfections; enthusiasts call that “soul” or “character” and I do think the imperfections give the Escalade V a personality all its own.
At the same time, I know the Escalade V could be made to handle a bit better. Given the price tag – roughly $155,000 – I feel like it ought to handle a bit better. But something tells me buyers wouldn’t be quite as enthralled with this machine if it were more Germanic in its packaging.
And that’s fine by me. It’s my job to find the bright and the dull, the brilliant and the flawed. Some buyers want perfection; one vehicle that can do the most with plenty of polish. But the Escalade V is proof that being a little flawed can be damned endearing.