In a world abuzz about electric cars, the Cadillac Escalade is a throwback. It’s an old school SUV with truck-based construction, a larger-than-necessary body, and a burly fossil fuel engine. It doesn’t look like a vehicle that will tempt people out of Teslas. Yet the Escalade is Cadillac’s de facto flagship.
To compete, Cadillac has loaded the redesigned 2021 Escalade with tech, from a massive OLED 38-inch OLED screen to an advanced version of the Super Cruise driver assist system that can execute automatic lane changes. The interior is truly cutting edge, even if the powertrain remains old-school.
The 2021 Escalade gets an infotainment screen scaled to its massive size. Measuring 38 inches, it’s the first automotive application of OLED tech, according to Cadillac. When the Escalade goes on sale in Summer 2020, it will be the largest display in any production car.
The Escalade’s display is actually three separate screens nested together. A 14.2-inch digital instrument cluster sits in the middle, flanked by a supplementary 7.2-inch control screen for the driver on the left, and a 16.9-inch central display on the right.
Joanne Leddy, Escalade’s Infotainment Program Manager, told Digital Trends this is possible because OLED screens are thin and flexible. Instead of just dropping a giant screen onto the dashboard (we’re looking at you, Ford) Cadillac wanted something stylish.
“We’re able to curve, and bend, and shape the display the way the styling studio envisions the interior to be,” Leddy said.
Besides making the screen itself great, OLED tech makes what’s displayed on it look better, Leddy said. OLED provides deeper blacks and more vivid colors than the LCD screens typically used, Leddy said. The tradeoff was having to get a new technology up to automotive regulatory standards. That meant developing a special film that lessens the display’s reflection across the Escalade’s windows.
Cadillac also makes good use of the dashboard real estate. The instrument cluster can show conventional gauges, (optional) night vision, a navigation map, and even what Cadillac calls an “augmented reality” navigation view.
This overlays the feed from a forward facing camera with arrows for turn-by-turn directions, and places a pin on the destination, so you know what it looks like. The 16.9-inch infotainment display can switch from rows of smartphone-like icons in touch mode, to a carousel view that works with a console-mounted controller. The screen also has a proximity sensor, so it knows when you want to use your own finger instead of the controller and re-configures itself accordingly.
Whether it’s families with kids, or car services shuttling VIPs around, rear seat entertainment systems are as important to the Escalade as what’s in front. Most 2021 Escalade owners will choose the optional dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, Leddy said. Cadillac put extra effort into that, as well.
The Escalade can be optioned with a pair of 12.6-inch touchscreens mounted to the backs of the front seats. Many other cars have a similar setup, but Cadillac adds better connectivity. Each screen has its own USB and HDMI inputs, so rear seat passengers can easily load their own movies and television shows.
Passengers can share from one screen to the other by swiping. The screens can be controlled from the front (a helpful feature for parents) and connect to the navigation system, showing a map similar to what you get on an airliner. No one will ever have to ask “are we there yet?” again — though they probably will, anyway.
The Escalade has the latest version of Cadillac’s Super Cruise driver assist system. In addition to acceleration, steering, and braking on certain stretches of highway, Super Cruise can execute lane changes. All the driver needs to do is tap the turn signal. The system will check to see if there’s a big enough gap, steering the Escalade into the adjacent lane.
Super Cruise has an array of radar units and cameras to detect nearby cars and lane markings, and the latest version relies on GM’s new electrical architecture to for improved data processing power, according to Cadillac. As before, Super Cruise only works on roads that are pre-mapped. Mario Maiorana, Chief Engineer on Super Cruise, says Cadillac didn’t need to do additional mapping to enable automated lane changes, but did feed “richer” data from existing maps into the system.
“We just have better detail and better information for where we’re at on the road, which lane we’re in, and what the geometry is of the road around us,” Maiorana said. While the cameras Super Cruise relies on are no better at seeing in rain or snow than a human eye, the system will still work in a variety of weather conditions, Maiorana said.
“It will work in rain conditions, it will work at night,” Maiorana said “there’s a point where the rain and lighting become so severe that you can’t pick up the lane markings, and at that point in time we will notify the driver and have them take control.” To ensure drivers are always ready to retake control, Super Cruise continues to use a driver-facing camera to monitor attentiveness. A zoned out driver will be locked out of the system.
Underneath the new tech, the Escalade remains an old school SUV. It continues to share a basic platform with the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL, as well as the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks. That means a body-on-frame design that’s great for towing, but not great for overall refinement. At least Cadillac includes a magnetic suspension system for a smoother ride.
The big news under the hood is the first diesel engine ever offered in an Escalade. It’s the same 3.0-liter Duramax turbocharged inline-six used in the above-mentioned Chevy and GMC vehicles, making 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Improved fuel economy is the main reason, a Cadillac marketing manager told Digital Trends, but Cadillac didn’t release any numbers, and it’s unclear Escalade buyers would care if it did.
The Escalade will also offer a more traditional 6.2-liter V8, making 420 hp and 460 lb.-ft. Both engines are coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac expects most buyers to go for the V8 engine.
No luxury SUV can match the Escalade’s OLED infotainment system or the capabilities of Super Cruise, but rivals excel in other areas. The Lincoln Navigator’s turbocharged V6 makes more horsepower and torque than the Escalade’s bigger V8, and you can use your phone as its key. The Escalade also can’t match the Land Rover Range Rover’s off-road capability, and likely won’t be able to keep up with a BMW X7 or Mercedes-Benz GLS on a twisty road.
Cadillac isn’t ready to discuss pricing. Still, it should be in the ballpark as these rivals. That means a fully-loaded Escalade could reach six figures. The OLED screen will be standard equipment, but Super Cruise, night vision, and the rear seat entertainment system will be optional extras.
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