VAIL, Colorado — There are three ways into the full-size SUV lifestyle from General Motors.
First there’s the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, with the latter being the longer of the two. These are the workhorses of the group, selling both to folks with large families and large dogs, and folks who work for a living.
It’s hard to call a truck that starts at $50,000 “utilitarian,” but that’s sort of the vibe it gives off. If you want a huge SUV at a (more) affordable price, aim for the Tahoe. Even the High Country trim that starts close to $70,000 still ends up being a bit less than the other options.
There’s also the GMC Yukon, which I reviewed back in February. That truck weighed in at more than $83,000 with the Denali trim affixed and is considerably more luxurious than the Tahoe. Covered in chrome and leather, the Yukon Denali was a clear step up from the Chevrolet product even though they’re ostensibly the same truck, made on the same platform, and assembled on the same production line with the same engine and drivetrain.
The basic layout of the Tahoe and Yukon are similar — three rows, captain’s chairs in the second row, an enormous tailgate and plenty of cargo storage — but they feel very different thanks to design decisions around the layout of the dash, the transmission selector and, especially, the design of the exterior. This is one of those times when buyers are going to walk into a dealership, look at both vehicles for a moment and make a snap decision on which one to pick (and that’s if they didn’t know well before they walked in).
But if you want an even more luxurious giant SUV, especially one with a huge amount of fancy tech installed, you should get my test car this week: The 2021 Cadillac Escalade.
I borrowed a $109,500 top-of-the-line Escalade Platinum and cruised around Colorado for a week loaded full of luggage and friends and gave it an extremely thorough test.
Driving experience-wise, it was very similar to the Yukon that I reviewed, so I’ll skip over that (fuel economy was as expected, in the mid-teens, so efficient it isn’t) — but there is a lot of cool and unique tech here that’s worth calling out.
First up is the series of enormous screens. They’re curved and designed to look like one continuous piece of glass, but we actually have three different OLED screens here. OLED is a new thing to the car world, but it is what’s in the highest-end smartphones from Apple and Samsung these days, and it looks terrific.
Cadillac’s navigation is particularly useful, with a full-screen takeover of the dash cluster available when you’re using the built-in mapping functionality. The screens are crisp and text is readable, and there’s a jaw-dropping augmented reality feature too.
The Escalade has a front-facing camera that you can display on the gauge cluster. It shows you what’s directly ahead of you, which might not sound too exciting because you can just look out the windshield to see that, right? But, when you have a turn coming up, that screen will display a giant set of blue arrows at the precise location where you need to turn. Basically it shows giant arrows floating in mid-air that get bigger as you approach your turn-in point. It’s hard to describe but amazing to see.
It even turned out to be somewhat useful a few times when navigating on unfamiliar roads, but I’m waiting for the eventual projection of those floating arrows onto the windshield itself, which I’m sure will happen in the next 10 years or so. Maybe.
There’s also a night-vision mode that Cadillac has offered for a while; it does highlight deer and people walking at the side of the road, which is helpful.
The massive infotainment screen in the center also supports wireless Apple CarPlay, though the screen is oddly shaped and CarPlay only supports rectangles, so there was a lot of wasted space there. My wireless connection was also flaky throughout my entire time with the Escalade, but I’ve had it work reliably with other GM products, so I’m going to chalk that up to early production glitches. It also supports Android Auto.
There are other cool little things too. The numerous massaging functions in the Escalade’s front seats are phenomenal and make a long road-trip considerably more comfortable and enjoyable, and there’s a refrigerated storage compartment in the center console that’s shockingly large and easily fits a half-dozen Vitamin Water bottles.
Just about the only thing missing from my Escalade was Super Cruise — GM’s top-notch driver assist feature that I wrote about in the Chevy Bolt EUV a few weeks ago. Because of production constraints, it’s hard to find Escalades with Super Cruise added these days, which is disappointing.
If you want a giant luxury SUV that’s absolutely stuffed with whiz-bang tech, you’ll get solid value for money (a weird thing to say considering the price) with the new Escalade — just make sure you can score Super Cruise before plunking down more than 100 large. It’s worth it, I promise.