After a Quarter-Century, the Iconic Cadillac Escalade Goes Electric

By Casey Williams

The Cadillac Escalade IQ Sport in Flare Metallic. (Cadillac/TNS)

(Tribune News Service/TNS) — In the late 1990s, Cadillac introduced an SUV with the high-fin flash of a 1959 Eldorado, the lush comfort of a Fleetwood sedan and the go-anywhere capability of a Chevy Blazer. Before the Escalade, celebrities stepped onto red carpets from limousines. After the Escalade, they stepped from Escalades. Soon, they’ll arrive in Escalade EVs.

“Escalade was the right vehicle at the right time,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ director of insights. “It helped set the tone for what a large, premium SUV was and is today. Escalade remains a poster child for over-the-top exuberance. Not many other vehicles can make you feel just as cool by simply being a passenger as driving yourself.”

Money Machine

General Motors was caught flat-footed by the Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX and Mercedes-Benz M-Class in the late ‘90s, but adding a Cadillac SUV was not an easy sell within GM. Luxury SUVs were the provision of GMC, but Cadillac leadership prevailed and finessed the Yukon Denali into the first Escalade for 1999.

It cost $10 million to configure the Yukon for Cadillac, but the effort returned $200 million. Money well-spent, but the second-generation Escalade introduced for 2002 adopted Cadillac’s “Art & Science” theme with sharp creases and vertical lamps from the ’67 Eldorado. Since the body shell was already tooled, designers could only change from the cowl forward plus alter side trim and rear lights.

“We had to give it Cadillac character, a commanding presence,” said Dennis Burke, former Escalade design chief. “The face is important — (the) front has vertical stacked headlamps and egg crate grille. Some people said we wouldn’t fool anybody, but it just shouted ‘Cadillac’! I’m very proud of it — (it) paved the way for future generations.”

The 1999 Cadillac Escalade. (Wieck/GM/Cadillac/TNS)

It was exactly what everybody expected from the brand: Big, capable, and extravagantly glitzy. Style remains true to themes established by Burke’s team. What does he think of the current fifth-generation Escalade?

“I think it is very handsome,” Burke said. “It has a commanding presence on the road, exudes Cadillac character with tall vertical taillamps. We wanted tall taillamps initially, but were restricted to openings in the carryover sheet metal.”

It represents Cadillac well.

“Escalade has swagger, sets style trends,” said Donnelly Baxter, Cadillac Escalade marketing manager. “It exemplifies Cadillac’s history and is a reflection of the owner’s accomplishments … for nearly a quarter of a century, Escalade has embodied the Cadillac attitude.”

Indeed, it attracted buyers twelve years younger and 25% wealthier than traditional Cadillacs — customers like Alpharetta, Georgia-based mortgage consultant Bobby Afrasiabi.

“My model is the 2021 Premium Luxury Platinum,” Afrasiabi said. “It’s my first Escalade, though I’ve owned two Cadillac sedans. This is by far the sleekest looking design, especially the front grill and lights. The technology in the cabin is top of the line. The seat massagers mixed with heaters are great touches.”

The 2004 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum. (Wieck/GM/Cadillac/TNS)

It takes a lot of keep Escalade atop the sales charts, where it has sold as many as its top three competitors combined.

“Escalade kept Cadillac relevant,” Drury said. “Even upon initial launch when the model was more badge engineering, sales were immediate. Thankfully, Cadillac hasn’t strayed from Escalade’s basic tenets.”

Innovation flagship

Like the be-finned Eldorado of the ‘50s, Cadillac found its flagship for a new century. It’s expensive, starting at $80,795, but what makes it truly special?

“In a word, innovation,” Baxter said. “Since its debut, the Escalade has been a leader with cutting-edge technologies such as magnetic ride control, night vision, augmented reality navigation, and a curved OLED infotainment screen.”

It also spearheaded GM’s first dip into hybrids, debuted height-adjustable air suspensions, and protects passengers with camera- and radar-based crash avoidance systems. Owners drive hands-off with Super Cruise.

The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. (Wieck/GM/Cadillac/TNS)

New for 2023 was the Escalade-V, melding a Suburban body and Corvette soul. Its supercharged V-8 delivers 682 horsepower and 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds. It has Brembo brakes, Super Cruise, and air suspension aid control — all for just $149,900.

“GM could have led the pack with monster motors shoved into its SUVs,” Drury said. “The launch of the V-Series feels like it was so late to the game, especially when GM had very potent motors that would have played well into the theme of excess that Escalade has always displayed.”

Escalade will not delay its next generation of powertrains.

Electric IQ

As announced August 9, the all-electric 2025 Escalade IQ arrives as Cadillac introduces a fully electric portfolio by 2030. Its specs mesmerize: 450 miles range, abiliity to charge 100 miles in 10 minutes, 750 horsepower, 0-60 mph under 5 seconds, 4-wheel steering, and 8,000 pounds of towing capacity. It can even return energy to your house.

It looks like an electric Escalade with its Lyriq-style front, faster roofline, flamboyant sheet metal, 24-inch wheels, and power-opening frunk. Vertical lighting front/rear confirms Cadillac heritage.

The 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. (Wieck/GM/Cadillac/TNS)

Inside, check pillar-to-pillar infotainment screens and available executive second-row package with tray tables, personal screens, phone chargers, and seat massagers. Crank up the optional 40-speaker AKG audio. Passengers will ride smoothly on the adaptive air suspension with Low Ride Mode, but also employ Arrival Mode to “crab-crawl” to the curb and power open side doors for dramatic effect.

The Escalade IQ will be built at GM’s “Factory ZERO” in Detroit-Hamtramck beginning next summer with prices around $130,000.

Enduring icon

The Escalade IQ couldn’t come fast enough to fend off rivals who are introducing their own EVs.

“Escalade is the longest running nameplate that Cadillac has,” Drury said. “For a brand’s most expensive model to have lasted this long, something in the DNA continues to resonate with customers. Escalade embodies a lot of what many consumers associate with Cadillac. It is crucial for GM to continue support and development of the vehicle.”

Is it a surprise that the escalade has become an icon?

“Quite frankly, yeah!” Burke said. “We had no idea it would become such an iconic vehicle for Cadillac. Because of compressed timing, we did no consumer clinics – never able to fully gauge customer reaction until it hit the market. It’s really gratifying.”

The control console in the Cadillac Escalade IQ Sport. (Cadillac/TNS)

The Trunk in the Cadillac Escalade IQ Sport. (Cadillac/TNS)

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V featuring the V-Series badge on the passenger side door. (DW Burnett/Cadillac/TNS)

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!