Mountain Wheels: Cadillac Escalade’s Super Cruise system moves motoring to the future

Bigger and brawnier than ever, the fifth-generation Cadillac Escalade can also be outfitted with an honest-to-goodness semi-autonomous driving system.
Photo from General Motors

After several deliriously busy years of automobile innovation, it takes a lot for me to say, “Wow, that is really amazing.” But that indeed was my reaction to a real-life highway test of Cadillac’s much-ballyhooed Super Cruise system, on the equally impressive, fifth-generation 2021 Escalade.

Outside of Tesla, which we lowly car reviewers don’t get to experience unless we buy them, the move to semiautonomous driving has been very incremental. That is, mostly a bunch of annoying and unpredictable lane-keeping and radar cruise control gimmicks across the entire automotive spectrum.

But Cadillac’s Super Cruise literally drives for you. Like, you can sit back and eat a cheeseburger while the Escalade’s $2,500 optional system steers, brakes and even manages lane changes. It is breathtaking in its efficiency and really easy to use: two buttons and you’re motoring along as a passenger in the car you’re driving.

A bunch of caveats to that: Sensors make sure you really do not go sit in the back of the car and make a sandwich. The pre-mapped system, which blends GPS and a zillion cameras and radar bits in the vehicle, will only work on Interstate 70, Interstate 25 and Interstate 76 in Colorado, plus a short stretch between Grand Junction and Delta. And I am sure weather and nighttime driving are other factors.

Watching as the Cadillac physically steers and corrects around corners, even the tight curves coming up I-70 from Golden to Genessee, is amazing — and kind of frightening and kind of awesome.

It probably helps that the system is attached to the very much improved Escalade, which, like its Suburban and Yukon siblings, has gained Sprinter Van-styled narrow height to better accommodate adult-sized passengers in the third row.

It’s a big, classy, brawny vehicle with a massive, blacked-out grille that really is locomotive sized. And like its fellow full-sized GM models, it comes with either a 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 engine or an optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine. The gas engine was quite impressive, though expect the 16 combined mpg, especially if you intend to drive it like a Secret Service escort vehicle.

Magnetic ride control and an adjustable air lift system mean it’s impressively solid and well-grounded even as the robot is taking corners for you. The added height and overall girth do give it surprising side-to-side wobble when you enter parking lots or navigate filling stations.

Looks, especially in the Crystal White Tricoat/Jet Black color scheme on the vehicle I tried out — priced at $113,056, by the way — are sharp and subtle, with blacked-out windows and window frames, super-gigantic vertical LED light bars and broad, electrically deploying running boards.

Inside, it’s also considerably different than even the Yukon I recently drove. Escalade’s second-biggest shock-and-awe feature is its new, 38-inch-wide OLED high-definition instrument and infotainment panel. At the far left, you get a small touchscreen for trip computer, the optional night vision camera and the very futuristic augmented reality navigation display, which shows a slightly disorienting forward camera view in the center cluster screen with turns and destination details superimposed.

Navigation, audio system and a wide range of apps are all superb — a 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference sound system is one of the better setups on the market — on a broad touchscreen underlaid with glossy wood highlights. A friend marveled at the front passenger volume control, which allows you to rock out and not deafen your VIP passengers in the back.

The simplicity of the layout is quite nice, with a thin bar of toggle switches for AC, full-cabin sunroof and tailgate controls on the ceiling above you, and a discrete, flat bar of vents below the dash. Since it is indeed still a go-anywhere SUV, four-wheel drive, air lift and trailer brake controls are slightly hidden to the lower left of the wheel. In the broad, wood-covered center console, a scratch-to-spell controller, hard input buttons and a shift knob the size of a driver golf club sit just ahead of an amply-sized and very, very cold refrigerator. There’s also a suede headliner that stretches all the way to the rear.

Seating in all three rows is semi-aniline leather, ultra-perforated and adorned in a cool offset pattern, plus piping and highlight stitching. Like Yukon, the two widely separated second-row seats either flop and fold or sort of hop up and forward, providing both easyish access to the third row and sizable legroom.

Second-row passengers also get widescreen monitors on the front-row headrests, with HDMI inputs and full rear AC controls. Amenities are a little sparse in the far back, though maybe you’ll dig the yards of dark suede on the walls.

Andy Stonehouse

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