2021 Cadillac Escalade unveil
Cadillac will differentiate the all-new 2021 Escalade from its platform-mates with a host of brand-exclusive technologies, including Super Cruise. (Cadillac)

2021 Cadillac Escalade brings curved OLED to the dash

The all-new Escalade leverages GM’s new digital network architecture and OLED tech to deliver class-leading electronic features.

Cadillac has unveiled the 2021 Escalade and will differentiate the full-size SUV from its Tahoe/Yukon platform-mates with a large dose of exclusive technologies including Super Cruise, audio systems from new partner AKG and the industry’s slickest display-screen integration. Gaining similar mechanical benefits as its platform siblings, including wheelbase stretches and the new independent rear suspension (IRS) that should improve dynamics along with seating/cargo space, the all-new 2021 Escalade leverages the platform’s new digital network architecture to raise the bar for integrated infotainment technology.

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade makes use of GM’s new GMT T1XX platform that began underpinning its pickup trucks in 2019, and serves as the basis of the upcoming MY2021 Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL full-size SUVs. In the fifth generation of Cadillac’s longest-running nameplate, this equates to the same notable passenger space and interior volume gains for the 2021 Escalade, which was only revealed in the standard-length model, with the longer Escalade ESV expected to be unveiled at the New York Auto Show in April.

In the standard-length model, cargo and interior space gains are significant, thanks to a longer wheelbase and longer overall vehicle length. Third-row legroom is up more than 10 inches (now 34.9 in/886 mm), and maximum cargo space behind the third row (25.5 ft2/722 L) grows 68%, enabled by the lower interior floor that also creates a more natural seating position for third-row occupants.

Diesel power, air suspension
The 2021 Escalade will share drivetrains and suspensions available with the Tahoe/Suburban/Yukon, arriving with the larger 6.2-L V8 (420 hp/460 lb-ft) as standard, and providing the Duramax 3.0-L inline-six turbo-diesel (277 hp/460 lb-ft) as an option on all trims. Both engines are paired to a 10-speed automatic, with 4WD combined with a two-speed transfer case on offer. The standard gas engine features Auto Stop-Start and Dynamic Fuel Management cylinder deactivation, which provides 12 firing modes to help keep it transparent to occupants.

The new IRS 4-link (camber, toe, spring, trailing) setup helps reduce unsprung mass and uses three lateral arms and a large longitudinal arm. An anti-roll bar and variable-rate coil springs should also help improve handling dynamics. An “infinitely variable” eLSD rear differential available on the new Escalade’s Sport and Platinum trims can send 100% of available torque to either rear wheel. Magnetorheological shocks and an air suspension are discreet options. Version 4.0 of the magnetic shocks feature new sensors at each corner and updated damper hardware. The available air suspension allows the new Escalade to be raised or lowered over a 4-in range depending on mode (i.e. 4Hi: +1.4 in; 4Lo: +2.4 in), and can help lower the vehicle when loading or level it when trailering.

Leveraging a digital platform
What really sets the Escalade apart from its platform siblings are electronic features enabled by its new digital network architecture. One of the most anticipated features enabled by the new architecture is Super Cruise, and Cadillac’s lauded ADAS offering will make its SUV debut on the Escalade. GM added more than 70,000 miles of lidar-scanned roads to the Super Cruise database in June 2019, bringing total (freeway) system miles to over 200,000 (321,868 km). The Escalade will also get the new Super Cruise “Lane Change on Demand” feature, that is designed to change lanes automatically when requested by the turn signal.

The new digital architecture also permits an impressive new dashboard display. According to Cadillac, the 2021 Escalade will feature the world’s first curved, production OLED (organic, light-emitting diode) display. Previewed in the Pebble Beach Concours Escala concept in 2016, the screens are bespoke shapes for the Escalade, custom patterned unlike most rectangular displays that look like a tablet attached to the dash. The screens are not dramatically radiused, but their thin arc makes a distinctive styling statement and provides improved functionality for the driver.

“Everyone wants an OLED TV. It's an up-level technology that's appropriate for the Cadillac brand,” said Joanne Leddy, the new Escalade’s infotainment program manager. “The displays that we have under our glass are actually a free-form shape. They're not rectangles and squares that are under a piece of glass that has shape. The display itself has shape.”

“With a thicker LCD display, the packaging space requires a backlight, and you really don't get the vibrant colors and the true blacks,” Leddy explained, noting how excited the designers were to work with the formable and literally paper-thin OLED layer. “We worked very closely with the design studio.” LG is the OLED supplier, via two divisions. “LG Displays is providing the OLED display, and LG Electronics is the one that's integrating that display into the automotive space,” Leddy said, adding that they had also worked with LG on the Escala concept.

The dashboard displays in the 2021 Escalade are composed of three OLED panels. The 7.2-in left screen and 16.9-in right screen are both touch enabled. The 14.2-in screen centered in the cluster has four modes: Gauge; Navigation; Night Vision and what Cadillac calls “Augmented Reality with Active Route.” The Augmented Reality mode is an innovative melding of the front camera display with turn-by-turn navigational graphics overlaid on the live video feed.

Cadillac claims the front OLED displays have two times the pixel density of a 4K TV. Unlike thicker backlit LED screens, the pure blacks from OLED could prove less fatiguing and reduce distraction, particularly at night. Pure brightness is not typically an OLED strong suit, so direct sunlight could be one issue for the first automotive application. At the indoor reveal, the screens looked stunning, with brilliant colors, rich contrasts and graphics artfully tailored to the eccentric shape of each display. The panels also take on a different appearance depending on whether you are using them as touch panels or using the system’s center-console-mounted control knob.

Rear-seat infotainment
Though not OLED, second-row occupants get their own screen fix, with optional 12.6-in LED displays mounted on each front seatback. Each has its own USB and HDMI inputs, and the touchscreen displays are impressively integrated with the Escalade’s infotainment network. Front-seat occupants can browse and select content to send to either rear screen and also monitor audio feeds to see what the kids are listening to. Rear-seat passengers can pull up live navigation and even suggest destinations to the driver. Content can be shared with the other rear-seat occupant simply by swiping toward the other screen.

The Escalade will launch with a 4G LTE modem and Wi-Fi hotspot, but the new network architecture permits 5G integration, which should be a boon to streaming content into the infotainment system once available. As trailering is a popular function for many owners, GM’s latest multi-camera hitch and parking system has been applied to the new Escalade, including a very useful side-trailer view to help guide what you’re towing into a parking spot.

Serious AKG audio
Cadillac is launching an exclusive partnership with renowned headphone and microphone manufacturer AKG on two branded audio systems for the 2021 Escalade, with both systems custom tuned to specific trims and materials. The top-tier “Studio Reference” system features 36 speakers and 16-channels of amplification, divvied up between low-power and high-power 8-channel amps. The system features 3D sound, adding height to the equation with speakers mounted high in the C-pillar and three speakers cached in each A-pillar.

The base “Studio” AKG system makes do with only 19 speakers and a 14-channel Class-D amplifier. The systems are cleverly integrated into the infotainment architecture, providing active noise control and helping tailor sound for individual front-seat occupants. The systems can provide “conversation enhancement” between the front and third seating row to improve audibility and even add drama to navigation cues, making them sound closer to the driver as a route event approaches.

Other notable options depending on trim level for the 2021 Escalade are a HUD, refrigerator/freezer, night vision, Super Cruise, the top-tier audio system, electrically assisted soft-close doors and air suspension. Though no pricing was announced at the Escalade reveal, base pricing is expected to remain close to the current standard-length model’s $75K sticker, but extend higher than current models. Cadillac announced that the 2021 model Escalade will go on sale in the third quarter of 2020.

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