V for Velocity: 2023 Cadillac Escalade V, a Supercharged American Icon
In the world of performance luxury brands, letters have strong meanings. For Audi fans it is S and RS, for Mercedes faithful it is AMG, and for Lexus it is F (not the grade you wanted in school, but definitely the version of whatever reliable hot rod was coming out of the Lexus dealership). However, not all of these performances monikers have stood the test of time. Brands like BMW have watered down what M means on their vehicles to the point that an average consumer can be fooled that their neighbor's M Sport is the best performance variant.
This happens because the marketing effect of such a premium product makes these vehicles so sought after but prices them out for the masses. Brands try and cash in on all the marketing equity they have built over decades of making high-performance vehicles worthy of their own performance sub-brand only to have the sub-brand so diluted it no longer resembles the potent cocktail of speed and performance that made it desirable in the first place.
This is not unique to the BMW M cars. Mercedes has started offering AMG packages on every vehicle they make, upping the style without really changing the performance. Usually, the brand reserves putting those coveted three letters on the outside of the vehicle unless the performance of the vehicle has been improved.
Cadillac has fallen into the same trap as BMW, however. The V-Series performance vehicles started 20 years ago, back in 2003 with the 2004 model year CTS-V: a Corvette-powered answer to the German and Japanese performance sedans.
In those first V-Series vehicles, the pre-bankruptcy GM did what it did best: take a decent car with its faults, shove a big V8 under the hood, tweak the suspension, and sell it at a significant discount over its main competitors. The 2004 CTS-V was powered by the LS version of their famed V8 taken out of the highest-performance version of the Corvette (the Z06), had a six-speed Tremec manual transmission, and a suspension tuned on the famed Nürburgring racetrack in Germany.
The 2004 CTS-V accomplished its mission, besting its main rivals in real-world would-you-buy-this-over-that comparisons. Car and Driver staffers said it would be their choice over the BMW M5 of the time thanks to its power, performance, and over $20,000 price advantage.
Then came the dilution of what V meant. It did not take long for V-wannabees to start appearing in Cadillac showrooms. Enter the XLR-V… a vehicle that should have been a slam dunk thanks to the fact that it was literally a Corvette in Caddy clothes. However, instead of getting the Corvette Z06 engine and manual transmission treatment of the CTS, engineers supercharged the Northstar V8 from lesser XLR roadsters. Power was down, as was performance versus what customers thought they would get in a Cadillac to crest the $100,000 price point. It failed to truly make a dent in the sales of the Mercedes-Benz SL roadster.
Other vehicles to get V badging include the STS-V, which also got a version of the Northstar from the XLR-V, and the second generation of the CTS-V which came in sedan, wagon, and coupe forms.
By the third generation of Cadillac V models, the marketing team really began to squeeze what they could out of the V moniker. Introducing a Vsport line in the like of the Chevy Impala-based XTS. It featured a 3.6L turbocharged V6 making over 400 horsepower, but in a sedan that shares its roots with a front-wheel-drive family car.
The introduction of the ATS-V sedan and coupe in the lineup made for a BMW M3 fighter for a bargain, and the continuation of the CTS-V line made for a bargain M5.
Most recently, Cadillac has leaned in towards the true performance nature of the V line with the fourth generation of V models. The large and luxurious CT6-V had a bespoke 4.2L “Blackwing” engine transplanted under the hood making enthusiasts like myself drool at what could and would be done with the smaller CT5 and CT4 V models. Unfortunately, those turned out to be more like the prior generation Vsport lineup, with a tuned version of engines found in other performance models. The CT5-V got a 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6, while the CT4-V made do with a 2.7L turbocharged 4-cylinder.
It was not until the brand announced that its future would be all-electric that Cadillac performance fans got what they really wanted in the CT5-V Blackwing and CT4-V Blackwing. Despite sharing the “Blackwing” name with the now-deceased CT6-V, these did not feature that bespoke engine, but rather a 668 horsepower supercharged 6.2L V8 in the CT5-V Blackwing and a twin-turbo 3.6L V6 making 472 horsepower in the CT4-V Blackwing. These were marketed as the last of the internal combustion V sedans, with electrification of the entire Cadillac brand on the horizon and the Lyriq EV already shown to the public. These sedans were also the last Cadillac models to feature three pedals and featured 3D-printed parts on the suede-wrapped shifter.
Then Cadillac showed us THIS!
Say hello to the most-powerful Cadillac Escalade EVER! This is the 2023 Cadillac Escalade V with a hand-built 6.2L supercharged V8 making 682 horsepower, 653 lb-ft of torque, and all the noise you would expect from such a fire-breathing engine. The V8 is mated to a 10-speed automatic that pairs quite well in both smooth and comfortable commuting, as well as flooring it on the onramp or racetrack. Six-piston Brembo front brakes help bring the big beast to a stop after testing out features like launch control which makes 0-60 mph runs go by in a blur.
The ride is sublime, even if your only choice of wheel size is 22”. The standard Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 and Air Ride Adaptive Suspension were tuned specifically for the V-Series version and makes this feel like a tame kitten until you change drive modes in favor of something a bit sportier. Even if you never take this to the track, you will not be punished for a rough ride, this is truly a magic carpet ride experience.
The interior borrows from the top Platinum trim, so Zebra Wood accents, semi-aniline leather seating surfaces, and 36-speaker AKG Studio Reference sound system are standard fare. As are the heated first and second rows and steering wheel, added ventilation and massage to both front seats, and Cadillac’s now signature 38-inch curved OLED instrument panel and infotainment screens.
Our model did have the optional Super Cruise2 hands-free driver-assistance technology, including trailering and automatic lane change capabilities, but our short time in this dealer-loaded vehicle did not give us the opportunity to test that out. Nor were we able to take advantage of the optional cool-box center console that can keep beverages cool while you tear up the track.
This Escalade speaks to me in ways only a loud, American V8 could. It makes me lament the future of the brand being all-electric because this large and loud SUV is all about smiles per hour!
2023 Cadillac Escalade V-Series Specs:
6.2-liter Hand-built Supercharged V8 Engine
653 lb.-ft. of Torque
10-speed Automatic Transmission
All Wheel Drive (50/50 split by default, up to 30/70 F/R available)
Brembo® 6-piston Front Brakes
Equal-length Exhaust with Active Exhaust Valves
Magnetic Ride Control, Air Ride Adaptive Suspension
Electronic Limited-Slip Differential
Unique Front and Rear Fascias
Exclusive 22" Wheel Design
Black Quad Exhaust
Heated/Ventilated/Massaging Semi-Aniline Leather Front Seats with Contrasting Piping
2-Person Memory Power Driver's Seat
Sliding and Fold-Flat Heated Second Row Captain’s Chairs
38 Inches of Curved OLED Screens
7.2-inch Control Panel
14.2-inch Digital Reconfigurable Gauge Cluster
16.9-inch Infotainment Screen
Color Head-Up Display
360-degree Camera System
36-Speaker AKG™ Studio Reference Sound System with Conversation Enhancement Mode
Tri-Zone Climate Control
Panoramic Power Moonroof
LED Daytime Running Lamps
Blind-Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
Hands-Free Power Liftgate
Proximity Key with Push Button Start
25.5 Cubic Feet of Storage Space Behind the Rear Seats
72.9 Cubic Feet of Storage Space with Third Row Folded
121 Cubic Feet of Maximum Storage Space
EPA Fuel Economy 11/16/13(city/hwy/cmb)
Starting Price: $149,695 (V-Series)
Price as tested: $157,190
If you are in the East Texas area and in the market for a new or pre-owned Cadillac, check out our friends at Wagner Cadillac:
Tell them GT: Garage Talk sent you!