Morgan Pritchett
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History of the Cadillac Escalade

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A white 1999 Cadillac Escalade parked on a city street
1999 Cadillac Escalade
Photo: Ondraknamra via CC

The utmost luxury in the Cadillac lineup can be found in the large Escalade SUV. This model was the first major entry from Cadillac into the SUV market and was made to compete with other high-end vehicles like the Range Rover, Lexus LX, and Lincoln Navigator. Now in its fifth generation, the Escalade is more advanced than ever — and it has come a long way in the last 20 years.

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Early history

The project to create the Cadillac Escalade was approved just 10 months before the SUV went into production. Because of this quick turnaround, the first Escalade was really a GMC Denali with Escalade badging and a few premium features. A complete redesign for its second generation in 2001 began to shape the Cadillac Escalade as we all know it today, with more angled lines and its signature grille.

Additional updates in the Escalade’s second generation included a four-wheel version of its StabiliTrak electronic stability control system as well as High Intensity Discharge low beam headlights, outside mirrors with signals, power-adjustable pedals, and a Bulgari-branded analog clock in the cabin. Across its trims in this generation, the Escalade had either a 5.3-liter V8 or a 6.0-liter V8 under the hood.

In 2007, the Escalade entered its third generation, where it remained visually similar to the previous generation. However, the SUV did move to a new GMT900 platform. The fourth-generation Escalade officially arrived in 2015 at dealerships but made its debut at a star-studded event in New York City along with the Escalade ESV. While the SUV was planned to switch to another platform (Lambda), that was canceled due to customer dislike. A singular EcoTec3 6.2-liter V8 engine was available and offered the most power so far with the Escalade.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Sport on highway
Photo: Cadillac

Recent generation

The Escalade entered its fifth generation this year, in 2021, but debuted in early 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. The SUV featured a complete redesign with an updated front grille and various appealing colors to choose from. Inside, Cadillac previewed an expansive, cutting-edge 38-inch curved OLED screen on the dashboard. This innovation set the Escalade apart from its competitors, offering a futuristic look within its cabin.

As of the time of writing, General Motors has plans to launch an all-electric Escalade by 2025 on the same platform that the GMC Hummer EV uses. However, visually, the Escalade EV will match the Lyriq’s style. It will be exciting to see the Escalade continue to develop after more than 20 years of success.