Luxury SUV – SUV Comparison: 2021 Cadillac Escalade versus Genesis GV80
Peter Bleakney: On the face of it, this luxury SUV comparison might seem a bit weird. We’re pitting the redesigned Cadillac Escalade land yacht against the somewhat more dainty Genesis GV80. Wha?
There’s also a considerable gap in pricing — our Escalade Sport Platinum is optioned up to $126,418; while this top-spec GV80 3.5T Prestige AWD has an all-in price of $85,000. So let’s consider this more of a David versus Goliath thing. Or Free Willy versus Moby Dick.
Reimagined for 2021, the Cadillac Escalade sits firmly atop its perch as ultimate expression of American excess — now done to near-perfection. Cadillac is one of the oldest brands in automotive history, and the Escalade, star of more hip-hop videos than Snoop Dogg, is its undisputed flagship. In fact, exactly 699 rap songs feature some permutation of “Escalade” in their lyrics. Need the ‘Sclade be concerned with some upstart from Korea nipping at its running boards? Perhaps.
Utter the word “Genesis” in the halls of any premium automaker today and they’ll be choking on their bratwurst, burgers, bento box or whatever. Hyundai introduced the Genesis nameplate in 2008, but it was 2017 when Genesis became its own entity and things got serious. Genesis is now building world-class luxury vehicles at world-beating prices.
Clayton Seams: Alas, “GV80” has yet to be uttered in a single rap lyric, per a cursory search on Genius.com. But I feel the GV80 (and Genesis as a whole) is still sharply rising in the public eye. Our test GV80 certainly caught my eye with its shimmering Cardiff Green paint and sharp bisected headlights and taillights. While it resided in my driveway, I watched multiple people do double-takes as they squinted at the badge, likely asking themselves what Genesis was and when they could test drive one of these. Even my usually reclusive neighbour ventured out to ask me about the GV80. “That’s the best car I’ve seen you park here,” she said, obviously less impressed with my 1999 Suburban cluttering up her view.
The Cadillac was not so appealing to passersby. You would assume something as tall as the Berlin wall and equally as imposing would command a sort of presence, and it does. Parked in my driveway, the enormous Escalade looked like a moored ocean liner; it promises luxurious travel and ostentatious detailing.
But like a trans-continental ocean liner, the idea of a gargantuan three-row SUV seems a bit out-dated in today’s eco-conscious and right-sized world. The visibly-$126,418 spec impresses and the glint of the paint seems about three feet thick. The imposing black grill rises up like the prow of a racing yacht and the Cadillac crest is the size of a dessert plate. But somehow it looks more “suburban” than the GV80. It takes more to win the curb-appeal Olympics than raw size.
PB: I’m with you on that. And this ‘Sclade is the regular wheelbase. You want even longer? They’ve got the XL. But once hoisted into the cabin, we are talking serious American-grade luxury. This thing floats over the road in Rolls-Royce-like isolation, absorbing just about any surface irregularity passing beneath it. And thanks to this Caddy’s new stiffer frame, air suspension, and multi-link independent rear setup (finally), there’s some refinement and (dare I say?) handling poise to go along with its cushiness. Turn into a bend and this freighter takes a set and powers through.
But dang, with that huge hood, bluff snout, and thick A-pillars, driving in the city requires care, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff down low that you can’t see. And don’t get me started on parking the Escalade in crowded urban environments. This is a cruiser that likes the open road, and, boy, does it excel at that. Of course it’s loaded with every possible luxury and safety goodie (for this price, it had better be) but the icing on the cake for me is the truly spectacular 36-speaker AKG audio system. AKG, you ask? It’s an Austrian outfit that has been making studio-quality microphones and headphones for decades. This is AKG’s first automotive application, and WOW. Along with the litany of speakers, tweeters and the rear-mounted 265-mm subwoofer, the ‘Sclade gets a pair of 40-mm speakers in each front head restraint and a speaker in the centre console.
This tester’s cabin is coal-black everywhere. I’ve seen them in lighter shades and it come across as considerably classier, largely because you can see the workmanship — leagues ahead of the outgoing Escalade. However, jump into the Genesis GV80 and we’re experiencing a higher level of design, material choice, fit, finish, and obsession to detail. The GV80 3.5T Prestige AWD’s cabin is a modern masterclass (okay, Bentley and Rolls-Royce could probably sit this one out) right from its retro-modern two-spoke steering wheel to the finely-stitched supple leather to the lovely knurled satin metal trim that shows up in all kinds of delightful places — like around the lips of the cup holders. And the two-tone leather palette in here is subtle yet classy — chestnut brown and smokey green Nappa.
But Clayton, how could Genesis drop the ball on the ride quality here? It’s almost as heartbreaking as the Maple Leafs. On these stylin’ 22-inch wheels, the GV80 3.5 never settles down into that promised comfy cruise.
CS: A sense of calm truly pervades the Escalade driving experience. As Peter mentioned, the suspension is glassy smooth and the AKG audio is truly on another level for sound quality. And if you leave the Genesis GV80 parked then it can almost match the big Caddy for grace. At least until you shift into D and hit your first pothole. The big 22-inch wheels look nice but all that unsprung weight is a toll that must be paid in second order vibrations. The GV80 simply crashes over bumps in a way not becoming of a serene luxury SUV.
On the positive side this stiff springing and large rolling stock means the GV80 is surprisingly athletic. The twin-turbo 3.5L V6 makes 375 hp and can hustle the big 80 to 120 km/h in 4.1 seconds. Throw all 2,240 kg of it into a turn and it will hold a line shockingly well. The GV80 drives like a sport SUV a full class smaller than it is. However I would trade this sporting potential in a heartbeat for a more supple ride. But maybe I’m just getting old.
Under the hood we find two very different powertrains. The Genesis uses a twin-turbo 3.5L V6, although a 2.5L turbocharged I4 is standard on some trims of GV80. The V6 makes 375 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. This means if you want to, the GV80 can really hustle. It’s remarkably quick for a three-row SUV. It’s also flawlessly smooth. One fly in the ointment is that the GV80 is recommended to run on premium gas, so keep that in mind when filling up at the pumps.
Underhood of the Caddy we find a completely different method of luxury propulsion. Our tester was powered not by the familiar 6.2L gas V8 but with an optional 3.0L I6 Duramax turbodiesel. Now Cadillac would like you to not remember their first foray into diesel engines in the 1980s, but this is a world away from that. I have driven this 3.0L Duramax in two previous vehicles, a GMC Sierra and a Chevrolet Silverado, and I was surprised how much quieter and smoother the exact same engine was when nestled between the shock towers of the Escalade. It makes the exact same 270 hp and 460 lb-ft that it does in the pickup applications but Caddy has really done its due diligence on motor mounts and soundproofing because it feels so much more refined. It does lack the ultimate thrust of the Genny’s V6, but then again the Cadillac has just over 400 more kg to contend with.
PB: I really like the Duramax 3.0, and the fact that it is a no-cost option makes for an enticing proposition. This oil-burning ‘Sclade snuck in at under 10 L/100 km for the week, which is frankly astonishing for such a big brute. Of course, those forking out almost $130,000 on a top-tier Escalade won’t give two hoots for saving a few hundred bucks a year in fuel, so I suspect the take-rate on this Duramax in Escalade-land will be light.
Clayton, I guess we’d better wrap up this comparison. Somehow. Is there a winner? When it comes to outright luxury, I give the nod to the Cadillac, such is its smoothness, quiet cosseting cabin, effortless waftability and that killer AKG audio. Need to tow a big boat while basking in an aural bombardment of Boston? Look no further. Although personally I could never own one ‘cause its enormity makes inner city manuevers a taxing endeavour. I could, however, live with the svelte, swift, and obsessively crafted GV80 3.5T Prestige AWD. I’d just ditch the stylin’ 22-inch wheels for the 20-inchers from the 2.5T Advanced that don’t destroy its ride.
CS: Both of these SUVs offer a luxurious experience. In the Cadillac I was able to glide down the highway hands-free thanks to Super Cruise all while listening to my favourite albums in a clarity I had never experienced before. The Genesis offers up a different, more sporting flavour of luxury and it does so for considerably less cost. The Escalade is an uncompromising luxury battleship. It doesn’t compromise on size, cost, or accoutrements. That lack of compromise makes it a true luxury experience but it also makes it unwieldy on all but the most spacious of roadways, and the price is a big pill to swallow.
Those who live on luxurious country estates will not care, but for the rest of us, I think the Genesis is a far better choice for daily use year-round. It’s sporty when called upon, its interior delighted us, and passersby all looked at its sharp lines admiringly. The ride is unresolved but like Peter said, that’s just 20 inches away from being fixed.
The GV80 is not a perfect luxury vehicle but it’s an excellent all-rounder for a very good price, and for those reasons it’s the winner of this Driving comparison.
Luxury SUV – SUV Comparison: 2021 Cadillac Escalade versus Genesis GV80
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