The 2021 Escalade is shaping up to restore the reputation of Cadillac’s iconic large luxury SUV. This is good news because it faces strong competition, not just from American rivals like the Navigator, but also from the likes of Mercedes. And just like the Escalade is Cadillac’s flagship, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is the German automaker’s flagship. But which delivers better on its luxury promise? YouTube team Throttle House wanted to find out.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade and 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580: similar price tags, different powerplants
Neither the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Sport Platinum nor the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 4Matic comes cheap. Though that makes some sense, given that the $99,995 Sport Platinum is the range-topping Escalade trim.
Mercedes hasn’t released the 2021 GLS 580’s official pricing, but Motor Trend reports the 2020 model starts at $98,765. However, that’s not the priciest GLS; the GLS 63 AMG and the Mercedes-Maybach GLS are both significantly more expensive.
While the 2021 Cadillac Escalade and the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS have similar price tags, their powertrains are somewhat different. The GLS 580 has a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 linked to a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. It’s rated at 483 hp and 516 lb-ft and is linked to a 9-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive.
None of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade trims offer a mild-hybrid option, although there will be a diesel engine available. The Sport Platinum, though, has a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft, linked to a 10-speed automatic and AWD, Automobile reports.
Being down on power, the Cadillac Escalade is slower than the Mercedes-Benz GLS 580, Motor Trend reports. The former goes 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds, while the latter does it in 5.2 seconds. The GLS is also more fuel-efficient than the Cadillac, MT reports. However, the Escalade can tow up to 8200 pounds, while the GLS tops out at 7700 pounds. That’s partially due to the fact that while the GLS is technically a crossover, the Escalade is still a body-on-frame SUV.
When it comes to luxury SUV buyers, though, quality materials and features arguably matter more than 0-60 times or towing figures. And given the Cadillac Escalade Sport Platinum’s and Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 price tags, both come well-equipped with premium features.
How do their lists of luxury features compare?
With the Cadillac Escalade’s 2021 update comes an impressive array of screens. The dashboard has three curved OLED panels that combined are the equivalent of a 38” screen, Roadshow reports. Naturally, it comes with navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. However, the navigation has augmented-reality functions. Plus, the 2021 Escalade has GM’s Super Cruise ADAS suite, which features Level 2 ‘partial autonomy’ and on-demand lane changing, Car and Driver reports.
Being the range-topping trim, the Sport Platinum’s features list keeps going. It comes standard with magnetorheological dampers and air suspension, Autotrader reports, along with a limited-slip differential. It also has a 36-speaker AKG audio system, 16-way massaging power-adjustable front seats, wireless charging, real wood trim, and semi-aniline leather upholstery, Motor1 and KBB report. That’s in addition to heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a heads-up display, multiple USB ports, and soft-close doors.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 Throttle House tested didn’t come with the optional electronically-active dampers. However, the luxury SUV offers more than just that. Like the Cadillac Escalade, it comes with standard air suspension, adaptive dampers, and a digital instrument cluster, Car and Driver reports. The GLS 580 also features massaging seats, soft-close doors, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and plenty of USB outlets, Autotrader reports.
Though again, that’s not the end of the Mercedes-Benz GLS 580’s features. It has adjustable LED ambient lighting, leather upholstery, and even heated and cooled cupholders, Automobile reports. Plus, for about $160, you can upgrade the wood trim to natural-grain wood. The luxury SUV also comes with an extensive ADAS suite, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, evasive steering assist, Roadshow reports.
Which delivers the more luxurious driving experience, the Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes-Benz GLS?
Features, though, can only carry a luxury SUV so far. What are the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Sport Platinum and 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 like behind the wheel?
Interestingly, neither deliver perfect ride quality. To be sure, both large SUVs have fairly-comfortable rides. However, the Escalade’s body-on-frame design compromises its behavior over small imperfections, MT reports. Though on the plus side, it handles large bumps and potholes well. And combined with the limited-slip differential, it gives the Escalade almost car-like handling and stability.
The GLS, though, has its own faults. Even without its ‘E-Active Body Control,’ which Motor1 calls a “must-have option,” the Mercedes rides smoothly, Car and Driver reports. But in Comfort Mode, the suspension is almost too soft, creating too much motion from small impacts. However, in Sport Mode, harsh impacts send what Throttle House calls “shockwaves” through the SUV. Car and Driver noted the same behavior even with the E-Active Body Control.
The Mercedes-Benz GLS is still a comfortable cruiser, though. And Throttle House reports that it handles better than the Cadillac Escalade. It’s just not perfect.
But what about the SUVs’ interiors? Even in its standard-wheelbase form, the Cadillac Escalade is more spacious than the Mercedes-Benz GLS, MT reports. That’s especially true when it comes to the 3rd-row seats. Weirdly, though, the Escalade’s power-folding 2nd-row captain’s chairs can sometimes fold into the 2nd-row entertainment screens.
In terms of material quality, though, the Cadillac Escalade doesn’t really give up anything to the GLS. There are one or two cheap-feeling pieces, but the Sport Platinum’s leather maybe even better than the GLS 580’s upholstery.
Which is the better choice for luxury SUV buyers?
Ultimately, both the 2021 Cadillac Escalade Sport Platinum and 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 are excellent luxury SUVs. Which, given their price tags, is to be expected. As such, choosing between them is mostly a matter of personal preference.
The Escalade is boldly styled and spacious, while the GLS is more efficient with slightly better handling. And if you get the Mercedes with the E-Active Body Control, you can get it to bounce in place. However, Throttle House points out that if you want a luxury SUV but don’t need 3rd-row seating, the GLE is arguably a better buy than the GLS.
But, while the Cadillac Escalade may not necessarily be more luxurious than the Mercedes-Benz GLS, it’s definitely a worthy rival.
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