For almost two decades now, Cadillac has enjoyed immense success with the Escalade. It’s one of the brand’s bestselling models, it has carved out a space in popular culture that I’m fairly certain even Cadillac didn’t have the nous to predict and it has soldiered on through thick and thin with its parent company.
And now, there’s a new one and that’s great – but there’s also a new (to a degree) entry into the world of the full-size domestic luxury SUV, and it has the makings of quite the combatant.
It’s called the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and while it is an all-new vehicle for 2022, that name is one that has also solidified its spot in the world of the luxury SUV. When it debuted back in the ‘60s, it was one of the first to offer such niceties as air conditioning, an automatic transmission and leather seats.
Watch out, Escalade; heavy lies the crown, and the Wagoneer is coming for it.
For its part, the new Escalade is a departure from the previous number of versions dating all the way back to 2007 in that it has adopted a pair of squinty horizontal headlights instead of the vertical items we’re familiar with. For the most part, it works for the Escalade, but I do miss those distinctive vertical ‘lamps from previous. The new truck still gets the great taillights that span the height of the rear deck, though, which is an Escalade staple. It also still gets a massive chrome grille (which can be blacked out in certain trims), big wheels and vertical fog lamps, giving it presence for days.
Speaking of chrome: you’ll find it on the Wagoneer’s window surrounds, the taillight surrounds, below the doors on the leading edge of the power-retracting foot steps, on the roof rails and all over the grille.
Inside, these two go shot-for-shot with each other. They both have great fit and finish, the materials used are of top quality and they are spacious. The Grand Wagoneer, however, is just a little more spacious mainly in terms of the third row although you can pack more cargo into the Caddy.
While the Escalade benefits from the new suspension set-up that all new GM full-size SUVs get and which actually provides additional back seat space, the Grand Wagoneer was the one that most impressed both myself and my passengers. The third row is roomy, it comes fully featured with cupholders and USB ports and you can access it even with baby seats installed in the second row thanks to a tilt-and-slide feature the Escalade doesn’t get. You could walk between the seats in the Escalade to get to the third row – the passage there is surprisingly wide – but that means you’re still having to either contort yourself around a child’s seat, or only access the third row from one side of the vehicle.
Overall, though, I have to give the nod to the Escalade here. The Grand Wagoneer is definitely eye-catching with all that chrome, but the ‘Lade is an exercise in clean, strong lines with just the right amount of flare. It doesn’t have to try as hard. It’s that simple.
Performance, Ride and Handling
We find two very similar situations here when it comes to the powertrains – except for one important caveat: the Escalade has two engine choices – a 3.0-litre Duramax six-cylinder diesel or a 6.2-litre V8 – while the Grand Wagoneer only gets one: a 6.4-litre V8 with a mild-hybrid system.
Both V8s get cylinder deactivation, though, which is great and both are smooth, powerful ‘plants; the Caddy gets 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, while the Grand Wagoneer pips the Escalade by offering 471 hp but falls short with 455 lb-ft. Either way; these are two big, burly engines mated to multi-ratio transmissions (10 speeds for the Cadillac, eight for the Grand Wagoneer) that get these big, burly trucks up and running in good time. The Grand Wagoneer is available in only one length – 5,543 millimetres, which is down about 200 mm on the Escalade ESV, and up about 200 mm on the standard Escalade.
The powertrains are a bit of a ‘pick’em’ scenario unless you’re a hp-above-all-else person. The ride and handling category, on the other hand, has a clear-cut winner in the Grand Wagoneer. Both versions of these SUVs I tested featured adaptive magnetic suspension, but the Grand Wagoneer’s way of predicting what bumps were coming your way and changing the air ride suspension on the fly made for a smoother ride. The Escalade gains a few points back in how it dispatches corners with slightly less body roll than the Wagoneer, but those points aren’t quite enough to push it over the top.
There is a lot of storage space inside these two, but just a little more in the Grand Wagoneer which gets huge, deep top-loading bins between the first- and second rows, while the second row also gets a secondary load area closer to the floor. I also like how the secondary screen that sits below the main display in the Wagoneer can retract with a press of a button, revealing six USB ports (three USB-A, three USB-C) and an HDMI port, as well as a wireless charge pad. I like less, however, how there’s no other storage anywhere atop the transmission tunnel to speak of, this side of a pair of cupholders and who wants to waste those on a wallet or mobile device?
The Escalade does have a more traditional storage bin there, while its wireless charger is mounted just ahead of the centre armrest and I have no problem with that, especially since I don’t have to open or close any panels to access it.
Both of these come with a power-folding third row that then leaves a perfectly flat load surface, and they both offer the ability to ‘kneel’ to allow for a lower lift-over height. Of the two, though, only the Caddy allows users to open just the rear window as opposed to the whole gate – I like that, as it allows you to transport longer items as well as not have tall loads tumble out after opening the tailgate.
Both vehicles have massive main displays that are modifiable and harbour all sorts of info. With the Escalade, you get night vision as well as augmented reality navigation. It also gets optional Super Cruise tech, which, when activated will maintain speed, distance and change lanes autonomously without the driver ever having to put their hands on the wheel, as long as you’re on one of the roads programmed into the system’s database.
The Grand Wagoneer fires back, though. On this top spec Series III trim there is a total of nearly 45” of displays: the gauge cluster (also with night vision), main infotainment display, auxiliary display below that, a display for each second-row passenger and the kicker: a display in front of the front seat passenger that allows them to set navi and infotainment commands for the driver. That passenger as well as the second-rows passengers all have access to Amazon FireTV. Both vehicles also get digital rear-view mirrors although the example on the Jeep is larger than that of the Caddy, which looks somewhat adrift considering how big its surroundings are.
While both vehicles get heated and cooled front seats as well as massaging seats, the items on the Grand Wagoneer are a bit plumper that those on the Cadillac and the massage feature is more robust.
It’s a tough call here between these two but the edge does have to go to the Grand Wagoneer, thanks to its mass of displays (although no augmented reality navi is a shame), roominess and seat comfort.
It is expensive, though, this Grand Wagoneer. It starts at just over $100,000 in base Series I form while in Series III form seen here it rings in at $120,000 before options; even in larger ESV form, the Caddy starts at just over 90 grand and you have to tick all the option packages to get it to the $130,000 level that my Series III sits at, and it’s still smaller than the ESV.
Of course, there’s also the fact that you can get a fuel-efficient diesel for the Caddy and I could barely get the Wagoneer to return 20L/100 km in the combined cycle. Yes, a lot of my test was spent in town but it is a thirsty mama, this Grand Wagoneer.
Yes, the Cadillac has the efficiency and the looks, but the Grand Wagoneer is a big time event whenever you approach it and step inside and I think that’s important at this level. It’s also less ubiquitous, of course, than the Escalade is and that uniqueness could pay dividends in buyers’ minds. If you want the stalwart, then the Escalade is the choice but if you want all that luxury, more tech and to stand out just that much more, then the Grand Wagoneer is absolutely worth a look.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval