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Los Angeles – The fifth-generation 2021 Cadillac Escalade premiered Tuesday night in Hollywood.

The fourth sequel to the big SUV that debuted in 1998, the all-new Escalade is roomier and is packed with tech features. Long a favorite of Hollywood’s elite, the land yacht has been challenged lately at the box office by the Lincoln Navigator.

Determined to re-assert itself as the King of Bling, Cadillac kicked off Oscars week here with its Escalade premiere. Detroit's celebrity SUV was introduced by  director Spike Lee, who took the wraps off the big ute at Red Studios where TV shows like "I Love Lucy" and "Seinfeld" have been filmed.

""The Escalade is a star like no other," said the "She's Gotta Have it" director who hails from Brooklyn. "It's not just okey-doke. Art leads to innovation as we like to say in the People's Republic of Brooklyn."

Lee has had a relationship with Cadillac for about eight years, not unusual for celebrities in Hollywood where the Escalade is an icon. Indeed, Cadillac used the occasion to debut Lee's short film about the Escalade titled "Anthem."

Fittingly, a movie-screen sized instrument panel dominates the interior of the new ute with a single 38-inch curved pane of LED glass that contains three separate digital screens. And the optional Super Cruise self-driving system can perform tricks like changing lanes automatically.

“Our innovation, we feel, is redefining the boundaries and the limits of mobility," said Cadillac President Steve Carlisle.

The latest Escalade dials back its chunky, vertical design cues for the more subtle look that integrates horizontal touches first seen on Cadillac’s Escala concept car. But the Escalade defiantly is still the only Cadillac without an alphanumeric badge.

The Escalade began life in 1998 as a rushed response to Lincoln’s segment-busting F-150 truck-based Navigator. With its cutting-edge-style and interior, the Cadillac lapped the Navigator as a cultural icon at the turn of the 21st century. It was big and flashy, and became a something of a hip-hop touchstone.

But as its fifth-generation bones aged, Escalade was challenged anew in 2018 by the Navigator as the Lincoln introduced head-turning style and a digitally enhanced interior. The Infiniti QX80 has also proved a strong player.

Sprawling interior landscape

Just as the Escalade’s assertive new exterior no longer slavishly follows vertical design cues (though the instantly recognizable tall taillights remain), the interior ditches the old vertical console for a sprawling, horizontal landscape. 

The right-side infotainment screen of the 38-inch array is nearly 17 inches wide, while the driver has the option of four different screen layouts on the 14-inch screen behind the steering wheel: instrument-gauge view, night vision, navigation and augmented reality – the latter using live street views to indicate where the driver should turn.

The Escalade forfeits its old truck-like steering-column shifter for a modern console-based monostable shifter. Like other Cadillacs, Escalade’s touchscreen infotainment system can also be controlled by a remote console rotary-knob and voice commands.

Second-row passengers get their own twin 12.6-inch screens mounted in the rear seats. If 19 speakers aren’t enough, buyers can opt for a 36-speaker system with movie theater-quality surround-sound.

The rear compartment gains legroom (10 inches more, Cadillac says) and cargo space (68% more), thanks to an extended wheelbase and a sunken floor made possible by Escalade’s first independent rear suspension.

"This vehicle is longer than "The Irishman,"" laughed Carlisle in reference to the long Oscar-contending film.

Combined with standard magnetic ride and a lighter architecture, the big ocean liner promises smooth sailing even on Michigan’s choppy roads.

 An Air Ride suspension will be available, just like its cousins the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban. Most notably, Air Ride suspension will allow the beast to kneel down 2 inches — like an elephant bowing before its king — to assist passengers getting in and out.

“The new Escalade will offer much more interior space with better driving dynamics, and that unmistakable Escalade presence is still there,” said Tim Herrick, Cadillac's global product chief. “Our goal was a vehicle that was larger on the inside with driving dynamics of a smaller vehicle.”

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A side-by-side comparison of the previous Escalade model and the 2021 model The Detroit News

The latest Escalade conforms to the marketing conventions of its SUV siblings: the compact XT4, midsize XT5 and three-row XT6.  Like those members of Cadillac’s lineup, Escalade models will be offered in a simple “Y” model format starting with a base Luxury trim, then splitting into Sport or Premium Luxury options. As the name suggests, the black-detailed Sport offers a sportier look compared to the chrome-tastic Premium Luxury. Customers wanting more bling can opt for a Platinum version of both Sport or Premium Luxury.

Standard are 22-inch wheels and heated and cooled leatherette seats. Customers can slather on the goodies as they climb the Y-model tree.

Turbodiesel option

Under the hood, the rear- or all-wheel drive Escalade will be propelled by a new version of its familiar 6.2-liter V-8. It develops a claimed 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. For those looking for more fuel efficiency, GM’s 3.0-liter turbodiesel will make its Escalade debut, developing the same torque as its gasoline counterpart.

Both engines will be mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Like the Silverado truck that shares its ladder frame, Escalade is offered with a trailer package with nine camera views. Towing capacity was not released.

Although pricing will be announced closer to its introduction to showrooms later this year, the Escalade will likely start just under $80,000.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Kalea Hall follows GM for The News. She can be reached at khall@detroitnews.com

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