Drive: 2021 Cadillac Escalade is a luxurious but lacks fuel efficiency

One thing we noticed, during our week with a 2021 Cadillac Escalade, was that there seem to be a lot of these massive vehicles on the road. On sunny Saturday, at a municipal park in Bethel, the parking lot contained perhaps two dozen cars — among them, three Escalades, including our test car, all of them white.

This struck us as remarkable because the Escalade is a very expensive car, of limited functionality. It’s a bona fide gas hog, averaging about 14 mpg during our week behind the wheel. Driving it on narrow rural roads, we had a flashback of our week, years ago, with a Hummer Alpha.

Parking lots at suburban shopping centers were not friendly places for Escalade drivers accustomed to navigating normal-sized vehicles. If you plan to use an Escalade for grocery-shopping trips, expect to park far from the entrance and get some exercise.

The sticker price on our Escalade AWD Sport Platinum was a staggering $112,095 - more than $43,000 higher than the similarly equipped, similarly capable, similarly luxurious Chevrolet Tahoe we test-drove a few weeks before.

To be sure, the Escalade does a few things very well, and everything it does takes place in an atmosphere of sheer, unmitigated luxury. Its strengths include towing capacity of 8,200 pounds with rear-wheel drive and 7,800 with all-wheel drive. Thanks to a redesign for the current model year, it now has an independent suspension, so it handles better, rides more smoothly and holds more cargo (up to 121 cubic feet) than previous Escalades.

For front-seat and second-row passengers, the Escalade delivers plenty of head room and leg room, and there’s a third row suitable for small adults and children. The Escalade can carry seven to eight people, depending on the configuration of the second row - and even with a full load of humans, it has 25.5 cubic feet of luggage space.

Folks who need substantial people-moving capabilities and towing power can choose among the Lincoln Navigator (base price, $76,185); Lexus LX ($86,830); Infiniti QX80 ($69,050); BMW X7 ($74,900); and Mercedes-Benz GLS ($76,000). The base Cadillac Escalade starts at $76,195.

2021 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Sport Platinum

Price: $112,095

Engine: 6.2-liter V-8, 420 horsepower, 460 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 10-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 8 in.

Weight: 5,823 lb.

Suspension: 4-wheel independent, air ride adaptive

Wheels: 22-in. 12-spoke gloss black alloy

Tires: P275/50R22 all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 25.5 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 121 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 7,800 lb.

Fuel capacity: 24 gal.

Fuel economy: 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)

Cadillac leaves little to chance, in the Escalade specifically or in its SUV lineup generally. (The Escalade is the biggest of four Cadillac SUVs.) Our Escalade was equipped with a 420-horsepower V-8 engine. This mighty power plant was bolted to a 10-speed shiftable automatic transmission.

Cadillac is the only automaker offering a diesel engine in a large luxury SUV. The Escalade can be set up with a 277-horsepower, inline 6-cylinder diesel engine that matches the gasoline engine’s torque - but greatly exceeds its fuel economy. The diesel Escalade is rated at 19 mpg city, 27 highway, compared with 14/19 (premium unleaded gasoline recommended) in the gasoline-powered version.

The good news for Cadillac is that our observation at the municipal park was not a fluke. The Escalade is the top U.S. seller among the cars listed above.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.