Just imagine a supercharged Cadillac Escalade.
It’s a headline that grabs attention, particularly as the first T1XX platform SUVs hit the road. From the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban to the GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade, buyers can buy GM’s SUVs with a 6.2-liter V8 engine. That’s been true for years. Right now, the best you can get from the L87 motor from the factory is 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. Honestly, that’s a decent amount of shove, even for such large SUVs. However — and enthusiasts know this better than anyone — “enough” power is great, but more is always better. To that end, reports from the likes of Motor Trend and Muscle Cars and Trucks posit GM is in fact working on a supercharged Escalade, and by extension possibly a Yukon and Tahoe/Suburban as well.
Now, each report takes a different approach to that premise. Motor Trend‘s Johnny Lieberman contends, per his inside source, that GM will offer a supercharged option for its SUVs as part of a dealer-installed package. Bear in mind, both pieces say the upgrade would bring the big SUVs’ total output north of 600 horsepower, or about 200 more than stock. As for the evidence to support that? Tuners like John Hennessey, who note that GM locked out the ECUs for their SUVs, but not for their pickups. On that basis, the General could be staking out a claim to supercharge these rigs through a dealer-installed option package. In the process, they’d have something to entice affluent, horsepower-focused buyers away from, say, a Dodge Durango Hellcat, a supercharged Range Rover, a BMW X7 M50i, or a Mercedes-AMG GLS 63.
Muscle Cars and Trucks disagrees with the “dealer option” part of that report, insisting that GM is supercharging these rigs from the factory. Their retort to GM locking down the T1 platform’s ECUs isn’t that it’s vying to corner the tuning market, but that the company’s trucks don’t operate on the same “Vehicle Intelligent Platform” (VIP) that the SUVs do. In short, the Silverado and Sierras’ ECUs don’t (yet) have the same level of encryption that keeps tuners like Hennessey out. MC&T points out that will change with the upcoming 2022 refreshes. But, despite the critical response, the outlet reports at least the Escalade is still getting a supercharged V8 in some form.
They’re both (likely) wrong
I have a different take on how GM’s moving forward with its powertrains. Before that, though, here was Cadillac’s succinct response when we asked them to comment on these reports:
There are a couple different ways you can unpack that, depending on how much of a skeptic you are. On one side, you could take that as a somewhat curt, yet direct statement meant to squash any rumor that a supercharged Escalade is happening. On the other…it’s a bit too direct, and GM’s not wanting to give these reports any air because it’s totally happening.
It’s possible, as both Motor Trend and MC&T note by addressing the red-hot demand for mega-SUVs. Here’s the thing: I can’t help but think this isn’t the right take on where the Escalade’s going. Sure, there are enthusiasts out there who would love this (don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a supercharged Escalade), but it’d be an off-brand move if they were to actually do it at this point.
The V8’s golden era is drawing to a close
If Cadillac unveiled a supercharged Escalade (or any of its other SUVs) now, it could hurt GM in two distinct ways. My first gripe: They’re already too late. Andre and I both think the company did evaluate the option — given the competition, they’d be foolish to ignore it. But, at the end of the day, even if they spent years developing it, a supercharged V8 would just come off as a reaction. Motor Trend‘s source hits on why it may have been delayed to begin with: the COVID-19 pandemic. Lieberman quotes his source “Deep Burble”, who said, “[The supercharger] was for this new gen of SUVs. Not sure about the pickup trucks.”
Even if that’s the case, we already have the Dodge Durango Hellcat. We have a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk; a Mercedes-AMG GLS 63; a supercharged Range Rover. Is the demand for supercharged V8s there? Sure. But established players already exist, and with emissions regulations threatening V8s within an inch of their lives, they likely won’t be around much longer. If GM launches a supercharged Escalade now, it would have to be a limited run in which they’re already late to the game, to say nothing of the exorbitant price such an SUV would command. Think at least $10,000 over the standard model.
The smarter move?
In unpacking that “speculation” line, GM is clearly keeping its cards close to the vest. We encounter that with manufacturers all the time, but I lean toward believing them when it comes to this report. Not because you should necessarily trust everything some folks say unquestioningly, but because there’s a smarter way GM could play the field.
Cadillac already has its “last hurrah” for V8s: the CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwing. Both cars are bones to enthusiasts, who lament the brand’s ultimate charge into electrification that’s inevitably happening in the next few years. I’ll hedge a bit by saying they could round out a trio with a supercharged Escalade. I know it’s something some folks have wanted for years. But the Escalade isn’t a sports sedan or a small, taut coupe — it’s a massive, three-row, family-hauling SUV.
Massive, supercharged V8 SUVs are grand, until you realize you can’t even crack 10 mpg. You can argue that you don’t care if you have the money to buy something like a supercharged Escalade in the first place, but companies like Tesla and supercar manufacturers are showing that it is possible to have your performance cake and eat it. In other words, electrification can aid performance without throwing efficiency to the haze-filled wind.
That’s where I believe GM is headed. Much like we could likely see a hybrid Corvette soon enough, building a hybrid performance SUV could put the automaker out in front of the current competition — instead of pulling up the rear. Mind you, to Cadillac’s earlier point, this is speculation. I could be completely wrong, but these reports could represent an opportunity for GM to leapfrog the Escalade into a position where it wouldn’t be playing second fiddle to a Hellcat or an AMG. Hybrid performance would be on-brand for the enlightened, electrified Cadillac, but we’ll have to wait and see what actually happens.