The Cadillac Escalade is the quintessential full-size luxury SUV. Bold and imposing, brash and opulent, the Escalade is synonymous with bling and excess.
Fully redesigned for the 2015 model year, Escalade adopted a more formal look and a hugely upgraded interior, greatly improved in refinement and comfort. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system has been enhanced for 2016; and on the safety front, Lane Keep Assist is available.
Closely related to GMC’s Yukon Denali, but more decorated, the Escalade is quieter than it used to be. It’s also smoother, better looking, and more fully equipped. One of the group of large GM SUVs, Escalade has the biggest engine, the most abundant technology, and a selection of truly ritzy touches.
In each Escalade, a 6.2-liter V8 generates 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Cadillac says 0-60 mph acceleration takes about six seconds, which is quick.
Cadillac has strived to reduce fuel consumption, but moving three tons of SUV isn’t easy. With efficiency-boosting features like direct injection, cylinder shutoff, and grille shutters, the V8 now earns EPA ratings as high as 17 mpg Combined city and highway driving. Hardly thrifty, but better than its predecessors.
Escalade offers a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Running gear hails from GM’s full-size pickup trucks. Escalade is one of few big luxury SUVs with an old-fashioned solid rear axle, better for towing. Magnetic Ride Control is standard, and the suspension provides better damping than many of Escalade’s competitors. Towing capacity ranges from 7,900 to 8,300 pounds.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued three-star rollover ratings and preliminary five-star side-impact ratings.
An optional group of driver-awareness features includes lane-departure and forward-collision warnings. A Safety Alert seat vibrates to warn of a potential accident. A Drive Assist group adds adaptive cruise control and collision preparation. Automatic braking also is optional, warning of rapidly approaching obstacles before applying brakes. On upper trim levels, driver-awareness features have been made standard equipment rather than optional. Escalades are outfitted with several levels of vehicle security to reduce the chance of theft.
Cadillac Escalade ($72,970) comes loaded with 20-inch wheels, wood trim, leather seating surfaces, heated seats and mirrors, power tailgate, pushbutton start, tri-zone climate control, Bose 16-speaker audio, Magnetic Ride Control.
Luxury Collection ($77,045) gets a bundle of theft-deterrent and active-safety features, including Safety Alert seat and Lane Keep Assist, 22-inch wheels, sunroof, and head-up display. Premium Collection ($81,545) includes rear-seat entertainment, illuminated door handles, adaptive cruise control, and front/rear automatic braking. Platinum Collection ($89,350) features Nappa semi-aniline leather, a unique grille, 18-way seats with massage function, and dual-screen DVD entertainment.
All-wheel drive costs $2,600 additional. Cadillac also offers extended-wheelbase ESV models. Options include a Blu-Ray rear entertainment system and power running boards.
Ever since its 1999 debut, the Escalade has been the converse of subtlety. Big, bold, upright, and slathered with generally tasteful trim, GM’s prime SUV has been making an intense statement at every step.
Evolution through two generations has brought refinement, turning the Escalade into a more mature, sophisticated example of crisp SUV styling, augmenting Cadillac’s heritage. Stacked LED front lighting, in particular, suggests the dramatic appeal of classic Cadillac fins of the 1950s and 1960s. From nose to tail, the ultimate effect is crisp and sophisticated. Huge LED light-blade taillamps frame the tailgate and illuminate the Cadillac crest.
The sculpted, welcoming cabin counters the elegant SUV’s sharply creased body. Cut-and-sewn upholstery comes in leather and suede, and wood trim choices include an exquisite open-pore selection.
Front seats are heated and cooled. The focal point is Cadillac’s tablet-like CUE touchscreen, which may be activated by voice, touch, or swiping gestures. The system now features 4G LTE connectivity and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Clustered around the 12.3-inch display are digital gauges, configurable in four themes.
An optional head-up display projects information into the driver’s view. The quiet cabin results from abundant sound deadening and Bose active noise cancellation.
The seven- or eight-passenger cabin is vast, elegant, and handsomely upholstered. Space has improved in the current generation, especially up front. Seats are soft yet supportive, with multiple adjustments, including lumbar. Door panels have pads that cushion elbows.
Second-row legroom and head space are better than ever, but the standard heated bucket seats feel a bit narrow. A three-seat bench is optional.
While adults will fit in the standard third-row seat, and legroom space is good, seat cushions are near the floor. Second- and third-row seats fold by touching a button, and the cargo floor is waist-height. Space behind the third row totals 15.2 cubic feet, growing to 94.2 with both rear seats folded (120.9 in the mammoth Escalade ESV).
An adaptive suspension and GM’s biggest V8, smooth and powerful, send Escalade ahead of its corporate cousins. In fact, it fits into a class with such performance-oriented luxury rivals as the Range Rover Supercharged and Mercedes-Benz AMG GL63.
A stiff body structure and light-feeling electric power steering help make the Escalade easier to drive. Steering is weighted to curtail wandering that a trailer or big crosswind might induce, but it never feels heavy. With magnetically controlled shocks standard, the latest Escalade has better ride control than its predecessor, suffering less bounding out of potholes.
Like the closely related Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the solid rear axle is derived from GM’s full-size pickups. Unlike its cousins, the Escalade includes Magnetic Ride Control, with Tour and Sport modes. Cadillac claims the quickest response of any adaptive suspension setup. The four-wheel-drive system has a 4-High mode, plus a separate all-wheel-drive mode.
The Escalade is EPA-rated at 15/21 mpg City/Highway, or 14/21 mpg with four-wheel drive. A four-wheel-drive version of the long-wheelbase ESV drops to 14/20 mpg.
Aiming at buyers who want it all, preferably in high style, Escalade and its related full-size SUVs have been the top-selling vehicles of their size. Today’s Escalade is a more sophisticated and refined vehicle than its forerunners were. Despite its roadgoing finesse, though, an Escalade is still built like a truck.
Driving impressions by Christian Gulliksen, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.