The Cadillac Escalade is the aged veteran of luxury SUVs. Not a car-based crossover, the Escalade is built on the Chevy Silverado pickup truck platform, although significantly refined.
Escalade comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It can seat up to eight people and tow up to 8300 pounds, more than Range Rover, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz.
There is nothing subtle about a Cadillac Escalade: It’s big and in your face. Its styling is literally edgy, with ongoing sharp angles, but not figuratively edgy, as it now looks aged. And still excessive after all these years.
Escalade was last redesigned for 2015. It got a number of changes for 2017, including an excellent high-resolution rearview screen and self parking.
For 2018 the only change is a new 10-speed automatic transmission that was developed with Ford and is shared with its rival, the new Lincoln Navigator.
Escalade uses much of the running gear of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, including its solid rear axle. Overcoming that stiff primitive axle, the standard Magnetic Ride Control dampers give the Escalade a ride that’s nearly as good as its luxury rivals.
Cadillac ESV is a long-wheelbase model that’s 20 inches longer overall. Seventeen feet total. More than three tons. Suburban-size.
The Escalade is powered by 6.2-liter V8 making 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, and able to accelerate from zero to sixty in six seconds, which is strong performance.
With direction injection and cylinder cutout, as well as the new 10-speed, Escalade with rear-wheel drive earns an EPA-rated 15/22 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 17 mpg Combined.
They come with 2-inch receiver hitches for towing trailers.
Escalade earns four stars in crash testing from NHTSA, with a low three-star rating for rollover protection. Standard safety equipment includes an innovative airbag that protects front occupants that might be thrown toward the center of the car during side impact.
Cadillac Escalade ($74,695) comes in Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum trim levels. Similar story with the long-wheelbase ESV ($77,695). (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge, taxes, cash allowances or discounts.)
Standard equipment includes surround-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, automatic parking, navigation, heated steering wheel, digital instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16 speakers, and adaptive ride control.
Luxury adds automatic emergency braking. A Driver Assist package is available on Luxury and above includes adaptive cruise control and front and rear automatic braking. A Driver Awareness package adds a lane departure warning system that steers the vehicle back into its lane if the system thinks it’s necessary.
The angular Escalade is covered with chrome. The profile is identical to the Tahoe, and the Escalade ESV’s profile is identical to the Suburban. It used to be conspicuous, but it’s been unchanged for so long, now it passes largely unnoticed. But it’s still imposing and unmistakable.
Its face remains from the time when Cadillac’s Art and Science design language was fresh, with the logo on the grille illuminated by vertical LED headlamps. The taillamps are tall and thin, and look sophisticated and crisp.
The cabin is warmly sculpted, unlike the sharply creased exterior. Even the base model drips with leather, its plastic and padded surfaces a cut above the Tahoe and Yukon. The Escalade Premium model is downright decadent, with more aromatic leather (Kona brown is beautiful) and wood than we’ve seen this side of a Rolls Royce.
The dashboard is dominated by Cadillac’s tablet-like CUE infotainment system, which can be frustrating; it’s difficult to navigate and the graphics are unattractive. The standard touchscreen is 8.0-inches (12.3-inch optional), moved by voice, capacitive touch or swipe gestures. CUE includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as a Bose Centerpoint 2.0 audio system. Its digital gauges can be configured in four themes.
OnStar 4G LTE connectivity is standard, with a WiFi antenna for hotspot capability. A head-up display is available, as is rear seat entertainment with one or two screens.
The standard heated and cooled seats are nicely padded, with available suede trim, and it’s quieter than it used to be, thanks to pounds of sound deadening and Bose active noise cancellation.
The second- and third-row seats fold flat at the touch of a button, although the second row has to be raised by hand. The second row’s heated individual bucket seats are narrow and the padding is thin.
The cargo floor is high, because of that solid rear axle, but sometimes that’s easier on the back when you’re loading heavy things. There’s 15.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, 39.3 cubic feet with the ESV, having a wheelbase that’s longer by 14 inches. With the third row folded it’s 51.6 and 76.7 cubic feet, and with both rows down it’s a vast 94.2 and 120.9 cubic feet.
There’s also stellar storage for small things. The center console bin can hold a laptop, and there are many cubbies. It boasts a stretch of piano black plastic.
One of the interiors of the Platinum model is called Maple Sugar. Nearly every part of the cabin is covered with rich, supple, tan leather, making it feel like a vat of melted caramel.
The excellent 6.2-liter V8 is a truck engine that’s smooth, sonorous and fast. It’s refined and free of drama. It makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, with seamless cylinder deactivation to run on just four cylinders when that’s all that’s needed. Just enough of the exhaust note from the engine makes its way into the cabin to remind you that it’s the same basic engine as in the Corvette and Camaro SS.
The new 10-speed automatic feels better in the V8 Escalade than it does in the turbocharged V6 Lincoln Navigator, with quick upshifts and almost invisible downshifts, during relaxed driving. When you hit the throttle the transmission will shift down harder, sometimes two or three gears at a time, but that’s normal. The new 10-speed is at least as good as the 8-speeds the Range Rover Sport SUV or BMW X5 crossover.
Magnetic Ride Control prevents most of the waddle and sway that makes body-on-frame SUVs feel so primitive. It’s tuned more for a smooth ride than carving corners. Even with the optional 22-inch wheels, the Escalade delivers a stable and comfortable ride that is decidedly not truck-like. Ruts and potholes don’t faze it. We could still feel them, but the shudder that runs through most body-on-frame SUVs is minimal.
At more than 6000 pounds, the Escalade is as heavy as they get. Still, it’s poised in corners, if not agile. You can feel the big SUV roll, squat and dive, because three tons can’t be disappeared, but the feelings aren’t intrusive. The motions are predictable and easy to live with; the Escalade is stable at high speeds on the freeway.
The suspension engineers also did a good job with the steering, with a slow and easy 17.3:1 steering ratio in the electric power steering. The weight of the steering is just right, The dead zone at neutral is fairly small. The car still feels connected to the front axle. The Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class are more poised and nimble in curves, but the Escalade is not bad.
The Cadillac Escalade has some solid selling points, and for 2018 offers a silky new 10-speed automatic transmission to go with the beefy and satisfying V8. The styling is dated. It remains a large SUV capable of hauling passengers and their luggage in comfort or towing trailers.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.