Even folks who know or care little about cars and SUVs are likely to be aware of the Cadillac Escalade. For two decades, the massive luxury SUV has served as a familiar benchmark for the full-size category.
Little has changed for the 2019 model year, apart from a new hands-free power liftgate and two new colors.
Escalades come in two sizes: standard- and long-wheelbase Escalade ESV. Measuring 20 inches longer overall, the ESV adds a considerable amount of cargo space behind the standard third row of seats. Both bodies come in Base, Luxury, Premium Luxury, and particularly lavish Platinum trim levels.
Cadillac’s thirsty 6.2-liter V-8 churns out an impressive 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The recently-launched 10-speed automatic transmission was jointly designed by General Motors and Ford. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive an option for each trim level.
Crash-test scores are incomplete. Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has completed the full battery of tests. Cadillac offers blind-spot monitors and automatic emergency braking on the Luxury trim of the Escalade and above, not on the base model.
Prices do not include $1,295 destination charge.
Base Escalade ($75,195 with rear-wheel drive, $78,195 with four-wheel drive) comes with 12-way power front seats, leather upholstery, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, 16-speaker Bose audio, 12-inch instrument cluster, magnetic ride control, a surround-view camera system, and 20-inch wheels.
Luxury ($80,795 with RWD, $83,795 with 4WD) adds safety features, including low-speed automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warnings, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors, as well as a color head-up display and huge (22-inch) wheels.
Premium Luxury ($85,195 with RWD, $88,195 with 4WD) includes forward/reverse automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system
Platinum ($94,295 with RWD, $97,295 with 4WD) comes with semi-aniline leather, massaging front seats, a distinctive grille, power-retractable assist step, and wood trim.
Base Escalade ESV ($78,195 with rear-wheel drive, $81,195 with four-wheel drive) rides the longer wheelbase.
ESV Luxury ($83,795 with RWD, $86,795 with 4WD) is equipped similar to regular-length Luxury model.
ESV Premium Luxury ($88,195 with RWD, $91,195 with 4WD) is equipped similar to regular-length Premium Luxury model.
ESV Platinum ($97,295 with RWD, $100,295 with 4WD) is equipped similar to regular-length Platinum model.
Undeniably brash and bold, the audacious Escalade is actually a refined vehicle.
Up front, a toothy, flamboyantly-chromed grille captures the eye. So do the bright 22-inch wheels fitted to upper-trim models. Chrome body trim, of course, is the feature that commands the greatest attention.
Both the Escalade and its ESV big brother share their profiles and most underpinnings with the less-lavish Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.
Indisputably big on the outside, Escalades aren’t quite so massive inside. Inherent truckiness creates certain compromises, including a tall cargo-area floor. Back-seat legroom is shorter than exterior dimensions suggest.
Luxury and comfort, of course, overcome those. The Escalade’s standard leather upholstery has a good feel. Then again, the plush and pricey Platinum edition wraps the seats, dashboard, console, and door panels in showy semi-aniline leather, complemented by stunning wood trim.
Front seats promise supreme all-day comfort, helped by 12-way power. Second-row space is adequate; ESV editions are more roomy. Platinum versions get built-in massagers on 18-way power seats.
Power-folding third-row seats can hold two adults in reasonable comfort.
Most dashboard switches are the capacitive-touch type, which aren’t always easily functional.
Cargo capacity can accurately be called voluminous. Behind the third row, the standard Escalade offers 15.2 cubic feet. ESV models provide 39.3 cubic feet. Fold both back rows, and an ESV expands to nearly 121 cubic-foot capacity.
With its burly V-8, any Escalade stands ready to accelerate more like a muscle truck than a family-ready luxury SUV. Not many big SUVs can match the Escalade’s exhilarating response to the gas pedal â€“ especially considering its hefty 5,600-pound curb weight.
Whether starting off from a standstill or preparing to pass on the highway, the Escalade exudes confidence. That confidence also extends to towing capability.
Reacting quickly, the 10-speed automatic shifts smoothly under most conditions.
Escalades deliver surprisingly good ride quality. Magnetic shock absorbers take the edge off rough spots and strive to disguise the Escalade’s truck-based architecture. As a result, the big SUV soaks up harsh pavement with grace and poise.
Quick, nicely-weighted steering helps with handling. Still, the tall body has limits when confronting a winding road. Brakes are strong.
Optional all-wheel drive needs no driver intervention, but lacks a low range.
Escalades use their share of premium gasoline. With standard rear-wheel drive, the standard Escalade is EPA-rated at 14/23 mpg City/Highway, or 17 mpg Combined. Picking all-wheel drive drops the estimate to 14/21/17 mpg.
The Cadillac Escalade stands up well among rival luxury SUVs. It’s still an all-American SUV with a lavish cabin, competitive technology, and a pampered ride.
Driving impressions The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.