The phrase "living large" takes on new meaning when you pull up somewhere in an Escalade. Plenty of big SUVs have come and gone since this, the biggest Cadillac was introduced in 1999, but none have made a name for themselves like this. Though built upon the workhorse underpinnings of the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe, the Escalade has always had its own clear existence as something more. Whatever that something more is, Caddy's latest upper-class 'ute has the most yet.
The 2015 Escalade grows by 1.5 inches in length -- and if you opt for the extended wheelbase ESV edition, you get a further 14 inches of SUV to love. It's wider by an inch and a half too, and roughly 100 pounds heavier (that's 5,840 pounds in base four-wheel-drive trim). If anything it looks even more massive than that thanks to its new, minimalist styling. Many SUVs try to hide their proportions with rounded edges and curving creases, attempts at drawing the eye away from epic doors and ponderous fenders. Not here.
In the 2015 Escalade it's basically a straight shot from the top of the stacked LED headlight up front all the way back to the even taller row of lights flanking the rear deck. There's nary a curve to get in the way. Even the swelling of the fenders, accommodating the massive 22-inch polished wheels our test car featured, is subtle. With the tinted windows and the "dark granite metallic" paint, the effect is that of an expanse of flat marble, marble inlaid with brightwork to add just a bit of definition.
The overall effect is a purposeful lack of flare, an understatement that not everyone will appreciate, but I quite like it. I constantly thought of vintage diesel locomotives when gazing at the thing. The 2015 Escalade has a stoic and business-like air, much more-so than the previous generation. Many familiar styling cues are still here, this is still an Escalade, but the application of Cadillac's Art and Science school of design adds a lot of class.
And besides, there's no point trying to hide the size of the thing. Those big, 22-inch wheels look positively modest. Once you climb up into the driver's seat you're granted an on-road perspective unlikely to be matched by anyone lacking a CDL. From way up here you can quite literally look down upon every other driver on the road, and the 6.2-liter V-8 under the hood, with its 420 horsepower and 460 lb. ft. of torque, ensures that you can still out-pace most of them from a light.
A 0 to 60 time of around 6 seconds for a near 6,000-pound rig is solid, but that of course comes at a certain cost. In the Escalade, that cost is a motor rated at 15 city, 21 highway, and 17 combined MPG. In our testing, which included a mixture of highway droning and mid-speed country roads, we saw an average of 14.2 MPG. That could definitely get expensive, especially considering the "premium fuel recommended" sticker inside the gas cap door.
There have been several fuel-saving tweaks made, perhaps most notable (and effective) being the cylinder deactivation technology, which dynamically downsizes the motor when you don't need all that grunt. The thing will also automatically run in two-wheel-drive mode in good conditions, and the new eight-speed automatic transmission helps keep things optimized.
That transmission adds a lot to the driving caliber of the thing, too. It shifts quickly and cleanly and is very responsive to the subtle nuances of your right foot. You won't need to put pedal to metal for it to drop down a gear, just a purposeful push on the accelerator will do. You can shift it yourself via buttons on the column stalk, but seems more than a little unnecessary.
Likewise, the Magnetic Ride Control suspension lets you dynamically switch between Sport and Tour modes, but I can't imagine why anyone would want to. There's little sporty about a rig this big, and the firmer suspension mode just communicates every bump and crease through the chassis to your backside. Tour is far more pleasant. Not cosseting -- this is a big truck, remember -- but it handles potholes and frost heaves without getting unsettled.
Indeed, despite being such a big rig the Escalade is quite pleasant to drive. The proportions do take some getting used to, but thankfully Cadillac has layered in a series of driver assists that help. Lane departure warning will ensure you keep those right-angled fenders inside the lines, and that system has thoughtfully been tied into buzzers in the driver seat. Wander to the right and the right bolster buzzes slightly. The same effect is triggered if you're backing out of a spot and an oncoming car is detected, or if you try to change lanes into someone. The buzzers are a bit loud, which is a shame, but otherwise this means of notifications is quite effective. Adaptive cruise control is another welcome feature that makes navigating through traffic a breeze, and a 360-degree camera helps when parking. I do wish the images were a bit higher quality, though.