Our 2017 Cadillac Escalade Platinum is, simply put, a full-size, old-school SUV. Its body-on-frame chassis stretches a whopping 203.9 inches from bumper to bumper and stands 74.4 inches tall. It's a big ol' boy, and it's not even the biggest -- there's also a longer Escalade ESV model that stretches the 116-inch wheelbase to 130 inches and the overall length to 224.3 inches.
That's a whole lot of truck...
Beneath the hood purrs a 6.2-liter V8 engine that can, when asked, roar to life with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The engine features fuel saving technologies in the way of direct injection, variable valve timing and Active Fuel Management, which we'll return to momentarily.
The buttery smooth brute of an engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with either a rear- or four-wheel drive configuration. (Our example featured the latter.) The driver has a lot of control over how the powertrain operates with a slightly awkward manual shifting mode, a toggle-able Tow-and-Haul mode. There are also four user-selectable modes for the 4WD system: 2WD locks the powertrain into rear-wheel drive for better fuel economy, Auto is a sort of on-demand all-wheel drive setting, and there are two modes that lock the system into 4WD operation with either high or low gear ratios.
The Escalade rides on an independent front suspension and a 5-links at the rear. Our Platinum model felt particularly well-composed, thanks to the inclusion of Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control dampers, an optional feature for lesser trims. The Magnetic dampers feature 2 modes that tweak the quality of the ride; there's a comfortable Touring setting and a more taught Sport mode.
On the road, the Esky rides smooth, isolating the passengers from below with its well-sorted suspension -- the Magnetic dampers ride like a dream in their comfort mode, soaking up bumps and keeping the SUV flat during emergency lane change maneuvers -- and from noise all around with a combination of passive sound dampening and active noise cancellation. Look closely and you can see little microphones all around the cabin, feeding into the Bose audio system's noise-cancellation algorithms.
The V8 engine is particularly smooth when cruising. I noted that the Escalade's Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation technology is both aggressive in shutting down half of the engine's cylinders when unnecessary and very smooth in its transition between the two operation modes. I'd hardly notice that the system was operating without a glance down at the digital instrument cluster to see the little "V4" light glowing, a common occurrence when coasting along at the speed limit or decelerating for a stop or in traffic.
The result of this judicious use of the engine's displacement is actually pretty OK fuel economy for a vehicle of this size, certainly better than I expected. The EPA reckons fuel economy at 15 mpg in the city, 20 on the highway and 17 mpg combined. During my testing with a heavy emphasis on 2WD highway cruising, I averaged around 17 mpg.
Big truck, big luxe
I was also impressed with the fit and finish of the cockpit area on Platinum model. There's no doubting that this is a luxury vehicle from the driver's seat with a dashboard that is ridiculously plush, featuring soft leather on every surface that I could see and touch, and very comfortable front buckets with multiple massage modes, heated and ventilated surfaces, soft leather trim and more power adjustment settings than I knew what to do with. The throne for the front passenger is nearly identical.
In that dashboard, you'll find Cadillac's Cue infotainment and digital instrument cluster. Cue's dark theme causes usability to suffer a bit, but I'm still a fan of its solid navigation, reasonably accurate voice control and full suite of digital audio sources. GM's OnStar 4G LTE services, onboard Wi-Fi hotspot and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity make this good tech suite into a great one.
Cadillac has loaded its flagship up with a solid suite of driver aid technologies. Blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assistance inspire confidence on the highway, while adaptive cruise control with low-speed traffic function allows the driver to relax a bit and enjoy the massage seats during longer stints behind the wheel. Front-, rear- and around-view cameras, audible distance alerts, rear cross-traffic alerts and pedestrian detection boost safety when parking, and semi-autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking with park out assist allows the Caddy to almost valet itself.
Cadillac's rear camera mirror, which debuted on the CT6 sedan, is a welcome addition to the Escalade's suite of safety technologies. Where it felt like a cool gimmick on the sedan, it's more like necessary technology on the SUV. Rear visibility is pretty terrible on a vehicle of this size, with most cars disappearing beneath the horizon of the rear backlight. The camera mirror totally solves the Escalade's rear vision problem and, once activated, I never toggled it off for the duration of my testing.
Rounding out my praise are the various details and amenities that come standard on our Platinum model. There's an a half-dozen USB ports tucked around the cabin, an in-console refrigerator, power-folding second- and third-row seats, side steps that automatically deploy when the doors are opened, a power liftgate that opens and closes with a wiggle of my toe, and likely dozens more small touches that make this nearly $100k SUV feel special. There's no doubting the SUV is a true luxury vehicle; you can see the money wherever you look.
Alas, with all of the good must come a bit of bad and I certainly found enough first-world problems to complain about during my week behind the wheel.
There's plenty of shoulder room to go around, but third-row legroom on our standard wheelbase model is disappointing, particularly when compared to smaller SUVs like the Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9. I fit my 5-foot, 9-inch adult frame comfortably in both of those third rows, but only very small children will fit in the Escalade's way-back.
Plus, there's a pittance of rear stowage when the third-row seats are deployed, a disappointment for a vehicle this damn big. Adding insult to injury, the rear floor isn't even flat; it's tilted slightly toward the rear hatch, which caused smaller items, such as bags of groceries, to shift and resulted in a six-pack of beer tumbling out and smashing onto the ground while the power liftgate made its slow ascent. (Party foul, Cadillac.)
Also disappointing (and confusing) is the Platinum model's standard rear-seat entertainment -- or, should I say, its three discrete rear-seat entertainment systems. There's a center, ceiling-mounted screen that is powered by the dashboard Cue system. It has access to the front Blu-Ray player or its own bank of inputs on the center console, including an HDMI input. However, there are two additional headrest displays that, as far as I can tell, are isolated from the rest of the Cue infotainment with their own optical media and inputs, though no HDMI. After over an hour spent fiddling, I found no easy way to display the same content on all three screens short of buying three of the same DVD. It's a mess back there.
Up front, the glossy bank of capacitive dashboard buttons can't be used while wearing gloves and becomes a mess of fingerprints after just a day of use. Some of those buttons are oddly placed, like the drive mode selector tucked way up at the top-left corner of the Cue display and plainly labeled "Mode." I thought it was an audio-source toggle until I tapped it on the last day of testing and accidentally switched into Sport mode.
That Sport mode is probably better off left undiscovered. It stiffens the Magnetic Ride Control to an uncomfortable degree, jarring the passengers without boosting the performance by a noticeable degree. Stiff or soft, this Caddy isn't designed to dance, so I found it better to just leave it in the smooth Touring mode.
The Cadillac Escalade places a heavy focus on on-road driving comfort and amenities. There's remarkably little cheap plastic to be found in the Caddy's cabin, and there's no denying that this is a luxury vehicle. There's also a lot of available tech. Some of that tech -- like the infotainment, driver aid features and rear-camera mirror -- are must-haves, while other features -- like the rear-seat entertainment -- are less desirable.
Going Platinum is an all-in affair with cosmetic tweaks to paint and wheel choice being the only options left unchecked. However, it also comes at an all-in price. The 2017 Cadillac Escalade's base price starts at $73,395 for an RWD example, but our top-tier Platinum 4WD model jumps up to $95,195. Include a $710 destination charge, $500 for premium paint and $210 worth of dealer-installed accessories to reach our as-tested price of just $96,500.
We're still waiting to see if the Escalade's truest rival, the Lincoln Navigator, will be significantly updated within the next year. Until then, the 2017 Cadillac Escalade sits in an interesting place in the full-size SUV market. On one hand, it's better suited for towing and a bit more expensive than a fully loaded Audi Q7; though the smaller, more efficient Audi manages to be nearly as roomy, particularly on the third row. On the other hand, a similarly optioned Mercedes-Benz GLS or Land Rover Range Rover makes the Escalade's sub-$100K price look like a deal.
Perhaps the most closely matched modern competitor is the Lexus LX 570, which nearly matches the Escalade's price, luxurious appointments and features. The Lexus is underpinned by its legendary Land Cruiser pedigree when off road, but it's no match for the Cadillac's more modern technology and on-road manners.