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.
Inside the car one has the feeling that should thermonuclear war could break out you'd need only reach for some sunglasses. Doors close with vault-like purpose and the leather and wood-clad cocoon is remarkably quiet, helped at least in part by the active noise cancellation tech offered by the standard, 16-speaker Bose sound system. It provides good sound from front to rear and plenty of bass, but of course those wanting more will find copious amounts of room in the back for as big a subwoofer enclosure as they can imagine.
The Escalade can seat seven across three rows, but those in the way back will need to have very short legs. Third row seats are comfortable enough, but they're basically on the floor. Second-row seats, however, are quite nice -- even heated. Both rows of rear seats can flip down automatically thanks to a set of switches positioned just inside the rear hatch, making it awfully easy to slot in lengthy items like snowboards and mannequins. Passengers in the second row can make use of wireless headphones and a Blu-ray entertainment system, playback on a 9-inch LCD that pivots down from the ceiling. Game systems and the like can also be connected too, but only via standard-definition composite inputs.
Those systems would be powered by the three-prong outlet situated between the seats, and there's a flotilla of USB ports scattered about as well. That should be plenty to keep your devices charged but, but just in case a wireless charging pad lies in the middle of the gargantuan arm rest.
No shortage of connectivity, then, and the CUE system does its part with Bluetooth A2DP streaming or playback from line-in or external storage. SiriusXM and all the regulars are on tap, as well as Pandora, but as in other CUE systems the Pandora data must come through your phone. As ever that strikes us as awfully curious given the Escalade can act as a WiFi hotspot for your mobile devices.
The CUE system here is exactly as it was on the ATS and elsewhere. It's a reasonably comprehensive offering when it comes to features, but as ever it's sluggish at times, and the navigation's voice recognition leaves a lot to be desired. Nearly all controls are capacitive touch virtual buttons, which don't work particularly well while wearing gloves. This is something of a problem in the colder months. Still, heated seats, heated steering wheel and the ability to start the car remotely from your phone do add a fair bit of winter luxury to the overall package.
Quality materials are spread throughout the spacious interior. The brown leather contrasts nicely with the matte finish of the wood trim, a very nice touch compared to the excessively glossy stuff found in most cars at this price range.
And just what is this price range? The 2015 Escalade starts at a base $73,965 for a Standard, rear-wheel-drive model in the US, going all the way up to $93,270 for the full-fat, stretched, Platinum ESV model with (almost) all the toys. (Pricing or availability for the UK or Australia are currently unavailable.) The four-wheel-drive Premium Escalade we tested started at $82,465 and certainly wasn't lacking in appointments, but a few options drove the price up to $88,365. That Kona Brown leather was an extra $2,000 and the retracting, power assist steps on either side of the car add a massive $1,695, a fee that will only be palatable to the most vertically challenged of drivers. Finally, those 22-inch "ultra-bright" wheels added $600, which seems fair in the grand scheme of things.
The new styling of the Escalade has proved controversial, appropriate for a controversial vehicle that many will covet for its comfort and luxury while many more will hate for its conspicuous consumption. Putting aside the ecological implications, the Escalade is a genuinely nice ride. It lacks the posh sophistication of a Range Rover, perhaps, but it seats more and delivers quite a bit more presence than a Lexus LX or Lincoln Navigator.
That sort of presence may not be desirable for all, but for those who appreciate its charms, this new Escalade is the best yet.