The 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum is an imposing vehicle. It's over 6 feet tall, more than 18 feet long and weighs in at 6,088 pounds when equipped with all-wheel drive. If it was a prize fighter, the body-on-frame luxury SUV would undoubtedly be a heavyweight and have the persona of Mr. T, its massive grille, LED lights and 22-inch wheels with chrome pitying the fool that dare mess with it.
Unlike most heavyweights, the Escalade is far from slow. Not with a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque on tap, capable of hustling the big Caddy to 60 mph in around 6 seconds. The engine is a peach, with thrust available everywhere throughout the rev band, and works with a new-for-2018 10-speed automatic transmission that's beautifully tuned, always delivering smooth shifts.
With the new gearbox and seamless Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation system allowing the engine to operate in eight- or four-cylinder modes, the drivetrain combo is estimated to return 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. If not for the "V4" icon on the gauge cluster, it would be difficult to tell when the engine is running on half or all of its cylinders. In mixed driving, I averaged 17.1 mpg, matching the EPA combined rating.
Compared with other mondo, four-wheel-drive luxury utilities, the Escalade ESV's fuel ratings are competitive with the likes of the Infiniti QX80 (13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway), Lexus LX 570 (13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway), new Lincoln Navigator L (16 mpg city and 21 mpg highway) and Mercedes-Benz GLS550 (14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway).
Also helping disguise the Escalade's mass are standard Magnetic Ride Control dampers, decidedly tight steering and 22-inch Bridgestone Dueler tires that provide respectable grip and handling reflexes. All things considered, turn-in is sharp and cornering composed with body motions always staying in check. For even tighter dynamics over the standard Touring setting, Sport mode firms up the suspension for marginally better handling through bends, but at the expense of ride quality. I found it best to not even bother with the Sport detent.
Under braking, however, the Escalade's mass can't be masked, requiring a firm press of the left pedal to get things slowed. That's not to say that the front six-piston Brembo calipers aren't up to the snuff, but deep dives into braking zones aren't advised.
When it comes to cruising, the ride is sublime during a 360-mile day trip to northern Michigan and back. In Touring mode, bumps are swallowed up, the cabin is well isolated from wind and tire noise and the adaptive cruise control system flawlessly adjusts speeds to keep up with the flow of traffic.
Being a full-zoot Platinum model, cabin surroundings are cushy with a combination of soft leather and microfiber suede covering major surfaces and wood trim offering appealing contrast. Raising comfort further is a message function for the front heated and cooled seats to help the otherwise boring miles fly by.
There's also a rear Blu-ray DVD entertainment system with four screens, wireless digital headphones along with an HDMI and USB inputs to keep passengers in the back busy and out of trouble watching movies or playing video games on road trips.
If that wasn't enough, a cooler is located in the center armrest for drinks. And while it does eat into the Escalade's storage options, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies to stash things in the center console and door panels. Really, space is never an issue with lots of passenger room -- even in the third row.
As for cargo, with all seven seats occupied, 39.3 cubic feet of space is available way out back. Storing the power-folding second- and third-row downs opens up 120.9 cubic feet that comes in handy on numerous trips to home improvement stores and while safely moving an oversize mirror.
Lots of tech
Cadillac's Cue system sets up shop in the center stack to handle infotainment functions with an 8-inch touchscreen controlling navigation, Bluetooth, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and crisp 16-speaker Bose surround sound system. Cue has certainly come a long way since it first launched, being responsive to inputs, quickly paging between menus and easier to work through. The only hiccup I encountered was long initial navigation system load times on numerous occasions when first firing the car. Once booted up, the system performs fine.
Cue does offer the ability to hand infotainment controls to your phone with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. To juice up smart devices, there are five USB ports scattered throughout the cabin and a wireless charging pad on the top of the center armrest that would often have my Samsung Galaxy S8 perched on it.
On the safety front, in addition to the adaptive cruise control, the Platinum features standard forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring and head-up display. However, the Escalade's most useful assets are the parking sensors, 360-degree camera and rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking to get the brute in and out of parking spaces without hitting anything or anyone.
How I'd spec it
As much as I would love all the bells and whistles that come on the Platinum model, the $103,185 as-tested price, including $1,295 destination, is way too rich for my blood. In an attempt to keep the cost of entry semi-reasonable, my Escalade ESV would have four-wheel drive to tackle Midwest winters and be a Luxury trim that includes really important features to me like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
With all that, my big Cadillac would ring in at $87,590 to undercut my Platinum tester by $15,595 -- or roughly the cost of a new Toyota Yaris. While I would miss automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and the cushier cabin, I would be fine giving them up for the sizable cost savings.
A dangerous new challenger
For the past few years, the Cadillac has been the standout in the heavyweight luxury SUV division with entries like the QX80, LX 570 and GLS550 not evolving much and showing their age. That changed this year with the arrival of the all-new Lincoln Navigator boasting fresh styling with an equal amount of visual bling, tech and outmuscling the Escalade with 450-horsepower and 510-pound-feet of torque from a twin-turbocharged V6.
Which ute now sits at the head of the class? It's difficult to say for sure, but with this year's drivetrain upgrades, stellar chassis tuning and feature-rich interior, the Caddy certainly isn't going to give up the top spot to the Lincoln without putting up one heck of a fight.