Not too much has changed for the mighty Cadillac Escalade since it rolled through the Roadshow garage last year. The 2019 model sees a few former options become standard features as this titan elbows for whatever edge it can find in the large luxury SUV space. With stiff competition from Lincoln's Navigator, the Mercedes-Benz GLS and BMW's new X7, the Escalade certainly has its work cut out for it.
Can a few new features keep the Caddy relevant among these fresher models? I grabbed the keys to a loaded-up 2019 Cadillac Escalade Platinum ESV to find out.
For the 2019 model year, the Escalade's hands-free power tailgate becomes a standard feature across the line. Simply walk up to the rear end with the key in your pocket and kick under the bumper, and the rear hatch will automatically open. The same kicking motion can be used to close the hatch, which is useful when your hands are full while loading or unloading the SUV.
2019 models also feature a standard rear projector that casts the brand's shield logo onto the ground near the rear end of the SUV at night. It's a little gimmicky and doesn't add much in the way of functionality, but it's also a cool bit of showy flair. Also new for 2019 is an available $2,700 Sport Edition appearance package that replaces much of the exterior chrome trim with glossy black bits and swaps 22-inch dark Midnight Silver alloy wheels into the Escalade's arches. My classic black and chrome example was not so-equipped.
One advantage that the Escalade continues to wave in the face of its competition is its outright size. The 2019 Escalade Platinum stretches 203.9 inches from bumper to bumper with a 116-inch wheelbase. Maximum cargo space is stated at an ample 94.2 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded, which falls short of the Navigator's 103.4 cubic feet, but bests the X7's 90.4 and edges out the GLS' 93.8 cubic feet.
My even-larger ESV model stretches its midsection by 14 inches, riding on a 130-inch wheelbase and standing 224 inches long overall. The extra length frees up an impressive 120.9 cubic feet of cargo space with its second and third rows flattened. Lincoln's Navigator L offers a similar long-wheelbase treatment, but falls behind the Escalade by 0.7 cubic feet of space behind the first row. Talk about close competition.
A lad this big needs a proper engine, so the 'Lade is rocking the same 6.2-liter V8 engine it's used since the 2015 model year. Output is steady on at 420 peak horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Last year, the powertrain was updated with a new standard 10-speed automatic transmission that improved smoothness and performance, and I'm glad to report that this 2019 model feels as robust as ever, with strong acceleration and a cloud-like ride on its standard Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension.
A drive mode selector allows the driver to choose between Sport and comfort-oriented Touring settings, but aside from firming up the ride to a level pointless for a vehicle as massive as this, and making the engine breathe a bit more loudly, I didn't feel much difference in the performance between the modes. It's best to just leave it in Touring and enjoy how the big Caddy soaks up mile after effortless mile of highway.
The 10-speed gearbox also helps efficiency, complementing the standard cylinder deactivation technology to bump the EPA's economy estimates for my rear-wheel-drive model to 14 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway. The cylinder deactivation is fairly aggressive, shifting to four-cylinder operation frequently when coasting, cruising or during deceleration, but you wouldn't notice save for a "V4" icon that periodically appears in the instrument cluster to indicate the fuel saver was active. The mode change is quick and imperceptible.
Stepping up to 4WD drops the highway estimate to 21 mpg. But it adds a two-speed transfer case and the ability to toggle between rear-wheel-drive and 4x4 operation with the twist of a knob -- or you can just let the Cadillac's computer handle the change automatically. While the 4WD system improves the SUV's traction potential, its towing capacity of 8,100 pounds is 200 pounds less than the 2WD model. (Stretching to the ESV model further reduces that capacity by another 200 pounds.)
For better or worse, the rest of the Escalade's safety tech, cabin tech and convenience features are unchanged for 2019. Before checking a single extra box, my line-topping Platinum model rolled in with the vast majority of the bells and whistles in Cadillac's repertoire, including a refrigerated box for bevs in the center console, massaging front seats -- though nowhere near as nice as Benz's massaging buckets -- standard wireless phone charging and a three-screen rear seat entertainment system with a Blu-Ray player.
Safety technology highlights include adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, forward collision warning with automatic braking assist, semi-automatic parking assist, blind-spot monitoring and more. I'm not a huge fan of Cadillac's older-generation lane keeping assist; it felt vague, only so little assist so late that I was often unsure if the feature was even active. Overall, the Escalade's driver aid tech checks many of the right boxes, but feels a generation behind the competition from Lincoln and BMW. Still, a little tech help is better than none at all, I suppose. All of these features are standard at the Platinum trim level, but many are also available optionally at lower trims.
Cadillac's Cue dashboard tech suite is also starting to feel a bit dated. The system uses an 8-inch diagonal display with haptic feedback that buzzes slightly when you touch it. That screen seemed large just a few years ago but now that we've been spoiled by footlong displays in the BMW X5 and X7, it feels a bit small and low-resolution, mounted so far away from the driving position in the Escalade's broad dashboard. And I'm still not a fan of the capacitive buttons and awkward volume slider that surround the Escalade's dashboard display.
The Cue software that powers Cadillac's infotainment is well organized and easy enough to use while driving. I found the menus a bit slow to respond to inputs at times, but I never got lost or confused navigating the interface. An available 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot should help keep passengers connected, and standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay do a lot to stretch the functionality and fill in some of the gaps in Cue's feature set. However, Cadillac's dashboard tech is in desperate need of an overhaul if it expects to remain competitive.
The 2019 Cadillac Escalade starts at $76,490 for the base 2WD model with the standard wheelbase, or $79,490 for the long-wheelbase ESV 2WD. However, my Platinum ESV 2WD is close to fully loaded at $98,840 as-tested. Stepping up to 4WD would add $3,000 to the bottom line. There's a sweet spot just one step down in the lineup at the Premium Luxury trim level, but at $86,490 for the standard wheelbase, it's still a pricey proposition.
Drivers seeking the latest and greatest in large-scale luxury will likely find more to love in the new Lincoln Navigator, the upcoming 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS or -- if you don't need the biggest three-row SUV on the block -- BMW's new X7. Cadillac's deep discounts -- with incentives currently sitting at about $7,500 -- help keep the 2019 Escalade afloat competitively, but I'd also consider searching for 2018 models that may still be kicking around your local dealership. There's almost no difference at all this year, so scoring a sweet deal on an older model is a win-win.
I'd also recommend that you keep an eye out for the next-generation 2020 Cadillac Escalade, which should be just around the corner. Based on what we've seen from General Motors' most recent pickup trucks, the next Esky should pack a new platform, new suspension and, hopefully, an overhauled and much more competitive cabin and safety tech suite. For more patient Cadillac devotees, it should definitely be worth the wait.