It’s nearly 2015, and the all-new Cadillac Escalade is a worthy competitor to a Range Rover, finally. After a week spent with one, I’ve realized that an Escalade isn’t what it used to be. And that’s a good thing.
It’s with a happy heart that I say the new Cadillac Escalade is a luxury home run. I know this because I’ve driven every generation. Since he was a child, my father had engrained upon him that Cadillac made the world’s best cars. His father purchased nothing but a GM product, opting for a 1964 1/2 Mustang just once. So my father grew up believing that success meant you showed up to the party in a shiny new Caddy.
In 1998 my old man did just that with the all-new, first ever Cadillac SUV: The 1999 Escalade. Man, that thing was a hunk! Of junk… The seat mechanisms rattled and made noises, and it was obvious it was a GMC Yukon/Chevy Tahoe with some lipgloss. It wasn’t even flavored lipgloss. It looked identical to a Yukon Denali, just with a different badge.
Then came the all-new, first ever Escalade ESV in 2003. That offered the size of a Suburban for the price of a BMW. Luxury was up, as was power and attractiveness. The Escalade looked less like a Yukon Denali and more like… a Cadillac? Well, a little classier, you could say. It was still big; an American truck with an SUV body. And it drove like one, too. But it was comfortable as hell, and it had a Cadillac badge and cost lots of money. The only people that cared the Escalade was expensive were Lincoln Navigator owners.
My parents, for the first time ever, kept a black 2009 Escalade ESV for over 90,000 miles. It was still an okay driving vehicle. The interior was showing some age and wear, and when the suspension hit bumps or holes in the road, it felt like you were falling into the earth. But it was reliable, except for two times when the throttle wasn’t working properly. However the 100,000 powertrain warranty covered the tows and the cost of the repairs. Cadillac/GM to the rescue!
This all-new 2015 Escalade is amazing, though. Nearly everything about it whispers sweet luxurious nothings in your ear. It’s sexy to look at; It’s nice to drive. You feel like a real bad ass driving one. But you’re not worried about what people think of you from the outside world, because you’re too busy feeling comfy on the inside. My tester started at $82,795, and came with only three options: power retractable assist steps ($1695), 22″ dual 7-spoke wheels ($500), and my favorite, Majestic Plum Metallic paint ($495), interior color was Shale with Cocoa Accents. The as-tested price was $86,480. In my opinion, worth it. Fuel economy is supposed to be 14 mpg city and 21 mpg on the highway. I averaged about 18 mpg the entire week.
The best change you can say GM finally made to all of its lineup of trucks and SUVs is better maneuverability at any speed. Yet, where the Cadillac Escalade sets itself apart all together is that it handles even better than the rest of its cousins. Having driven the Tahoe and Yukon Denali I can tell you that while they drive better than previous models, there’s a noticeable amount of body roll when driven back-to-back with the Escalade. It was surprising, but a welcomed change.
On-road driving dynamics are up 1,000%. The 2015 Escalade feels more solid without sacrificing comfort. Taking corners used to be a chore to hold on, even at slow speeds. Now they’re dealt with in a precise manner that feels more like a 2015 CTS and not a Tahoe or Yukon. I’d actually like to see if Cadillac could make an Escalade V-Sport, or maybe an Escalade-V with 500-horsepower from the twin-turbo V6 in the CTS. Yeah, try and tell me how bad ass that wouldn’t be… But you won’t be unhappy or disappointed with the standard 6.2-liter V8 making 420-horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, which’ll power you to 60 mph in around 6-seconds. Throttle response, like in all GM SUVs and trucks, could be better and quicker to react.
Sitting in any seat is relaxing and comfortable, but the second row can be a bit tight for anyone over six-feet tall these days. The best place is ultimately the driver’s seat where all of the control is. The new CUE infotainment is a welcomed treat over previous things that GM used to call navigation. The gauge cluster display is completely digital, which isn’t my favorite on modern cars, but I do love that you can switch the display for the driver based on what you feel like looking at. There’s a sport look with red dials and plenty of vehicle info, balanced for just an easy look with three round gauges, “simple” has a very open feel with only basic info displayed, and then there’s the layout I used most of the time with the speed in the center, navigation on the top left, and various bits of info shown in the other corners.
Overall interior quality is far better than it ever was in an Escalade with this 2015 model. The leather surfaces feel supple, everything is lined and stitched in the stuff, and there’s even a suede-like material on the dash, on the inside upper walls of the center console, and on the doors. The start/stop button is perfectly placed to the lower left of the nav screen, and, as you’d expect, the center console and cup holder areas can house a ton of stuff. Touch your finger an aluminum piece under the nav screen and it’ll open up to show a USB port that can hide an iPod, iPhone, or anything of the sort.
To the left and right of the navigation screen on the 2015 Escalade you can mess with some features, open up the glove box, and also change the tuning of the suspension between Touring and Sport. You’ll feel enough of a difference in Sport, and things feel a bit tighter around corners, but not enough to stay away from Touring mode. I would tap the suspension button to go back and forth, but you probably won’t.
The rear seats get a Blu-Ray DVD player, heated seats for the second row, and all of the control for a game system, looking at photos on an SD card, and good hearing of the front driver and passenger when talking.
You can finally fold the third row flat into the floor! I swear, the person who came up with take-out third row seats deserves a punch in the gut from me and many others who have scars on their legs trying to pull those things out. Weirdly, the third row folds flat into the floor, but only because of a shelf that’s been built to add height, apparently to allow them to not interfere with anything under the vehicle? I honestly don’t know why.
But nothing can be perfect, can it? And this is true with the new 2015 Cadillac Escalade and its cousins. For some odd reason, GM increased the height of the floor in the standard wheelbase SUVs. Because of this there’s a slight hill you have to walk up in order to get into the third row. This also makes the second row seats sit higher with less headroom for taller occupants. Then there’s a four-inch-or-so tall shelf in the rear of the cargo area. Open it up and you have a tow kit and some tools in there.
Even more interesting is the fact that second row seats are lighter. Be careful when you folds the seats forward, however (if you have captain’s chairs). Why? Because the seats now move back and forth during cornering and varying degrees of acceleration. I had one of my mom’s dogs in the back, and I wasn’t thinking about the seats, and as I pulled away from a traffic light at around 75% throttle, I was wondering why she was freaking out in the back seat. I glance back to see a seat coming back forward after it apparently hit her, or came close to it.
Cadillac’s CUE, as much as I liked it, needs work. The screen and overall layout attracts a lot of fingerprints and dust, and when you try and sweep something off the screen you’ll end up hitting a button accidentally. The screen detects when a hand comes near it and automatically shows new icons to help speed up the process of choosing what you want. That’s brilliant, but it proved to be flawed at times, as it tried to anticipate too much and would change a channel or something before I’d even touched the screen. CUE can also be slow to react. Overall, though, I enjoyed using it, and I look forward to using it down the road as it gets faster and better, but maybe without the weird feeling haptic feedback (slight vibration when changing climate control, heated/cooled seats, etc.). A really nice start, though.
In conclusion: This is the finest product Cadillac have offered in decades. It’s well thought out, nearly-perfectly executed, and one hell of a driving machine. The power and torque is just immense, the price is expensive, but seems worth it. With driving dynamics that feel as though they could rival that of a Range Rover, I’m impressed, quite honestly. It’s been difficult to impress my love for driving with any GM truck or SUV, because they were always sloppier than a Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr big cheeseburger. Not the 2015 Escalade, though. While CUE needs a little work, the second row seats need a lock when folded forward, it’s a really great product overall. Now let’s add more power and go after the GL 63 AMG, huh?
[Photos: Josh Lewis/Cadillac]