Cadillac has revealed the fourth generation of its iconic Escalade SUV, based on the new Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL (which themselves are derived from the all-new Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra pickups). Cadillac is again fielding a two-model lineup: the Tahoe-sized Escalade and the Suburban-length Escalade ESV. The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is undiminished in size and weight; instead, Cadillac focused its attention on the vehicle's feature content and its perceived quality.
Like the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban, the Escalades' wheelbases are unchanged at 116 inches (Escalade) and 130 inches (Escalade ESV). Other dimensions have crept up a bit. Overall length increases by 1.4 inches for both versions, and width has grown similarly. The 2015 Cadillac Escalade stands just over an inch lower. The front track is half an inch wider, and the rear track is wider by 1.7 inches. Nor has the 2015 Escalade lost any weight; instead, it has put on a few pounds -- between 70 lbs and 127 lbs (depending on model). The 4-wheel-drive ESV now tops three tons.
Unfortunately, most interior dimensions have not increased. Front-seat legroom is one notable exception, greater by 4 inches, but second-row legroom is essentially unchanged, while legroom in the third-row seat has actually declined slightly. Cargo space has also shrunk, for both the 2015 Cadillac Escalade and the ESV, whether you're measuring behind the third seat, behind the second seat, or with all seats folded.
A New 6.2
Motivating the 2015 Cadillac Escalade is a new version of the 6.2-liter V-8. Although it has the same displacement as the previous engine, the new, direct-injected unit boasts more power and torque. Horsepower increases from 403 hp to 420 hp; torque is up even more, from 417 lb-ft to 460. (This engine appears also in the new GMC Yukon Denali, where it makes slightly less torque; other Yukons and the Chevrolet SUVs get a smaller, 5.3-liter.) As before, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade pairs its engine with a six-speed automatic, and a choice of rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive. The new chassis again uses a live rear axle but Magnetic Ride Control is now standard on all trim levels. Steering switches from hydraulic to electric power assist. The standard wheels increase in size from 18- to 20 inches but fear not: 22-inch wheels are again available.
Given the age of the previous model, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade had a lot of catching up to do in terms of driver-assistance features. This new version promises to be up-to-the-minute in that arena. The previous blind spot warning system is joined by rear cross-traffic alert. Adaptive cruise control with front and rear automatic braking is newly available. Lane departure warning is added, and uses Cadillac's vibrating seat cushion to alert the driver. A third, center-mounted front air bag (first seen in the Buick Enclave) helps keep front-seat occupants in place in a side-impact collision.
Another area that received considerable attention was the Escalade's interior. CUE, of course, is standard, and the instrument cluster is now a virtual (and reconfigurable) display on a TFT screen. A head-up display is newly available. Once again, second-row buckets are standard while a three-seat bench is available. The third-row seat is standard in both models, and all rear seats now fold flat. New dash and seat designs make more extensive use of cut-and-sewn leather, and are more in line with the styling themes set out by Cadillac's new sedans.
Then and Now
The original Escalade arrived in 1998, a rushed response to the Lincoln Navigator. It had only the most minimal, superficial differences from the Chevy Tahoe (even fewer compared to the GMC Yukon Denali). But no matter; a Cadillac SUV was an idea whose time had come. The second generation followed shortly thereafter, adding the ESV and, later, the pickup version, the EXT, based on the Chevy Avalanche. Sales swept past Lincoln, as the Escalade quickly became a cultural touchstone, and the brand's defining vehicle. A hybrid version arrived with the third generation, but the juxtaposition of a hybrid drivetrain and a huge SUV was too strange to succeed, and didn't. It was dropped after 2012, and the odd-duck EXT departed in 2013.
Escalade sales peaked in 2006 and took a tumble with the 2009 recession. This year, however, they've perked up a bit. An Escalade is obviously a vehicle that does better in times of economic optimism, and the nascent recovery appears to again be creating a fertile environment for luxury SUVs. The 2015 Cadillac Escalade hits dealerships this spring, and its debut might just be the surest sign yet that General Motors is putting the economic turmoil of the past few years behind it.