The Escalade has loomed large in the public consciousness—and in the public’s rear-view mirrors—as the high-riding, high-profile Caddy with the mostest. As the brand’s overseers view it, though, the division’s center of gravity has shifted away from the Escalade toward Cadillac’s fresh portfolio of passenger cars. Still, the Escalade is a highly profitable model, and it was number two in the luxury-SUV derby last year. With General Motors redoing its Chevrolet and GMC full-size SUVs (from which the Escalade springs), the big Caddy came along for the ride, polished and improved but definitely not reimagined.
Cadillac did consider moving the Escalade to the GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave platform of three-row crossovers, but consumer clinic participants deemed the resulting vehicle Not An Escalade. So the new Escalade hews to the same familiar formula: body-on-frame construction, suspension of front coil springs and a solid rear axle, naturally aspirated V-8, six-speed automatic transmission, rear- or four-wheel drive, two lengths/wheelbases, and a standard third-row seat.
LEDs and more LEDs
The new sheet metal—shared with its Chevrolet and GMC platform-mates, save for the tailgate and the front clip—is starched and flattened, and the greenhouse is squared off. The design is punctuated by 22-inch wheels (on all but the base model), a towering stack of full-LED headlights, and what must be the industry’s tallest LED taillights. The new styling not only harmonizes better with the rest of the Cadillac line, it also makes the Escalade look even more imposing.
Looks do not deceive. Although both versions feature the same stretch between the axles as before (116 inches for the standard Escalade, 130 inches for the ESV), they are slightly greater in length (1.4 inches) and width (1.5 inches). Only the height has come down slightly, in the service of aerodynamics.
Cabin makes quantum leap in style and quality
Inside that big box is a cabin that has made a quantum leap in style and material quality from the outgoing model. (In retrospect, the 2014 Escalade’s interior already seems not even good enough for a pickup truck.) The new version is impressively decked out in leather and synthetic suede, with metal accents and different wood trim for each of the three color schemes. The dash architecture is unique to Cadillac and incorporates virtual gauges in a TFT screen in place of the instrument cluster and, of course, the CUE touch-panel interface, which remains impressively modern looking but distressingly distracting to use. New tech helpers include lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. While a backup camera is standard, a top-view camera is conspicuous by its absence. A panoramic glass sunroof, an amenity that is increasingly common in this class—and in less expensive vehicles as well—is not offered.
For such a big vehicle, the Escalade’s space utilization is wanting. The cargo floor now steps up, which was necessary to allow the second- and third-row seats to fold flat (via a pushbutton just inside the tailgate). It’s not an elegant solution, but we agree that pushing a button to stow the seats certainly beats lugging them out of the car. Owners can remove the stepped-up load-floor base (it’s a shallow stowage bin) if they need every last inch of cargo height. The taller floor means there’s now barely enough space for two wheelie bags behind the third-row seat in the standard Escalade, although most buyers will keep those seats stowed anyway, because no one will want to sit back there. The near-total lack of a foot well makes the third row unusable for kids much past elementary school. As before, to get a truly usable third row, you need to upgrade to the ESV, which also offers very good cargo capacity even with all three rows in use. In the second row, the vast majority of buyers specify individual seats (a three-person bench is a no-cost option) but, strangely, Cadillac does not put a console between them. At least climbing into and out of either set of back seats is easier, thanks to reshaped B- and C-pillars. Up front, the (heated and cooled) front seats are Cadillac’s own design, with just the right amount of lateral shaping and under-thigh support, but the lack of a footrest for the driver is an annoying oversight.
Much quieter, slightly more fuel efficient
That interior is a quiet place to spend time, thanks to a host of new sound-deadening measures. The 6.2-liter V-8—seen also in the GMC Yukon Denali—barely murmurs at idle. Now with direct injection and variable cam phasing, it makes 420 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque, eclipsing the previous version’s 403 hp and 407 lb-ft. At the same time, it ekes out a bit better gas mileage: 14 or 15 mpg city, 20 or 21 mpg on the highway. The V-8 moves both the standard-wheelbase Escalade and the ESV with authority, but if you’d rather leave the driving to computers, adaptive cruise control with brake-to-stop (an Escalade exclusive) is newly available—although it isn’t the smoothest chauffeur in stop-and-go driving. Doing our own braking, however, we found improved pedal modulation, and the steering, formerly overly light, is now pleasantly weighted.
No longer a shuddering mess
Ride quality was the area in greatest need of improvement, as the old model was a shuddering mess over bumps. The gentle environs of South Carolina’s low country, where we drove the new car, didn’t provide quite the test that New York or Detroit’s crumbling infrastructure would, but much of the bad behavior appears to be gone. There’s still some busyness to the ride, though, mostly noticeable from the rear seat. The engineers point to redesigned body mounts for the improved rigidity, although the Escalade again utilizes GM’s magnetic ride control—with tour and sport modes that, frankly, felt little different.
Escalade fans will approve
If you liked the previous Escalade, you’ll like this one. It’s sharper looking outside, more luxurious inside, and somewhat better to drive. But as SUVs become more global and more brands enter the upper end of the spectrum, the luxury SUV market is shifting away from vehicles like the Escalade. (Already, the Mercedes-Benz GL is the bestselling large, luxury SUV.) At some point, Cadillac is going to have to redefine the Escalade and move this concept forward to a more modern layout that can provide similar accommodations and capabilities in a more efficient package. As Cadillac design director Andrew Smith said, “All great Cadillacs, in their day, were forward looking.” The Escalade should be too.
2015 Cadillac Escalade
- Base Price Range: $72,690â$83,790 (Escalade) $75,690â$86,790 (ESV)
- Engine: 6.2-liter V-8
- Power: 420 hp @ 5600 rpm
- Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear- or 4-wheel
- Cargo Volume: 15.2/51.6/94.2 cu ft; 39.3/76.7/120.9 cu ft (Escalade; ESV, behind 3rd/2nd/1st row)
- Fuel Economy: 15/21 mpg (RWD); 14/21 mpg (4WD Escalade); 14/20 mpg (4WD ESV)