The verdict: The latest Cadillac Escalade is quintessentially American: big, bold, loud and thinks it’s worth more than it actually is.
Versus the competition: Competitors at this price are generally much more refined and luxurious inside and out, but few can match the Escalade’s sheer size and towing capabilities.
The biggest, baddest American luxury vehicle is undisputedly the Cadillac Escalade, a blingy behemoth that prowls the streets of the United States in all its chrome-grille glory, rumbling and roaring its anti-environmental presence. While foreign automakers maintain flagship sedans, like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS 460, the American love for trucks has elevated rigs like the Escalade to that position here.
It had been a while since we last experienced Cadillac’s range-topper, so we spent a week with the latest example, a 2017 Cadillac Escalade four-wheel-drive Platinum. We drove a short-wheelbase version that tickled the $100,000 MSRP mark and lacked nothing on the model’s options list except the extra length of the Escalade ESV (see the changes from 2016 to 2017 here).
Exterior and Styling
Despite sharing a basic structure with the more plebian (and less expensive) Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the Cadillac Escalade looks nothing like those trucks. Cadillac has done an admirable job of differentiating the Escalade from its brethren, adding distinctive Cadillac cues like blade-style vertical headlights and tall LED tailfins — er, taillights.
The Escalade’s garish chrome grille is the only blemish on an otherwise smooth-sided, slick and modern design. Integrated side steps that fold out when the doors open add another level of design sophistication, allowing for the function of running boards without the design interruption of fixed boards. Despite some of its more outlandish design elements, this Cadillac Escalade is still a more subdued and sophisticated design than previous models; it doesn’t look out of place when parked among Land Rover Range Rovers and Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class SUVs in the country club parking lot.
How It Drives
You’d expect a vehicle this size to feel massive and ponderous, heavy in its body motions and hesitant to change direction, accelerate or brake. And that’s pretty much what you get with the Escalade. There’s no disguising the fact that it’s truly a huge truck, powerful though it may be.
Still built on a stout, steel body-on-frame truck design, the Cadillac Escalade hasn’t gone through any of General Motors’ latest weight-reduction efforts. The Escalade does feature GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, an adjustable suspension that reads the road and adapts shock absorber firmness in lightning-fast time, which helps in controlling squat, dive, roll and other body motions.
It doesn’t help steering and handling much, as the Escalade’s heft makes it a better cruiser than dancer. It also doesn’t make for a very quiet or supple ride, as there’s only so much you can do to damp 22-inch wheels shod with super-low-profile tires. The smaller 20-inch wheels with taller sidewalls on lesser trims would likely make the Escalade’s ride more luxurious.
Thanks to its burly 6.2-liter V-8 engine, the Escalade feels decently quick for a truck of its size. (Cadillac reports its zero-to-60-mph time at a tick less than 6 seconds.) It fires to life with a surprising roar that’s especially loud from outside the vehicle, which you’ll hear if you’re using the remote start. You’d swear the Escalade has an aftermarket exhaust system, so loud and rumbly is its engine, but it comes that loud from the factory.
The big engine makes 420 horsepower and is mated to a standard eight-speed automatic transmission. My test vehicle came with selectable four-wheel drive, but rear-wheel drive is standard. One benefit of this truck-based setup is the ability to tow 8,300 pounds (8,100 on the longer Escalade ESV), meaning the Cadillac Escalade could pull a good-sized camper trailer or personal watercraft (or two).
Fuel economy on this monster is better than you might expect thanks to technology like cylinder deactivation. The EPA rates the four-wheel-drive Escalade at 15/20/17 mpg city/highway/combined, and my week in one netted an observed fuel economy of 18 mpg combined. Not exactly hybrid territory, but for a vehicle this size, it’s acceptable.
Competitors aren’t much different, with the V-8 powered Mercedes-Benz GLS550 coming in at 14/18/16 mpg, almost matching the performance of the V-8 Land Rover Range Rover, which is rated 14/19/16 mpg. They’re all better than the dismal performance of the Infiniti QX80, however, which is rated 13/19/15 mpg.
Open the door to the Cadillac Escalade Platinum’s completely leather-wrapped interior and an automati,c integrated side step folds out of the lower sills to aid you in climbing up. Presumably, this is because the Escalade doesn’t offer an adjustable air suspension to raise and lower the vehicle, as many of its competitors do. Once situated in the cabin, you’ll realize a great effort has been made to make the Escalade feel special and upscale — an effort that doesn’t quite succeed.
The truck doesn’t feel terribly spacious for something so massive on the outside. The wide center console eats into passenger hip room, and the driving position is awkward; the steering wheel isn’t centered on the driver, a trait common to GM’s full-size trucks that needs to be corrected. Front occupants have plenty of leg and headroom, but second-row passengers may be surprised to find legroom isn’t as plentiful as they might expect in a vehicle this big. Third-row passengers have it even worse, with a seat that will make them feel almost as if they’re sitting on the floor.
Material quality is also mixed, as is assembly quality. The surfaces covered in leather feel quite nice, but all the black plastic control surfaces feel cheap. The steering wheel in particular has controls that don’t feel like they belong in a flagship vehicle costing just shy of $100,000, as our test vehicle did. Drop into a Mercedes-Benz GLS or Range Rover and you’ll see what a $100,000 premium luxury interior looks and feels like. Sit in the Escalade’s mishmash of nice cowhides and cheap black plastic, and you’re likely to be disappointed.
Electronics and Ergonomics
The Cadillac User Experience multimedia system is front and center in the Cadillac Escalade. It’s a more advanced version of the Chevrolet MyLink and Buick/GMC IntelliLink systems. It has a more upscale look to it, and it definitely functions better than it used to, with speedy actions and reliable voice recognition. The touchscreen itself provides haptic feedback when making selections; there’s a barely detectable “thump” when you touch an icon. CUE is better than any system from Lexus or Infiniti in its sophistication, ease of operation and speed, but the Mercedes-Benz system looks classier and works equally well.
For backseat passengers, there’s not one but two rear entertainment systems. One has a screen that comes down from the ceiling, and the other’s screens are in the backs of the front-seat head restraints. There’s no excuse for second- and third-row passengers to be bored in an Escalade.
Cargo & Storage
The Cadillac Escalade comes in two sizes: regular and ESV. They basically correspond to the lengths of the Chevrolet Tahoe (regular) and longer Suburban (ESV). That extended length comes in both the wheelbase and the rear cargo compartment.
I drove a standard-length Escalade featuring 15.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row and 51.6 cubic feet with the third row stowed. It should be noted, however, that the third row doesn’t exactly fold into the floor in the Escalade. The SUV features a raised rear floor so it appears flush, but unlike the Lincoln Navigator with its independent rear suspension, the Escalade uses a solid rear axle, necessitating a higher cargo floor. Fold the second and third rows and you’ll get a maximum of 94.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the standard Cadillac Escalade. That compares to the Mercedes-Benz GLS and is far more than the Range Rover. It’s a little short of the volume you get in a standard Navigator.
The 2017 Cadillac Escalade has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it has been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA awarded it a four-star rating overall out of five, but only a three-star rollover rating.
The new Cadillac Escalade features forward and rear automatic emergency braking, which can prevent you from hitting the car in front of you or backing over something in the driveway. New for 2017 is an automatic parallel and perpendicular parking feature, but the really novel new item is the Rear Camera Mirror that has made its way to the Escalade. At the flip of a toggle under the rearview mirror — one that, in most cars, would switch between the normal and darkened mirror for nighttime driving — the mirror instead becomes a high-definition display that uses the rear-mounted camera to show the view behind the vehicle, as if the backseat and rear pillars of the truck weren’t there.
The camera offers a wider-angle view than the typical mirror, so it definitely takes some getting used to — mostly because it requires you to refocus your eyes. When you’re driving along with a conventional mirror, you’re already looking and focused well ahead of the vehicle. When looking at your rearview mirror, you’re also looking well behind the vehicle — your eyes are focused on a point well off in the distance.
But if you switch the mirror to the camera display, that same focus isn’t going to work because you’ll no longer be looking at a reflection, but rather a video. It’s as if you had switched your gaze to the radio or speedometer, and while drivers are used to refocusing like that, they’re not used to it when looking at the rearview mirror. Retraining myself to consciously refocus my eyes for the mirror’s camera view took all week. I still wasn’t entirely comfortable doing it by the end of the test, but I was at least more used to it.
Value in Its Class
This is where I have a hard time swallowing what Cadillac is selling. The price for a standard-length, rear-wheel-drive, base Escalade is $74,590. From there, you can go up to Luxury, Premium Luxury and Platinum trims. My Platinum model started at $96,390 for a 4×4 version, then added special Red Passion paint, a chrome exhaust tip and wheel locks for an as-tested price of $97,100. If you opt for the longer ESV and equip it like my test vehicle, the sticker tops $102,000 — frankly, an outrageous price for what is essentially a somewhat nicer Chevrolet Suburban.
Luxury competitors in this price class are not hard to find. The one that matches up best with the standard Cadillac Escalade is the Mercedes-Benz GLS, which comes in only one size but with multiple powertrain options. It doesn’t appear as big on the outside but offers comparable interior space to the standard Escalade and only slightly less towing capacity. The Infiniti QX80 is less expensive than the Escalade but is meant to compete in the same realm. It’s not as powerful as the Cadillac but feels comparably luxurious.
The Land Rover Range Rover isn’t as big as the Cadillac Escalade but is much more luxurious, and like the Mercedes-Benz, it’s available with several powertrain options. The Lincoln Navigator used to be a direct competitor to the Escalade, but the Cadillac’s past redesign pushed the Escalade well out in front of the Lincoln in terms of luxury, amenities, style and power. The Navigator features a much less powerful twin-turbo V-6 as its only engine option, and until a new Navigator arrives in the next year or two, its size is the only aspect that competes favorably with the Escalade. Compare the Cadillac Escalade with its competitors here.
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