Driven: 2015 Cadillac Escalade

By Bradley Iger

April 28, 2014

The all-new fourth generation of Cadillac's full sized luxury SUV brings with it a new look, a new engine, a totally revamped interior and a decidedly different approach to "bling". But is it the family hauler and track day workhorse you'd want to put in your driveway? We took to streets of Los Angeles and, somewhat courageously, Mulholland Highway to find out.
What's it like to drive?
As we pointed out when we drove the previous generation Escalade, it is big. Even moreso with the ESV model, which adds 20 inches of length from stem to stern, mostly in the cargo area. Indeed, when parking the short wheelbase version (simply referred to as Escalade) at lunch, we were congratulated for landing the beast in between the lines of the parking space on the first try. It's no small feat either, with a resulting 2-3 inches of space allotted on either side of the spot for error. This feeling of enormity is a hallmark of the Escalade and its lesser Tahoe and Yukon brethren as well. It terms of sheer protection from the outside world, it certainly offers a compelling package. Between the isolation chamber-like levels of quietness inside, the high ride height, and the substantial mass surrounding you, it's immediately understandable why this platform might be a go-to for those who champion their family's safety above all else.
Coming in between 5600 and 6000 pounds depending on which wheelbase you opt for and options included, you'd be forgiven for assuming that driving dynamics are not high on Cadillac's talking points. However, the new big Caddy has enough tricks up its sleeve that GM felt confident enough to send us through the twisty backroads of the Malibu hills with the full expectation seeing us again on the other side.
In terms of performance, the first metric which must be mentioned is the fact that the new Escalade will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds. Considering the aforementioned comments about the girth of this vehicle, you can't really blame us for being a bit skeptical. But the new direct-injected 6.2-liter motor, which shares its block with the vaunted LS3 and LT1, churns out a healthy 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, and is mated to GM's six-speed automatic. This combination results in a freight train-like pull when you bury the throttle, and your thoughts quickly shift from whether or not this hauler can haul and directly to whether or not the rest of the mechanicals are on par.
Braking is provided by a new GM-supplied four wheel disc system which reportedly stops nine feet shorter than the outgoing model in 60-0 mph test. Still, considering how much heft this system is asked to stop and how quickly that V8 can get things up to speed, we would have liked to have seen a more substantial brake system at least on the options sheet. While we didn't note any brake fade during our drive, snaking through the canyons with any level of zeal on the throttle meant a need to dip generously into the brake pedal to settle things back down again.
The new Escalade is supplied with GM's third generation Magnetic Ride Control suspension system. Left in Tour mode, the Escalade handles much the way you'd expect - soft and extremely compliant, but disconnected from the road in a way that feels like the suspension and the body are often on different pages - which isn't really a grievous offense considering the mission of the Escalade as a luxurious people carrier. Interestingly though, when damping is switched into Sport mode, there's a genuinely reassuring level of rebound firmness and stability brought to the table that makes this mode indisputably useful if you ever have the inclination to drive the Escalade quickly on a demanding road - much like we did on Mulholland. 
Electric power steering makes its way into the 2015 Escalade as well, mainly in the interest of enhancing fuel economy which is now at a class-leading 19mpg combined in the 2WD short wheelbase variant. While it offers no surprises in terms of steering feel, it also doesn't give up anything to its hydraulic counterpart of yore, so we'll take the fuel economy bump and consider it an overall win.
How luxurious is it?
Cadillac introduced the 2015 model as the "Escalade of Escalades" during the presentation prior to our drive, and while that marketing speak might evoke a chuckle, there's no doubt that GM is taking luxury seriously these days. Hand cut and sewn high quality leather is standard on all models, and LED technology is used for all external lighting front and back. That new take on bling we mentioned earlier can also be found throughout - surfaces which might have once been adorned with brightly polished aluminum or chrome accents now sport satin and brushed effects - changes we find quite welcome. 22-inch wheels come as standard on all Luxury and Premium trim models (20-inchers on the base model), and the new look of the Escalade is, by our measure, a distinctive and handsome one.
Cadillac's Cue infotainment system has taken its share of criticism since its introduction, and while we can't tell you that the capacitive buttons which rely on haptic feedback to inform you that a key press has registered have been ditched in favor of an easier-to-use design, we are pleased by the improvements to the Cue system's responsiveness to commands, which resulted in significantly less frustration with the system on the whole than what we'd experienced with the XTS Vsport we drove last year. A new optional 9-inch rear seat entertainment system offers Blu-ray, USB, SD card and RCA interfaces, and a total of five USB ports are fitted throughout the cabin as standard. A 16-speaker Bose audio system with active noise cancellation is standard on all models and provides an admirable level of clarity and fairly even acoustics across the frequency range. A 12-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster display is also standard on all models, as is the Cue system and its 8 inch display on the center stack.
Bottom Line
The options packages for the new Escalade have been streamlined into three groups - Standard, Luxury and Premium, with starting prices of $72,690, $76,690 and $81,190, respectively. That's quite a bit of coin for a vehicle which shares its bones with a Tahoe, but if you need this certain blend of toting capacity and swagger in your life, you really don't have many other viable options. But considering that a reasonably well equipped Range Rover can be had for a similar amount of money and offers a very compelling alternative in terms of driving dynamics, capability, and general usability, it's clear that the big Caddy has some stiff competition. Still, try as they might, none of the other big name luxury SUVs can quite match the sheer celebrity power of the Escalade.

2015 Cadillac Escalade
Price: $72,690 (base), $81,190 (as tested)
Engine: 6.2-liter direct injected V8
Output: 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft of torque
Fuel Economy: 15 city / 21 highway / 19 combined
Towing Capacity: 8300lbs (short wheelbase, 2WD)
On sale: Now