When luxury, style and space are prerequisites then the Cadillac Escalade is a large SUV that warrants closer inspection. With a 420 hp 6.2-liter V8 and an 8-speed automatic transmission sending power to either a rear-wheel drive or an available all-wheel drive system, the Escalade has great mechanical specs. Added to a smooth drive with all manner of tech and safety features on board, the luxury SUV is an attractive option in the market segment. You get a lot, but you will also pay a lot, the Cadillac Escalade starts at $73,090 for the 2-wheel drive option and $76,990 for four-wheel drive. Loading all the options can see you handing over more than $100,000.
Not exactly subtle, but the Cadillac Escalade does have a lot to brag about with regards to overall capabilities
Not exactly subtle, but the Cadillac Escalade does have a lot to brag about with regards to overall capabilities
Anyone who’s been following the evolution of Cadillac over the last few years will have noticed the firm has gone through a bit of a rejuvenation as of late. What were once considered at best to be alternatives to the wares from more premium brands are now clear cut proof that Cadillac’s now up there as a genuine threat to the European marques. Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than the Cadillac Escalade. Whilst prior generations of this luxury SUV have lacked in areas like passenger space, build quality and fuel economy, the current Cadillac Escalade has closed the gap on the class-leading establishment immensely, to the point where this bluff, boxy SUV can genuinely be considered one of the better vehicles in this segment.
Despite its status as a luxury SUV, the Cadillac Escalade hasn’t always felt as upmarket as it probably should. The very early Escalades, for instance, very clearly demonstrated their truck-based origins when you climbed inside, and even the previous version had a few too many cheap plastics in a car with a $60,000+ starting price for our liking. Not so in the current Cadillac Escalade, though. Whilst we concede the overall quality and premium feel is lacking when compared with what the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Land Rover Range Rover offer, what we do have access to is a pleasantly upmarket, leather-hewn cabin that’s certainly befitting of the Cadillac’s price tag. Interior space is also pretty good all-around. Admittedly, we would prefer a bit more room for the passengers in the third row of seats (even on the longer ESV model, the rearmost row isn’t really suited to comfortably accommodating adults), the head and leg room everywhere else is perfectly fine for all but the tallest of passengers.
Our highlight, though, is the spot hidden behind the center console, which allows you to hide away smaller and more precious items in a place most people won’t even be aware of.
That useful interior space also manifests itself fairly well in terms of storage room. Various cubbies are dotted about the cabin, and the sizeable door bins and center armrest compartment (the latter available with refrigeration capabilities as an optional extra). Our highlight, though, is the spot hidden behind the center console, which allows you to hide away smaller and more precious items in a place most people won’t even be aware of. It’s perhaps a little bit of a shame, then, that the standard model’s cargo room with all seats in place isn’t that great, with the regular Escalade’s 15.2 cubic feet capacity contrasting noticeably with the ESV’s 39.3 cubic feet. Fold down the rear row, though, and room increases substantially, with 51.6 and 76.7 cubic feet for the regular Escalade and the ESV respectively (for reference, the total trunk volume of the regular Land Rover Range Rover is 71.7 cubic feet). Also helping are the boxy dimensions of the trunk, and the seats fold down completely flat – thus providing a perfectly level load area. The only real downside is that, as the Cadillac Escalade is quite a tall vehicle, the trunk lip is a considerable distance away from the ground, which may make the loading and removal of larger, heavier items a bit tricky.
The Cadillac Escalade does remain fairly stable over undulations and imperfections in the road surfacet.
Given the Cadillac Escalade is a car that weighs 5,600lbs in its lightest guise, the fact this luxury SUV isn’t considered to be the class benchmark for driving dynamics and handling precision. For sure, the Escalade isn’t cumbersome or awkward to drive, but it likewise isn’t a vehicle we can recommend if you consider yourself a driving enthusiast. As an example, whilst the Cadillac Escalade does remain fairly stable over undulations and imperfections in the road surface, a Range Rover does a noticeably better job at keeping the likes of body lean in check whilst also retaining those much-needed comfort qualities. Likewise, the steering is fine, if perhaps a bit too heavy for our tastes. Where the Cadillac Escalade really excels, though, is in its ability to cosset its driver and passengers. Bar a slight amount of unsettling that the ESV suffers when traversing larger bumps in the road, this luxury SUV’s ride is extremely well judged, with limited amount of body bobbing for such a large and heavy vehicle on equally huge wheels and with lots of suspension travel.
The fact it isn’t overwhelmingly obvious when driving the Escalade is a mighty achievement in our books.
Refinement levels are also extremely good by class standards, with road noise being impressively supressed considering the size of the 20-inch tires. Given the Cadillac’s bluff and boxy shape, there is a teeny bit of wind noise, but the fact it isn’t overwhelmingly obvious when driving the Escalade is a mighty achievement in our books. Shame, then, that it’s not that easy to position the Cadillac Escalade confidently on the road. Granted, a lot of that is down to the sheer size of this SUV, but the chunky pillars do generate a few blind spots up front and out back. Standard fit items like reversing cameras do help out in the latter regard, though we do recommend you take a Cadillac Escalade out on a test drive first before you decide to buy one.
Admittedly, the Escalade does have some of the best economy figures of any gasoline-powered luxury SUVs.
As we’ve discussed so far, the Cadillac Escalade is a noticeably different beast from the vehicle it replaces. However, whilst some aspects have changed, others have remained the same, with perhaps the most obvious example being the fact Cadillac is only offering a big eight-cylinder gasoline engine in the Escalade. We do genuinely mean ‘big, too. At 6.2-liters in capacity, it’s comfortably the largest engine available in any luxury SUV right now (the next biggest motor is the 5.7-liter engine from the Toyota Land Cruiser). So, considering it’s a huge and heavy SUV with a massive gasoline engine, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn the Cadillac Escalade isn’t exactly that fuel efficient: both the standard and the ESV models can only return 15mpg in the city, with the 22mpg that’s possible in rear-wheel-drive Escalades being only 1mpg better than the ESV or versions fitted with all-wheel-drive. Though such figures are by no means the worst in this class (the aforementioned Land Cruiser can return 13mpg and 18mpg in the highway), they aren’t good either. Admittedly, the Escalade does have some of the best economy figures of any gasoline-powered luxury SUVs but, when the diesels in the Range Rover and the Mercedes-Benz GLS prove you can mix refinement with just-shy-of-20mpg-in-the-city fuel economy, the lack of engine variety in the Cadillac Escalade range does hurt the vehicle’s appeal somewhat.
The eight-speed automatic in the Escalade is still a smooth and refined system.
In contrast, the sole transmission option in the Cadillac Escalade is actually rather good. Though we do feel automatics in the Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes-Benz GLS are a bit smoother and responsive, the eight-speed automatic in the Escalade is still a smooth and refined system that does a very good job at making the most of the engine’s 420-hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. The only real choice Cadillac Escalade buyers have (assuming they don’t go for the all-wheel-drive-only ESV) comes to the drivetrain: either stick with the standard rear-wheel-drive setup or, for $2,600 more, specify an all-wheel-drive system. Considering the size of the Cadillac and the fact most buyers likely won’t take the vehicle off-road, we feel most Escalade owners will be fine with a rear-wheel-drive car as long as they keep the traction and stability systems turned on. If you really need the extra traction, though, then there is a valid case to be made – there’s only a slight penalty in terms of fuel economy, and it’s likely that most buyers will be able to afford the all-wheel-drive option considering the base Escalade has a starting sticker price of nearly $75,000.
Even the base ‘Standard’ models come with tri-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, heated front and rear seats.
Saying a car that sells for $75,000 is “good value” is obviously a crass thing to say, but the Cadillac Escalade is fairly well priced considering the company it has. The base Land Rover Range Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser, for example, are nearly $10,000 more expensive, and only the Mercedes-Benz GLS comes close to matching the Cadillac in like-for-like pricing. You won’t need to spend an absolute fortune to net yourself a nicely-specified Cadillac Escalade, either. Even the base ‘Standard’ models come with tri-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, heated front and rear seats (with ventilation and power adjustment for the front two), a powered tailgate, built-in WiFi, a speaker-based noise cancellation feature and compatibility with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It’s the Limited trim, though, that we feel most would be happy with. For a $4,075 premium, this next-up-the-ladder-spec includes all of the items included in the Standard level on top of a panoramic sunroof, a power-adjustable second row of seats and – perhaps most crucially – a vast array of safety equipment not available on the Standard car. With features like blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and a system that warns you if it detects oncoming cars if you’re reversing out of a parking spot being so handy in a car like the Cadillac Escalade, we feel the extra money is worth it.
Regardless of which Cadillac Escalade you opt for, you should end up with a safe and sturdy SUV.
That’s not to say the more expensive versions aren’t worth your consideration if you have the required funds, though, with the top-spec Platinum trim feeling every cent of its $93,000 price tag thanks in part to the abundance of suede and sumptuous leather upholstery in the cabin. And, of course, the ESV version is available in all trim levels as well for the modest price increase we mentioned earlier. However, as the Cadillac Escalade’s pricing advantage does start to diminish somewhat when you go further up the luxury SUV’s specification order, we again iterate the point that Limited is probably the highest you’ll need to go in the Cadillac Escalade range. Regardless of which Cadillac Escalade you opt for, you should end up with a safe and sturdy SUV. All models come with a complement of front, side and curtain airbags, along with front and rear sensors and a ‘Surround Vision’ system that, via an array of cameras that relay their footage to the 8inch touchscreen display, give the driver a bird’s eye view of the car’s surroundings. The Escalade also comes with four-years/50,000-miles bumper-to-bumper warranty and a separate six-years/70,000-miles warranty for the engine and transmission. So, whilst the Cadillac Escalade does objectively lag behind rivals like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus RX in reliability studies like the JD Power survey, the truth is the Cadillac Escalade shouldn’t be a troublesome vehicle in the long term.
Overall, then, the Cadillac Escalade surprises us all by being a genuinely impressive luxury SUV. For sure, we were expecting good things from the big Caddy, but the huge leap in quality between the previous and current Escalade was a genuine surprise. Yes, a Land Rover Range Rover is an easier car to recommend if money’s no object and you don’t need a seven-seater SUV, and we do still reckon you should check out the Mercedes-Benz GLS as well if you’re seriously considering a car of this ilk, but it’s telling of how much progress Cadillac has made recently that the Escalade is now a legitimately competitive vehicle. As a result, we do suggest you heavily consider the Cadillac Escalade if you’re in the market for a luxury SUV. Of course, we’re fully aware it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but nevertheless we reckon it’s a vehicle that’s fully deserving of your attention.