Review

We Took A $96k Cadillac Escalade To Tahoe For A Taste Of The Good Life

The Escalade survived unscathed through snow or GM's Chapter 11 bankruptcy without changing, because why should it?

Back in 2015 when Cadillac decided that it needed to evolve or risk facing the same fate that Saab, Pontiac, and Hummer underwent during GM's bankruptcy in 2009, there was only one model that required absolutely no game changing modifications to keep selling. That, of course, was the Escalade. While the rest of Cadillac scrambled to cook up striking new designs and platforms that could hold a candle to the Germans, the Escalade moved forward rather unchanged from the luxury automaker’s trial by fire.

The 2017 Escalade, which Cadillac sent to our office for a grueling week of testing in Tahoe during one of the area’s worst snow storms on record, hasn’t altered the recipe that made the original Escalade a success. It’s still a full-size SUV that shares nearly all of its DNA with the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and while it’s priced alongside the latest generation of luxury SUVs like the Mercedes GLS and Land Rover Range Rover, it utilizes a body-on-frame chassis rather than unibody construction like its rivals. Anyone expecting a lower price for putting up with an old truck chassis would be morbidly shocked to find that our tester came in at $96,500 despite the fact that it wasn’t the larger Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL-based Escalade ESV.

Now you know, extra chrome actually does cost a premium. Part of the reason for the Escalade having a price high enough to make buying one a sin is that it came optioned in Platinum trim, which adds $13,800 to the $79,590 base price and tries to justify it with a unique upper grille, 22-inch chrome wheels, admittedly supple and comfortable leather seating surfaces, electronic driver’s aids, massaging front seats, and two DVD players embedded in the headrests of the front seats among other things. In case that wasn’t enough, there’s a third screen mounted from the ceiling and lodged between the two headrest units to go along with the refrigerated center console.

This is flanked by heated and cooled front seats and heated second row seats as well as a heated steering wheel in case the going gets chilly. Those helped warm up our occupants in freezing Tahoe snow in case we forgot to heat up the cabin prior to entry using the remote start system. This reinforced the feeling that the Cadillac designers really had thought of everything, a suspicion we garnered after the power running boards helped us climb our tired limbs in after a long day of hitting ski runs and tucked away to avoid scooping up rocks and snow. In many applications, that many toys could be overwhelming, but the Cadillac’s sheer size made it so that the density of technology was likely equal to that of your run of the mill Acura.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving because while the Escalade has a large footprint, most of that is relegated to the passenger compartment, meaning that filling all seven seats only leaves a paltry 15.2 cubic feet of storage space behind the third row, less than the Dodge Challenger’s 16.2 cubic feet of trunk space. At least folding down the second and third row seats was made easy with buttons that perform the manual labor, much like the one that opened or closed the automatic tailgate if kicking aimlessly under the rear bumper to trigger the motion sensor didn’t do the trick. After one full day on the slopes, we discovered that a sea of gear could be added without opening the floodgates thanks to a tailgate window that opens independently.

It was then that we found that even the Escalade thought we were overpacking, as noted by the sound of the self-leveling suspension removing any hint of sag at the rear (drug traffickers take note). Unfortunately for criminals hoping to hide heavy loads in the rear, a trip down the street with the Escalade accomplishes the same thing that transparent clothing does: it gets a lot of attention. It feels as if the bling is rudely shining light in everyone’s eyes or announcing the presence of royalty because any nearby pauper will ask what you’re driving, what you do for a living, and if panhandling, will ask if you can spare any change (a dilemma auto journalists with flashy cars, not so flashy bank accounts, and a yearning to help frequently suffer).

Once in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, the Escalade blended in with a crowd accustomed to having second houses in ski towns for their frequent winter trips, and it was easy to see why. That's because, whether on the highway en route to the snow or in the harsh white conditions and under high demands, the Escalade simply shines, literally and figuratively, and allows the opulent lifes of the wealthy to go on inside the cabin no matter the outside conditions. This goes for the driver as well because on the interstate, simply get out of Touring (Cadillac’s Normal mode) and into Sport mode to sharpen the throttle and firm up the variable dampers, which causes the 5,500 pound SUV to act less like a sailboat in a storm at highway speeds.

When temperature drops to the point that an icy road warning flashes on the gauge cluster, place the Escalade in Ice/Snow mode to deaden the throttle response and switch the four-wheel drive selector into auto so the computer can decide where the traction goes since, as obvious as it sounds, the 420 horsepower doled out by the 6.2-liter V8 is more than enough to upset the Escalade even in the dry. Mated to an eight speed automatic, a 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds is enabled while towing capacity reaches up to 8,300 pounds. When not under load, the transmission shifts seamlessly, so smoothly in fact that gearshifts are almost indistinguishable. While the ride feels refined, as refined as a body-on-frame ride can get, not all is perfect inside.

Despite having the softest of leathers and seats that could put a sugared up baby to sleep, small imperfections like a poorly fitted rear cover for the front seats, which expose wiring underneath, and a cupholder with real wood that couldn’t quite close without scratching itself, hinder the illusion that Cadillac has strayed far from GM. Regardless, the Escalade has it where it counts, with a plentiful number of USB ports, an HDMI input for the ceiling mounted monitor, a WiFi hotspot courtesy of On Star, and a CUE infotainment system that is fairly intuitive if a bit cluttered, but is a far cry from systems of old that begged for a fist through the screen.

One feature sure to please owners seeking ultimate comfort are the adjustable pedals that lend a hand in helping the driver feel catered to rather than having to conform themselves to the car. While the theme is common among cars in this class, it's the Escalade's execution that's unique, if only just because most of its competitors have gone with more road-friendly unibody setups. The Escalade stands as a relic then, albeit one that has all the toys to keep loyal buyers coming back for more due to a secret desire for the heinous amounts of jewelry and the dose of instant celebrity that it comes with. This, along with the willing bones of a Chevy workhorse, make the Escalade the perfect trip companion for the ski season.

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