A General Motors designer recently gave me an idea of what Cadillac is going to look like, or at least the direction that’s been laid out with the introduction of recent models. We go through the range and come to the big one, the Cadillac Escalade.
“Well…” is how discussion of the enormous SUV began. While the sedans and coupes and crossovers have direct competitors, the Escalade manages to lord over other luxury SUVs because it’s bold and can get away with it. And therefore it’s more fun to design than you would think.
The Cadillac Escalade best shows the way the former American luxury brand has been transformed in its second century of existence. Cars like the ATS and CTS have tried to become as German as possible, only to be rebuked by most people who pledge allegiance to the three-pointed star or blue-and-white roundel.
That’s where the Escalade is different. At its heart, God bless it, is a traditional American truck, and it’s been smothered some fine electronics and leathers to make it feel like it's the best thing money can buy. It’s an effective costume.
I spent a few days with a White Diamond Escalade Platinum. If those four words put together don’t ooze opulence, I don’t know what does.
A black Escalade makes you look like a chauffeur. I think Elizabeth Taylor would’ve had a white Escalade.
In the standard wheelbase model, it doesn’t look as enormous as one might expect. The transformation from Tahoe to Escalade is most evident inside. Cadillac has given the Escalade an interior different from its more rural cousins before, but this is the first time the Escalade has completely felt like a luxury car when you step inside.
The Platinum trim means basically everything you see and touch is covered in leather or suede. I touched and prodded the whole thing over a weekend and scarcely felt anything that wasn’t covered in a real cow or felt cheap or utilitarian. And sure, you have to deal with the ridiculous CUE and touch-sensitive buttons all over the dashboard, which are a real reach from the driver’s seat. But the voice commands are good enough to circumvent having to touch most controls while driving.
The art of defying physics
No one has ever bought an Escalade to drive. It drives you, sort of. And I was expecting this model to be positively barge-like and unwieldy, especially for someone who isn’t used to driving something much larger than a compact hatchback.
Sure, the Cadillac wafts like a Cadillac should, but it definitely doesn’t beat you up like a truck would. And the giant engine up front wants you to provoke it to deliver a rather addictive exhaust note. Is this the driver’s Escalade?
At least with the adaptive cruise control it can drive you as well, in a way. Pity the system did not work well on my test car, as it disabled itself on a number of occasions when a car pulled in front of me. And then it shut off the traction control for some reason. I’ll chalk it up to some unexplained luxury car electrical malady.
One thing it has in surplus is power. Nothing that weighs this close to three tons and is the size of a million-dollar Malibu condo should hustle itself this quickly. The power and size create this feeling of badass-ness, something I wasn’t expecting to feel in something this metallic and chromed and LED-riddled.
The feeling of authority also comes from the sheer meatiness of the 6.2-liter V8. The 420 horsepower it produces is plenty for even three tons of vehicle, and it’s all available quickly when you press your right foot down. I was expecting the eight-speed automatic to be tuned for fuel economy, but it didn’t hesitate to shuffle power around.
And yet the fuel consumption wasn’t as shocking as I thought it would be, either. I nearly saw 20 MPG on a very long highway run. Hey, that’s better than the Jaguar XJL 3.0 AWD I had.
This comes in something that’s quiet, too, commendable given its brick-like proportions. Every intrusion is well-suppressed. That is, except for bumps and road imperfections. The combination of 22-inch wheels on this top Platinum model and the body-on-frame construction and live rear axle all make the suspension work overtime. Magnetic ride control is no miracle worker here, and you feel it on bad pavement. Yet if you live where roads are glass-smooth, this won’t be much of an issue.
No, the Escalade still doesn’t drive like a modern luxury sedan, or even like a well-sorted crossover. But enough of the truck roots are suppressed to make it feel like a well-controlled land yacht in the company’s greatest tradition. For anyone at Cadillac, this is a high compliment.
'These have always brought me luck'
Cadillac may obviously be trying to turn itself into one of the German trio of luxury brands, but the Escalade is arguably its most faithful nod to its past. And while Germanization of Cadillac hasn’t really reaped rewards in the form of strong sales, the Escalade continues to carry the American Luxury banner for the brand and for the nation. This is full-size who-gives-a-crap luxury. Anything that can fit under the Escalade's halo should be a winner.
Which is why balking at a $94,000 Escalade Platinum is silly. Compared to a Range Rover or a Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class or basically any one of the European luxury utilities, the Escalade can compete head-to-head for prestige. It may lack the outright composure of these unibody models, but it comes surprisingly close. Credit where it’s due.
The Escalade isn’t perfect, and some of the issues it falters on are part of its truck-based roots (the interior packaging and ride) and because of it being a Cadillac (those silly controls). But given my experience with other luxury rides – oh, from Jaguar Land Rover, for example – and the Cadillac holds its own in terms of being temperamental.
Originally a joke and cynical attempt to have a luxury SUV to rival the Lincoln Navigator, the Cadillac Escalade has long since come out on top in that rivalry. Constant investment has made it a good luxury SUV, rather than a rebadged Tahoe. It’s also made it the car that most successfully embodies the Cadillac image we all have floating in our heads. Which means it will never wear an XT-something name.
An Escalade is one of the least subtle ways to make an entrance. And that’s why it will always be one of the most memorable Cadillacs.
Photos Zac Estrada/Carscoops.com