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  • Daily Driven: 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV

Daily Driven: 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV

Does it Have the Substance to Match the Style?

Sep 3, 2018
Photographers: Courtesy Of Cadillac, Brett T. Evans
There are a few vehicles in the world that almost anyone could identify, whether they’re gearheads or not. The Volkswagen Beetle, for example, and the Porsche 911. The Jeep CJ and Wrangler. Perhaps the original Austin Mini and its neo-retro successor. And this big, black bruiser, the Cadillac Escalade.
The Cadillac Escalade first came on the scene for the 1999 model year, a hasty addition to the company’s lineup in response to the 1998 Lincoln Navigator. It shared almost all of its bodywork, interior, and mechanicals with the GMC Yukon Denali, but customers still identified with its brash, conspicuous attitude, so it was a success. The second-generation ‘Slade departed further from its corporate siblings with a high-output powertrain and edgy “Art and Science” styling, but its interior was still a bit too familiar. The third-gen Caddy was more of the same: big, bold, and comfortable, with lots of Chevy under the chrome trim. But it wasn’t until the current, fourth generation that we got an Escalade truly deserving of its posh, bespoke reputation.
Photo 2/34   |   Daily Driven 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV 3 4 Rear
Introduced for the 2015 model year, the current Escalade has a much different appearance than its GMC and Chevrolet siblings. Massive vertical taillights recall the tailfinned Eldorado Biarritz of 1960 and the posh DeVille built from 1959 to 2005. Sharp LED headlights slice through the darkness, and Cadillac’s bold and chrome-heavy grille treatment remains, updated with the company’s new wreathless crest design for 2016. This is a machine that’s absolutely dripping with attitude, and we wanted to know if it had the goods to back up the glitz.
Luckily, Cadillac was happy to oblige with a 2018 Escalade ESV Platinum 4WD, the ne plus ultra of Caddy SUVs. With a starting price of $99,095, our machine was kitted out with $2,795 worth of performance front brakes, bringing our truck’s list price to $103,185 with $1,295 earmarked for destination. For that price, the Escalade Platinum includes trim-specific features like semi-aniline leather in the first and second rows, fatigue-reducing front seat massage, a leather-wrapped instrument panel, unique wood trim, a bespoke upper grille, and gorgeous 22-inch wheels in a Platinum-specific design. It also gets rear-seat entertainment standard, as well as a front center console cooler and ventilated seats that were much appreciated on our trip to sunny San Diego.
Photo 3/34   |   Daily Driven 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Side
We hit the road at 7am on Saturday morning, eager to point the Cadillac’s big, bold grille down the Pacific Coast Highway toward one of California’s oldest mission cities. The 6.2L V-8 and 10-speed automatic transmission (introduced for 2018) operated seamlessly, and there was more than enough power to relegate left-lane hoggers to the rearview mirror as soon as the road opened up. Cadillac does well to allow some exhaust burble into the interior, and hearing that big V-8 convert money to forward motion was intoxicating. With only two passengers on board, there was obviously more than enough room to stretch out—in fact, all three rows in the extended-length ESV offer surprising space, even for adults. Our tester’s Maple Sugar leather interior was warm and inviting, and it contrasted nicely with the exterior’s brooding Dark Granite Metallic paint.
On the highway, the Escalade leaves little to be desired, offering a quiet ride thanks to a Bose Centerpoint sound system that listens to ambient noises like tire roar or wind, then produces opposite sound waves to cancel them out. That sound system bumps hard as well, as you would expect from the vehicle darling of many famous musicians. The seats are comfortable, and their massage feature, while no replacement for the real thing, was a pleasant way to keep our backs from getting too tired.
Photo 4/34   |   Daily Driven 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Front
However, we must cop to some disappointment insofar as the ride is concerned—this is no floaty Cadillac slushmobile. All Escalades come standard with Magnetic Ride Control, which alters the suspension by applying an electrical current to magnetorheologic fluid inside the shocks. The system works like magic in vehicles the Chevrolet Corvette and GMC Sierra Denali, allowing them to swap between sporty and comfortable at the flick of a switch. We didn’t feel as good about the Escalade ESV’s application. Perhaps due to the massive wheels, the ride always felt too flinty for a luxury SUV.
There are other issues inside the Escalade as well. It makes use of Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment, which is a bit difficult to use while driving thanks to touch interfaces for volume, tuning, and even climate controls. Combined with the sometimes-jittery ride, it was difficult to make adjustments to those secondary controls, even for the passenger. And while the Escalade’s interior design looked fresh when it was first shown in 2013, it’s starting to feel a bit aged. Finally, we took issue with the high dashboard and center console, which caused a bit of claustrophobia.
Photo 5/34   |   Daily Driven 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Interior
Photo 6/34   |   Daily Driven 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Interior Seats
Once in San Diego, the Escalade once again came into its own. Some furniture shopping filled the SUV’s rear cargo area nicely, and we appreciated the flat-folding second- and third-row seats (though that does require the floor behind the rear seat to be artificially raised). And at every pit stop, at least one or two people commented positively on the big SUV’s imposing style. Back in Los Angeles, one neighbor spent about 20 minutes examining the wheels’ chrome and silver finish, intricate grille design, illuminated door handles, and attractive chrome chevrons inlaid in the upholstery. There’s no denying the appeal of dramatic automotive jewelry.
In our 303.5 miles with the Escalade, we achieved a fairly impressive 16.75 average mpg, falling neatly within the EPA estimates of 14 city/21 highway/17 combined mpg. Indeed, we saw 22 mpg on the highway for one brief stint, and our total mpg was all the more impressive given the Escalade was pressed into heavy urban commuting five of the seven days it spent with us.
Photo 7/34   |   Daily Driven 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Wheel
Overall, there’s a lot to love about the brash Escalade ESV. It’s spacious and packed with features, and it makes a great road trip companion, with good fuel economy for such a massive vehicle and a quiet freeway ride. But luxury SUV competition is already hot (and getting hotter). Those who don’t need a third row and who value a more understated approach might be better served by a Range Rover, and the all-new Lincoln Navigator offers a more modern take on the American luxury SUV formula. But still, the Cadillac has a flavor all its own, and we enjoyed our time with its bold styling, lusty V-8, and undeniable street cred.

Vehicle: 2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum 4WD

Base price: $75.990 (short-wheelbase 2WD), $99,095 (ESV Platinum 4WD)
Price as tested: $103,185
Engine: Naturally aspirated 6.2L 16-valve V-8 with direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Horsepower: 420 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4,1000 rpm
Towing capacity: 7,900 pounds
EPA fuel economy rating: 14 city/21 highway/17 combined mpg
Actual calculated economy, 303.5-mile trip: 16.75 mpg
Passenger volume: 122.4 cubic feet
Cargo volume, seats up/down: 39.3/120.9 cubic feet

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