2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV First Test
Big Deal: the Truck That Saved Cadillac Is Better Than Before
It's been seven years since the last new Escalade, the third-generation GMT900 luxury truck. Back in 2007 it was relatively easy to move 60,000 Escalades a year. Then the Great Recession hit and sales fell by two-thirds. They remained steady enough, however -- about 25K per year -- and profitable enough for Cadillac to launch a fourth-generation model, the 2015 Escalade. Besides, there was a time about a decade ago when Americans were even SUV-crazier than we are today. Wild, unexpected, and massively profitable sales of the Escalade essentially saved Cadillac by making vehicles such as the new CTS not only possible, but our 2014 Motor Trend Car of the Year. Since Americans it seems rarely learn from history, SUV sales are back in a big way. The time's exactly right for a bigger, even brasher new Escalade.
Internally known as GMT K2XX, the new Escalade picks up exactly where the old rig left off. Go on and take your cheap shots – the new Escalade is so big, you'll hit it. In the negative column goes all the usual stuff: It's too large, too thirsty, too expensive, too obnoxious, and it's really just a Chevy Suburban playing dress-up. All true, to a point. But what such easily swung criticism misses is the fact that unlike the Suburban, which folks will buy because they need the utility and function, people purchase the big Cadillac because they want it. Because they like it. The biggest Cadillac of them all is a bona fide status symbol, no matter what you think. Same as it's ever been.
Starting with the looks: Nice work, Caddy. Personally, I find the short wheelbase, Yukon-sized 'Slade to be much better looking than the longer ESV. But the subject of this article, the longer, full-size-plus ESV, is not bad-looking at all, though from certain angles it resembles a hearse. So there's that. There's something much tighter about the "small" truck. Aside from the handsome new and slightly larger bodywork, the biggest change to the Escalade is the interior. GM wanted fold-flat seats, so cargo space is slightly down. Less space is relative, however, because when you're marveling at how much stuff you'll be able to cram behind the third row, you won't see "smaller." You'll see a cavern. Hence the reason that were it my money, I'd go with the ESV.
The interior is lovely. Cadillac has genuinely stepped up its game recently in terms of materials and fit/finish. The Escalade more than any other model shows this. I love the open-pore wood and the chocolate leather covering nearly every surface. Both the wood and leather pieces extend all the way into the door jams -- an unnecessary extra that comes across as real luxury. Things still aren't quite on par with the best from Germany (the new S-Class, for example), but I've spent time in several BMWs (for instance) that cannot hold a candle to the richness of this particular Cadillac's innards.
CUE is still CUE, of course, and that's a worry. Dark, fussy, hard to use and potentially dangerous (Pro tip: Change the radio station while parked. Thank me later.), CUE lets the rest of the Escalade down. In this age when people openly care more about cellphones than cars, CUE strikes me as also-ran technology until Caddy invests in a major refresh. It really should, especially as I've met more than one Tesla owner who admits to purchasing their Model S because they liked the big iPad-like screen. Again, and to underline it, adults are buying six-figure cars because of a cool touch screen. No one will buy an Escalade (or a Cadillac) because of CUE, and several loud people on the Internet claim they won't even consider a Cadillac because of CUE. My advice? Improve it. Worse, because of the angle of the screen, if you're wearing polarized sunglasses you can't see it on sunny days, though perhaps that's a good thing.
What about the competition? There isn't much, though what exists is pretty strong. Obviously there's the Lincoln Navigator, which seems like last night's leftovers. Though admittedly I haven't touched it. There's the Infiniti QX80 (used to be the QX56) that just went through a refresh and makes about as much power as the Escalade. We haven't had our paws on the new version yet, though the big Infiniti has always been a sleeper in this segment. That truck has always looked like Baby Huey in a samurai costume, whereas the new Escalade really is a looker.
The Mercedes-Benz GL also doesn't look like much when compared to the 2015 'Slade, though the GL was our SUV of the year back in 2013. One of the big reasons why is because the Benz drove so dang well. However, with its new magnetic shocks, so does the Cadillac even on the monstrous 22-inch wheels. Mercedes sells plenty of GLs -- about 25K per year -- but I wonder how much actual cross-shopping is taking place? Even though prices are similar, I'd guess not much. Still, I think the GL's a better vehicle. Unless you really need space behind the third row. Then your only option is the ESV. So much so that the real competition might actually be the General's other full-size SUVs, the Escalade's cousins Suburban and Yukon/Denali. But their prices have creeped way north suddenly. In the case of a Denali XL with the Escalade's engine and suspension, we're talking $77,965. I'd gladly pay a few thousand extra for the now-wreathless badge and uprated interior. So would many others, I'm thinking and GM is betting.
Aside from fuel economy (duh), CUE is really the big Caddy's only glaring negative. The new Escalade is quick (0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds for the big dog, and the shorty wheelbase will probably be under 6); handles great for such a massive truck (go magnetic shocks, go); comfortable, luxurious, still plenty spacious (especially in ESV guise); handsome, intimidating (especially in black); and perhaps most importantly, looks like a big pile of money on dubs. No surprises then that the 2015 Cadillac Escalade picks up exactly where the last one left off. In fact, it's by design. Those who get it are going to rush right out and get it. Much like Cadillac has done before and is now, you can bank on it.
|2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$85,985|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||6.2L/420-hp/460-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||6027 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||224.3 x 80.5 x 74.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.6 sec @ 95.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||119 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.9 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||14/20/16 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||241/169 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.20 lb/mile|