2015 Cadillac Escalade Review

2015 Cadillac Escalade - Revamped Escalade continues mass-appeal assault


 It's regarded as the aspirational mode of transport of the hip-hop generation.

Since its introduction party in 1999, American luxury icon Cadillac hit a high note with Escalade. Escalade paved the way for Cadillac's image makeover, appealing to celebrities, musicians and politicians as well providing miles of street cred. As the fourth generation Escalade debuts in the 2015 model year, Cadillac aims more main stream than main stage.

Escalade remains a true full-size sports utility vehicle, not a trendier crossover; the difference largely unseen. The five-door Escalade, built with body-on-frame construction, mimics a pick-up truck underbody rather than a car-like uni-body frame favored by crossovers and sedans. Those seeking a Caddy crossover with uni-body, car-like underpinnings should test drive the midsize SRX crossover.

Arlington Texas, its production home since its 1999 debut, celebrates 60 years of vehicle assembly in 2014. It's GM's sole full-size sport utility factory churning out Chevy Suburbans, Tahoes, and GMC Yukons, all of which also undergo next-generation redesigns in 2015.

As with the outgoing Generation Three design, this fourth effort includes two lengths: standard and extended-length, somewhat-garage-challenged EXV; adding 20 inches of overall length while doubling the cargo area behind the prone third-row. Three current trim levels include base, luxury and top-notch premium. In the fourth quarter of 2014, an all-new Platinum trim arrives. All offer two-wheel rear drive or Chicago-area- friendly all-wheel drive.

All Escalades regardless of longitudinal dimensions come equipped under the hood with a new 6.2-liter V-8 cranking 420 horsepower, up 17 from last year's 6.2-liter. Returning is cylinder deactivation automatically shutting down four of the eight cylinders during certain low-load, usually highway, driving conditions. Dropped in the 2014 model year was the ambitious, but slow selling gas-electric hybrid model. One year earlier, the EXT utility truck; an upscale twin of the now retired yet cliquey Chevrolet Avalanche with a versatile mid-gate region increasing/decreasing cargo and seating capacities, drove into the sunset.

Early built 2015 Escalades combine the 6.2-liter V-8 with a six-speed automatic transmission. During 2014 fourth quarter, an updated eight-speed automatic transmission becomes standard during a mid-year update.

Don't let Escalade's good looks fool anyone. With the updated 6.2-liter V-8, towing capacities reach a workman-like 8,300 pounds for hauling weekend toys, besting the Mercedes GL550 and Lexus LX 570 .

While Cadillac sales remain strong against Lincoln Motor Company figures, growing room exists when compared with German rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz. An all-new, full-size LTS sedan arrives in the next year giving Cadillac another arrow for its quiver.

Evolutionary rather than revolutionary exterior cues keep Generation Four recognizable as an Escalade. Galvano chrome, sporting a more subtle finish, accents all trims. Adding to a bejeweled look, 142 LED (light emitting diodes) lights artistically infuse into front and rear vertical light housings.

Strap-like side door handles include a small square button unlocking or locking all the doors if pushed with the key fob in near proximity. At night, narrow pin lighting conveniently illuminates these straps while flood lights under running boards and side mirrors brighten up the dark. Relatively small (by full-size SUV standards) both side-view mirrors measure approximately the same size as ones found on the mid-size Cadillac CTS. All trims come with an open-from-the-bottom power lift gate with independent flip-up window and hidden single arm wiper.

When opening side doors, available electronic side running boards motor out from under Escalade, easing ingress and egress. It's a $1,695 option worth the investment when factoring the sizeable step-in height of 22 inches while stowing out of sight when not needed. Stationary running boards come standard.

Pricing starts at $71,695 for a base, standard-length, two-wheel-drive Escalade. Our test Premium trim with four-wheel drive checked in at $82,795. Stand-alone options include the aforementioned power retracting side rail steps, white diamond tri-coat paint ($995) and twenty-two-inch ultra-bright aluminum wheels ($500) for an $86,980 bottom line after $995 destination charge. By comparison a 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL550 hits lots staring at $89,950.

Inside, dash and front doors sport a smattering of faux suede mingling with taut, soft-touch cut-and-sewn leatherette materials extending to rear side doors. Some less-posh names skimp on rear-door material quality. The second row comes with two bucket seats (seven-seat capability) or an optional 60/40 three-passenger bench (eight-passenger total). In premium and luxury editions, second rows are power driven regardless of capacity differences.

Second row captain's chair backs fold onto seat cushions, allowing the entire unit to flip forward, creating a wide entry way into row three made even more convenient with the side running boards. Ample head room awaits row three travelers (slightly more than the first two rows) while knee and leg space remain precious with second-row chairs anchored in place. Teens and tweens are best suited for long treks, although center seaters can stretch legs between middle row captain's chairs. Front buckets are both heated and cooled while second row seats are heated.

Row three's seat backs power down and back up via right-side cargo-area buttons accessible with the hatch lifted skyward. Row two seats also power fold forward via these buttons or a second B-pillar set. A relatively flat cargo region exists with row two and three seatbacks down but the base floor remains relatively high due to trunk underpinnings. Generation Three offered a removable third row greatly expanding cargo capacity, but exhuming the unit took the skill and/or insight of a pit crew team.

A small rest area for portable phones, iPod and USB port access and 12-volt outlet resides in front of dual cup holders. More ports reside inside the large, deep center storage bin/arm rest with enough girth to accommodate a small lap-top computer.

A twist of an electronic dash dial left of the steering column switches Escalade between two-wheel and four-wheel drive. Also available; an 'auto' selection whereby Escalade automatically selects the proper mix based on current conditions.

The 12.3-inch customizable animated instrument panel fades to black soon after disengaging the engine. When choosing the colorful three-circle format, inner portions contains tutorials selectable via steering wheel tabs including secondary navigation feed, engine specifics, compass directions and digital speedometer readout.

Drivers sit high, enjoying excellent road visibility. The body-on-frame design creates bounce when maneuvering curbs or speed bumps, but a third-generation of Cadillac's magnetic ride control provides a smooth highway experience considering a truck-like structure. Added insulation creates a deep-woods quiet cabin.

An innovative lane departure warning gently pulsates a section of the driver's seat cushion dependent upon the lane infringement side; a well-thought out design alerting drivers without diverting attention from action ahead. If only CUE could adapt this well.

Dash-center CUE (Cadillac User Experience), with attractive and colorful eight-inch multi-function pulsating touch screen, pulls too much attention from the road ahead when summoning audio, navigation and ventilation functions. Twist knobs can't return soon enough. In addition, the 'home' button needs a closer proximity to the screen.

Gas mileage improves for 2015. Our all-wheel-drive tester's 14 mpg city and 21 highway tops last year's 13/18 numbers. These figures also best Big Box luxury competitors Lexus LX 570 and Mercedes-Benz GL550. Premium-octane petro is recommended, but not required when filling the 26 gallon tank with cap-less, self-sealing fuel line lead.

2015 Cadillac Escalade:

Price as Tested: $86,980

Overall Length: 203.9 inches

Overall Height: 74.4 inches

Wheelbase: 116 inches

Engine: 6.2-liter V-8

Horsepower: 420

Curb weight: 5,840 pounds

Fuel economy: 14 mpg city, 21 mpg hwy.

Powertrain warranty: six years/70,000 miles

Assembly: Arlington, Texas

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.