In this category of traditional luxury SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade has experienced an on-again, off-again position as class leader that has historically been tied to its newness. Undergoing a full redesign, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade looks to recapture the top spot. We suspect it will, but whether the Escalade’s particular brand of mojo will still appeal to you is an entirely different matter.
On the outside, the already imposing Escalade receives even more visual impact with blockier styling and more conspicuous flourishes. (Get your Escalade in black and it could very well be reminiscent of the presidential limousine affectionately known as "The Beast.") The interior gets a makeover as well. Here, it’s a sleeker and more modern look highlighted by Cadillac’s latest "CUE" touch-operated infotainment system. New safety features are part of the 2015 Escalade’s repertoire as well and include a new center front seat airbag and automatic braking for collision mitigation.
Another key addition is a power-operated third-row seat that now folds flat into the floor like those of competitors. No longer must you physically remove the bulky seat to truly take advantage of the Escalade’s cargo capacity. It’s a welcome addition, but the downside is that this design change has raised the Escalade’s already lofty cargo area load floor by an additional 4 inches. Those third-row seats aren’t super roomy, either, and are best just suited for children.
These issues, along with a rough and jiggly ride, are essentially caused by the Escalade’s truck-based architecture shared with Chevy and GMC’s full-size SUVs. Certainly, the Escalade is a great choice for a large traditional luxury SUV and it’d be our pick over the Lexus LX 570 and possibly the updated Lincoln Navigator. But the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class represents a more desirable alternative thanks to its superior driving experience and more usable third-row seat. The Infiniti QX80 is also worth considering for similar reasons. Although the Cadillac is certainly more refined than before, there’s no escaping its rough-and-tumble roots that become even more apparent in this price range.
It wouldn’t be an Escalade if it didn’t have a brawny V8 under its hood, and the 2015 Escalade proudly lives up to its heritage. Mash the gas pedal and this big SUV easily accelerates up to highway speeds. Steering effort is light at low speeds to facilitate easier parking. The Escalade also feels solidly planted to the pavement when going around turns. Regardless of speed or road surfaces, the cabin remains blissfully quiet. Wind, road and engine noises are admirably quieted to premium luxury sedan standards, allowing for whisper-level conversations.
Surprisingly, the adaptive suspension also does not produce a cozy drive even in its default Tour mode. Perhaps it is the unforgiving nature of the available 22-inch wheels, but going over bumps results in tiresome impact harshness. The consequent jiggles and shakes that result from the Escalade’s truck underpinnings certainly don’t help the situation, and stand to negatively differentiate this big Cadillac from more refined competitors.
Classified as a full-size luxury SUV, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade can accommodate seven passengers with the standard second-row captain’s chairs and eight if optioned with the second-row bench seat. An extended-wheelbase model called the Escalade ESV is covered in a separate review and increases third-row legroom and cargo capacity.
The base Escalade is generously appointed with 20-inch chrome wheels, magnetic drive control with Sport and Comfort modes, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers, front and rear parking sensors, running boards, a hands-free power liftgate, power-folding and driver-side auto-dimming mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, remote start, tri-zone automatic climate control, a heated power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated eight-way power front seats with four-way lumbar adjustment and driver memory functions, heated rear seats and split power-folding third-row seats. Standard electronic features include the CUE touch-operated infotainment interface, a rearview camera, a customizable instrument panel, a navigation system, real-time traffic, and a Bose 16-speaker sound system with active noise cancelling, a CD player, HD and satellite radio, five USB ports and an auxiliary sound jack.
Stepping up to the Luxury trim adds 22-inch wheels (optional on the base), a sunroof, automatic high beams, power-folding second row seats, a head-up display, an enhanced alarm system, a blind-spot monitoring system, a lane-departure warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert and a safety alert driver seat that buzzes to warn of potential hazards and additional security features.
To this, the Premium trim adds cornering lights, a rear entertainment system with a Blu-ray player (offered as an option on the Luxury trim), adaptive cruise control and forward and reverse collision mitigation with automatic braking.
At the top of the range, the Escalade Platinum adds specialized door sills, heated and ventilated 14-way power front seats (with four-way lumbar adjustment), massaging front seats, upgraded leather upholstery, a simulated suede headliner, a cooled front-seat center console and dual rear-seat DVD screens.
Power-retracting side steps with approach lighting are optional on the Premium and Platinum trim levels.
The 2015 Escalade’s redesigned cabin features an abundance of premium materials and an attractive interior design that brings it up to date with the rest of the Cadillac lineup. As expected from an SUV of this size, passenger space is also generous. Full-size adults can fit in the front and middle rows comfortably, even for extended road trips. The third-row seat is fine for small children, but its low mounting to the floor means taller teenagers and adults will likely find their knees pushed up uncomfortably toward the roof. Most competitors offer more spacious third-row seating.
One of the centerpieces of the new Escalade’s interior is the CUE infotainment interface, set in a beveled pod in the middle of the dashboard. While we find it visually pleasing, operation of the system is a constant source of frustration. Reactions to inputs via the touchscreen or physical controls are slow or sometimes ignored altogether. Compounding matters is the complicated menu structure that is as unintuitive as these systems get.
In terms of cargo capacity, the Escalade is comparable to other luxury SUVs, with 15.2 cubic feet of storage behind the third row, 51.6 feet behind the second row and 94.2 cubic feet available with the second and third rows stowed. The rearmost seats fold away at the touch of a trunk-mounted button in a matter of seconds. On all but the base trim, the second row flips forward with another set of adjacent switches.
Accessing the cargo area is convenient thanks to a hands-free liftgate that is actuated when you sweep your foot under the rear bumper, as long as the key is within 3 feet of the vehicle. Loading items is hampered, however, by a very high floor height that makes it difficult to load bigger, heavier items.
Standard safety features on all 2015 Cadillac Escalade models include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, and an airbag located between the front seats that aids in side-impact crashes. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen car assistance and turn-by-turn navigation.
The Luxury trim adds automatic high-beam control, a blind-spot monitoring system, a lane-departure warning system, a rear cross-traffic alert system, a forward-collision alert system and a safety seat alert system that buzzes the left, right or both sides of the driver seat depending on where attention is needed. The range-topping Premium and Platinum models add forward and reverse collision mitigation with automatic braking.
In government crash tests, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade received five stars for side crash protection.
In SUVS testing, the Escalade came to a stop from 60 miles per hour in 131 feet. That’s a long distance but consistent with heavy, truck-based vehicles.
Powering the 2015 Cadillac Escalade is a 6.2-lilter V8 engine that produces 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Early 2015 Escalades come with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while models built after October 2014 come with an eight-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but four-wheel drive is also available.
The EPA estimates a rear-wheel-drive Escalade with the 6-speed automatic will return 17 miles per gallon combined (15 city/21 highway), while the four-wheel-drive model with the 6-speed is rated at 16 miles per gallon combined (14 city/21 highway). The eight-speed automatic transmission gives the Escalade marginally better fuel economy, with the RWD model checking in at 17 miles per gallon combined (15/22). The eight-speed and four-wheel drive get 17 miles per gallon combined (15/21) as well. These figures are slightly better than those for competing gasoline-powered rivals.
In SUVS testing, a four-wheel-drive Escalade with the 6-speed transmission accelerated from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.4 seconds. That makes it one of the faster large SUVs available. Properly equipped, an Escalade can haul up to 8,300 pounds.
Available seating for up to eight passengers; strong V8 power; stout towing capacity; quiet interior.
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade maintains its reputation for bold styling and strong V8 power. That alone will likely have the Escalade earning its keep with many SUV buyers. But just as before, some competitor luxury SUVs offer more refinement and greater versatility.