Close your eyes and think of a large, luxury vehicle.It’s very likely that a vision of a Cadillac Escalade popped into your head -- probably a black one like the one I recently tested.
This brand and model has become synonymous with the lifestyles of those who can legitimately call themselves a boss, those who need to have a sharp vehicle to show around clients and associates.
And on the domestic front, families looking to be the most blinged-out drivers in the school dropoff line have been known to seek out the Escalade, too.
Basically a tricked-out version of the GMC Yukon XL or Chevy Suburban, it’s become a symbol of success. But the question is -- is that reputation merited, and how does the vehicle compare to other luxury SUVs?
First, let me state the obvious: The truck-based Escalade is extra, extra large -- particularly if you go for the ESV version. Seating options of 2/3/3 or 2/2/3 seating is offered, so 7 or 8 can ride comfortably in the Escalade. My tester had cozy captain’s chairs in the middle, which could also capably hold two car seats.
Back row will usually be used for kids, but it’s still roomy enough for adults who need to use it. The front row is superbly comfortable, with high-end materials throughout (as should be the case in this price range). One nice touch is the unique “V-ish” Cadillac shape built in throughout the vehicle to match the front end design. Also, seats in the Escalade fold down for a massive amount of storage space.
Honestly, this is too much vehicle for most people, but if you do get an Escalade you’ll love the options the space gives you for transporting your family, friends, clients, soccer team or whoever else you’d like. The storage capability means you can tote around a lot of gear too, in addition to people.
The exterior design is instantly recognizable on the roadways, with the Escalade being one of the few rides out there that will never be confused with another -- including its extra tall rear taillights and classic Cadillac grille on a big truck frame. It’s a bold, classy look all around.
And the interior is also full of high-quality materials, as you would expect in a vehicle that usually comes in close to six figures, depending on how you configure it.
HOW’S THE RIDE?
So what’s it like driving this high-end behemoth?
The Escalade comes with 6.2-liter, V8 engine, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Numbers are 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. Both RWD and AWD versions are offered, and the Escalade can two an impressive 8,100 pounds (in case you want to get that boat out to the lake in style).
You can definitely feel the nearly 6,000 pounds of weight when trying to maneuver the Escalade around the roadways; let’s just say it’s not exactly nimble.
But I’ll give it credit. Due to the powerful engine, you can get hauling pretty fast if you need to get a move on (like merging onto a freeway). Just avoid tight spaces … as it’s a struggle to get out of them. Parking also is a bit of a chore with the Escalade due to its size, so always remember what kind of vehicle you’re dealing with and make room for it and keep it out of places it doesn’t belong.
One helpful tech feature large vehicles like this offer is an In-car entertainment system, and the Escalade’s worked great. Screens pull down from the ceiling for 2nd and 3rd row occupants; plus there are screens behind the front head rests; This is an excellent way to keep the kids occupied (and perhaps some grown-ups too) during long trips.
The Cadillac CUE infotainment system works well for the most part, but it definitely takes some getting used to. I’m still not sold that this is the best way to control the infotainment in a luxury line like this, with its sometimes difficult to use buttons.
At this price, all the safety bells and whistles are offered, including features that push you back into your lane if you are drifting and warn you about possible vehicles in your blind spots.
Rain-sensing wipers are another great feature, and worked great for me in a storm, adjusting by themselves to the whims of the rain gods without me having to constantly monitor the wiper speed.
Wireless phone charging is also offered, and in a handy location right on the center console.
The Escalade’s safety rating is mostly strong … rollover is the only low point at 3 stars out of five; Rest of categories are four or five stars.
Official fuel mileage numbers on the Escalade are 14 city/21 highway/17 combined. I averaged a hair under 17 (16.7 mpg) in my time driving the Escalade.
This number is better than Lexus’ massive land barge, but behind the Lincoln Navigator and Range Rover. But let’s be honest. None of these extra big machines are going to be fuel efficient; they’re far from a Prius and don’t apologize for it.
Hold on to your hats folks, as the Escalade I tested came in at just over $103,000; Even the base Escalade runs about $75K, but you’ll miss out on some key features and won’t get the extra length of the ESV.
To be blunt, buying an Escalade is nowhere near affordable for most people, which is why you won’t see many of them in areas where there isn’t affluence. Even to lease them (which, honestly, is what happens much of the time) is not a low sum.
It’s excessive, expensive, elaborate and over-the-top. But that doesn’t mean the Escalade will stop selling in the high-end luxury segment anytime soon. It’s earned its name as a top luxury vehicle and continues to impress in many areas, from design to technology and beyond. Some luxury buyers may have moved on to other automakers (Lincoln’s new Navigator is garnering some buzz, for example), but the Cadillac name will always continue to draw in some diehards with its biggest and most top-notch offering, which has a big name to live up to and succeeds at that goal.
Matt Myftiu -- Digital First Media
By Matt Myftiu, The Oakland Press