The largest luxury SUV on the market, the Cadillac Escalade ESV, is all-new for the latest model year. More than just a big brute with serious towing and hauling capabilities, it also packs an impressive amount of opulence and high-tech features into its barn-sized cabin.
In addition to the jumbo-sized ESV model discussed herein, the Escalade is also offered in short-wheelbase form.
With ever-rising gas prices and the emergence of the efficient and wieldy car-based crossover, the Escalade ESV is an unusual machine: a traditional, pickup-derived SUV. And as its work-ready underpinnings are covered with a leather-lined interior and the latest in high-tech accouterments, this is a rare beast indeed.
Outside, the Escalade ESV is dressed in dapper duds that include an oversized, attention-grabbing chrome grille, creased flanks, and Cadillac's signature vertical LED lights that run from the headlights down to the fog light cluster. The striking sheetmetal helps to set the Escalade apart not only from rival models, but from its own siblings, the lower-priced Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL. All three share a platform and numerous other components.
The Escalade ESV is further distinguished from its corporate relatives by a unique cabin, which features a classy design wrapped in supple leather and genuine wood trim. Creature comforts abound - heated and ventilated front seats, a Bose stereo and navigation system are all standard - and a 12.3-inch reconfigurable TFT gauge cluster provides a wide range of customizable information readouts.
As with all modern Cadillacs, the Escalade ESV is fitted with the controversial CUE infotainment system, which is operated through an eight-inch touchscreen interface in the center stack along with capacitive-touch controls. Similar to tablet devices, it lets users tap, flick and swipe to control Bluetooth connectivity, entertainment and navigation functions while also providing access to weather information, local fuel prices, Pandora internet radio and more.
However, the system has faced criticism for delayed responses to control inputs, confusing design elements and a lack of conventional buttons for frequently-accessed functions. At least a natural voice recognition system provides an intuitive alternate means of controlling CUE, allowing users to place hands-free calls, enter navigation destinations and select songs without clunky and cumbersome memorized phrases.
Cadillac has repacked the Escalade ESV, resulting in more space for first and second row passengers but less cargo room. Still, there's a sizable 38.9 cubic feet of stowage space behind the third row; start folding down seats - which now fold flat - and there's enough room to swallow nearly any cargo. With the third row seat in the recumbent position, 76.7 cubic feet are available, and a full 121.1 cubes can be had by also folding down the second row.
Powertrains, Towing and Fuel Economy
The Escalade ESV is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the mill is fitted with a trio of efficiency-enhancing measures, including direct-injection, variable valve timing and a cylinder deactivation system.
Rear-wheel-drive is standard, while four-wheel-drive is an extra-cost option. RWD models equipped with an available Maximum Trailering Package can tow up to 8,000 lbs.
Although not a dedicated mud-slinger, the Escalade ESV is more than capable of handling light off-roading situations.
Fuel economy is rated at 15/21 city/highway mpg with RWD and 14/20 with 4WD.
The Escalade ESV is fitted as standard with GM's Magnetic Ride Control, an adaptive damping system that endows the SUV with a smooth ride and relatively responsive handling.
Trim Level Breakdown
The entry-level Escalade ESV comes standard with leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, a heated steering wheel, Cadillac's controversial CUE infotainment system with navigation, a Bose stereo, a power liftgate, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive remote start, LED headlights and taillights, a 12-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster, power-folding third row seats, power-adjustable pedals, Magnetic Ride Control and 20-inch wheels.
The Escalade ESV Luxury Collection adds lane departure warning, forward collision alert, side blind zone assist, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beam headlights, power folding second row seats, a sunroof, a full head up display and 22-inch wheels.
The Escalade ESV Premium collection brings automatic braking when a potential front or rear collision is detected, adaptive cruise control, illuminated exterior door handles and a rear-seat entertainment system with a nine-inch overhead screen.
All Escalade ESV models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a front center airbag and traction and stability control systems.
Available safety features include a forward collision alert system, which warns the driver when it sense an impending crash; a lane departure warning system that alerts the driver if the Escalade ESV begins to wander into an adjacent lane; a rear cross traffic alert system that warns the driver of approaching traffic in backup situations; and a rear blind spot warning system. Range-topping Escalade ESVs feature an automatic braking function that links with the forward collision alert and rear cross traffic alert systems; it hits the brakes when a potential front or rear crash is detected.
The Escalade ESV and its one comparable rival, the slightly shorter Lincoln Navigator L, are by far the biggest full-size luxury 'utes on the market, offering more third-row space and cargo room than any of their competitors. The only other options in this class are smaller vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, the Infiniti QX56 and the Audi Q7.