The Cadillac Escalade has been a favorite of the hip-hop set and high profile individuals everywhere since the full-size luxury SUV first debuted in 1999, essentially as an up-level GMC Yukon. Now in its third generation, the Escalade still shares underpinnings with the Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe, but it features unique exterior styling, a more luxurious interior and a more powerful engine to justify its higher pricetag.
The current Escalade, which is also offered as the long-wheelbase ESV, the pickup EXT and in green Hybrid form, is now in its final year on the market. It rides on old-school body-on-frame truck architecture that endows it with strong towing capability but requires sacrifices in terms of driving refinement, interior space and fuel efficiency compared with unibody crossover rivals.
Thanks to its blunt shape, XXL-size and scads of chrome trim, the Escalade is impossible to miss - whether that's a good or bad thing is a matter of taste. The cabin is a mixed bag - to be sure, the dashboard is distinctive, and megabuck Platinum models feature handsome analine leather and wood inlays. However, much of the switchgear is shared with GM's mainstream offerings, and one only has to look to the doors to find hard, cheap plastic that's decidedly unbecoming for a luxury vehicle.
Another interior low point is the third row seat, which offers little legroom and can't be folded flat to expand cargo space. Instead, it must be folded down and pushed forward - eating up valuable real estate - or removed entirely.
As it's Cadillac's oldest model on the market, the Escalade isn't offered with the automaker's new CUE infotainment system, which uses a smartphone-inspired capacitive touchscreen (or voice commands) to control the stereo and navigation system or place phone calls.
Moving the leviathan SUV is a 6.2-liter Vortec V8 that produces 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard, as is rear-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive can be spec'd as an extra-cost option.
Acceleration from the burly V8 is strong, and when properly equipped, the Escalade can tow a Herculean 8,300 lbs. As one would expect, the downside is prodigious fuel consumption: officially, mileage is rated at 14/18 city/highway mpg with RWD and 13/18 mpg with AWD.
Upper-crust Escalades are fitted with Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control real-time damping system, which can adjust the dampers in the blink of an eye to mitigate body roll during hard cornering or keep the ride comfortable while cruising.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Escalade is offered in Standard, Luxury, Premium and Platinum trim levels.
The Escalade Standard comes equipped with leather upholstery for the first and second row seats, heated and cooled first row seats, a navigation system, a 10-speaker AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM Bose surround sound system with AUX/USB inputs and rear seat controls, remote start, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, rear parking sonar, a rearview camera, an adaptive auto-leveling suspension, a power liftgate, power-adjustable pedals, auto on/off xenon headlights, foglights, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. The second row can be configured with either a bench or bucket seats.
The Escalade Luxury brings the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, a sunroof, a heated steering wheel, power flip-and-fold second row seats, a blind-spot warning system, auto high beams and gargantuan 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels.
To those features, the Escalade Premium adds a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, power-retractable side assist steps, body-color exterior trim and model-specific 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels.
The ritzy Escalade Platinum features supple aniline leather upholstery, leather-warpped dashboard and upper door panel trim, olive ash and burled walnut wood trim, heated and cooled cup holders and an upgraded rear-seat entertainment system with dual screens integrated into the front seat headrests.
The Escalade's safety features include dual front impact airbags as well as side curtain airbags for the first, second, and third rows. Also standard is StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with rollover mitigation and traction control that applies brake pressure or cuts engine speed to regain traction.
The Escalade faces competition from a number of strong contenders in the full-size luxury SUV segment, including the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, the Infiniti QX56 and the Audi Q7.