New & Used Cadillac Escalade: In Depth
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The Cadillac Escalade is one of the largest SUVs on the market, and comes in either standard or long-wheelbase editions--just like its mechanical cousins, the GMC Yukon/XL and the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban.
More refined now than in past generations, the Escalade is a rival for the Mercedes-Benz GL-CLass, Lincoln Navigator, and the Infiniti QX80.
MORE: Read our 2015 Cadillac Escalade review
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is a heavily revamped, restyled continuation of the previous versions. It's a crisp, handsomely styled SUV that makes no bones about its size--highlighting it with full LED lighting and a cabin filled with leather and suede and open-pore wood, if you like, and Cadillac's CUE touchscreen interface.
Power comes from a 420-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 engine that produces 460 lb-ft of torque, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission for some 2015 models, upgraded to an eight-speed on vehicles built later in the model year. Fuel economy has gone up: the six-speed model has an EPA combined rating of 17 mpg, and eight-speed models manage about the same ratings or slightly higher in the highway cycle.
As in previous generations, the 2015 Escalade comes in rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions. Cadillac's sophisticated Magnetic Ride Control suspension is standard, and a new four-wheel-drive system has a two-speed transfer case. Towing capacity is as much as 8,300 pounds, depending on configuration. Two lengths are offered, with the standard Escalade and the Suburban-sized Escalade ESV.
Although the newest Escalade has a bit less interior room than the previous model, overall comfort has been improved. The rearmost row of seats can be folded independently with power assist. There's lots of space available in the standard-length Escalade, and even more in the extra-long ESV version, which is the same size as a Chevy Suburban.
Prices start in the low $70,000 range and escalate quickly into the $90,000 range. Some of the price increase comes from added safety gear, including forward-collision warnings. Blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control are available. Other options include a rear entertainment system that plays Blu-Ray discs--on a single 9-inch screen that descends from the roof on the standard Escalade, and on two separate 9-inch screens on the longer ESV model.
The 2015.5 model receives a new, cleaner grille design with Cadillac's new wreathless crest adorning the middle. The brand's new logo sits higher up on the chrome blades than did the more circular logo before it, giving the Escalade a more futuristic look.
Cadillac Escalade history
The Escalade showed up late and lost the first round of the American luxury SUV battle to the Lincoln Navigator—Cadillac's entry bowed in 1999, while the Lincoln arrived the year prior. The Escalade felt half-baked, too--it was a scant cosmetic makeover of the then-new GMC Yukon Denali, with a re-molded front end that didn't look like the product of either brand. A 255-horsepower V-8 teamed up with a four-speed automatic and standard four-wheel drive. GM sold this Escalade only for the 1999 and 2000 model years. Leather trim, an upmarket stereo and badges separated this version from its cousins.
The Escalade took a pass on the 2001 model year entirely, with Cadillac instead focusing on a 2002 makeover for its largest model. The plan worked, as it emerged with three body styles, a far better-knit kit of Cadillac styling cues, and a swank interior with a new third-row seat. Rear-wheel-drive versions came in 2002 as well, joining the logical but curious Escalade EXT--an odd hybrid of four-door SUV and pickup, with a midgate separating the two for cargo flexibility.
The 2003 model year brought the longer ESV edition, giving the Escalade a size competitor for GM's own Suburban XL utes. A Platinum trim package emerged in 2004. A 285-hp, 5.3-liter V-8 came in most versions for the first two years; a new engine with 10 more hp but the same displacement arrived in 2004. For the entire run of this generation, a 345-hp, 6.0-liter V-8 came as an option on some versions. This generation shared mechanicals with the entire GM truck and full-size SUV lineup, but also the new HUMMER H2 utes.
A new Escalade hit the road in the 2007 model year, with ESV and EXT editions coming with the standard-length Escalade. GM pressed the introduction of the trucks ahead of schedule--but sales still fell, and fell hard once the country slipped into a deep recession in 2008. Nonetheless, this has been the most satisfying Escalade yet. Very crisp, angular styling looks quite handsome on all versions, and lots of chrome make the Escalade a styling standout--whether you agree with its take on luxury or not. Amazing power emanates from the 6.2-liter V-8, and a special all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed automatic are notable improvements.
Magnetic Ride Controls quells the worst road impacts, while the optional 22-inch wheels can add road noise to the otherwise calm cabin. The seating is quite comfortable, but the third row isn't so easy to reach, and the seats don't quite fold flat--but Escalade ESVs hardly have to worry, with their tremendous interior space, with or without the third-row bench folded.
A new Escalade Hybrid SUV was added to the lineup for 2009. With a price of nearly $75,000, it's been extremely slow-selling, but the Hybrid technology and its advanced two-mode transmission improve fuel economy from miserable mid-teens to the respectable low-20-mpg range. All versions of the Escalade can be fueled with E85 ethanol blend.
Otherwise, the Escalade has changed very little over the past several model years, as it bides time for a new model to arrive, likely for 2014. Powertrain Grade Braking, which aids stability down long hills when pulling a trailer or headily loaded, was the only significant addition for 2013.