2016 Cadillac Escalade Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Christian Gulliksen Christian Gulliksen Editor
June 13, 2016

Imagine what a full-size luxury SUV should be and you'll almost certainly picture the 2016 Cadillac Escalade.

The Escalade is the Cadillac of General Motors' SUVs, and that is no small thing. It's quieter than in the past, it's smoother, it's more attractive, and it's more fully equipped, just like GM's other upgraded SUVs and the pickup trucks that spawned them. Of all of them, the Escalade has the most substantial standard powertrain, cabin, and technology upgrades—as well as some truly swanky touches.

Completely redesigned last year with generous improvements to refinement, technology and comfort, the 2016 Cadillac Escalade continues to embody the spirit of tasteful excess. It's built for people who want everything—utility, luxury, and capability—and Escalade buyers will find all of that in a undeniably stylish package.

While the Escalade's new lines are crisp and sophisticated, it's the full LED lighting that creates the most effective drama, front and rear, from the vertically stacked elements on the nose to the rear taillights that soar up to the roof and illuminate the Cadillac logo.

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Escalades used to suffer from subpar interior design, fit, and finish, but no more. Cut-and-sewn upholstery trims out the cabin, with leather and suede tucking neatly next to wood trim with a stunning open-pore treatment. From the front seats—which are heated and cooled as standard—the centerpiece of the dashboard is Cadillac's tablet-like CUE touchscreen system, which can be activated by voice, capacitive touch and swipe gestures. The driver faces a 12.3-inch display with a cluster of digital gauges that can be configured in one of four themes. Offered as an option is a head-up display that projects selected information over the hood.

The sole engine is a 6.2-liter V-8 that produces 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It pairs well with an 8-speed automatic transmission to reach 60 mph in around six seconds according to Cadillac. That performance doesn't hurt efficiency—with features like direct injection and cylinder shutoff, the V-8 now earns EPA ratings as high as 17 mpg combined.

As in previous generations, the 2016 Escalade comes in rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions. With running gear derived from that of GM's full-size pickup truck line, it's one of few large luxury SUVs with a solid rear axle. But Magnetic Ride Control is now standard, and the suspension tracks and damps better than the last Escalade, better than much of the competition. Four-wheel drive is an option, and has a quasi-all-wheel-drive mode. Towing capacity continues to impress with ratings from 7,900 to 8,300 pounds.

Interior space is slightly down from previous iterations, but the Escalade has never been so comfortable. The standard model is 204 inches long, and the extended Escalade ESV stretches all the way to 224 inches. Behind the wheel of the Escalade ESV it's hard to ignore that the big Caddy is nearly 19 feet long from bumper to bumper.

Second- and third-row seats fold with the touch of a button, and though the cargo floor is somewhat higher than in previous Escalades, it's at a waist-height level that makes it easier to load and unload heavier items. There's over 15 cubic feet of space behind the third row, a capacity that more than doubles on the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV. 

Base prices rose substantially with last year's redesign, but have leveled off for 2016. A standard Escalade starts at right around $74,000 and a fully decked ESV Platinum model will range in the mid-$90,000s.

Safety equipment includes an innovative front-center airbag that protects front-seat occupants thrown toward the center of the Escalade in a side-impact collision. Automatic braking is optional; it uses short-range radar and ultrasonic sensors to warn drivers of quickly approaching obstacles before—finally—applying the brakes.

Luxury and Premium trim levels include standard blind-spot monitors. A package of driver-awareness features includes forward-collision warnings, lane-departure warnings, and a safety-alert seat system—which vibrates to warn the driver of a possible accident threat on one side of the vehicle or the other. Beyond that, the Drive Assist bundle adds fully adaptive cruise control, collision preparation, automatic seat-belt tightening, and front and rear automatic braking.

As well as the head-up display for the driver, other options include a rear entertainment system that plays Blu-Ray discs—on a single 9.0-inch screen that descends from the roof on the standard Escalade, and on two separate 9.0-inch screens on the longer ESV model.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade

Styling

Not everyone will love the slab sides and glitzy chrome trim, but we can't resist taking guilty pleasure in the Escalade's design.

There has never been anything subtle about the Cadillac Escalade. Big, bold, and swathed in plastichrome, it has been making a statement ever since it first appeared in the go-go '90s. Two generations of evolution have brought refinement, though, and this latest Escalade has become a class act that is less temporal and more enduring.

It's finally there. The Escalade has matured into a vehicle that channels Cadillac's heritage with tasteful plastichrome accents, flat-pressed panels, more vertical pillars, and most of all, the stacked LED lighting that recreates the drama of classic Cadillac fins without the kitschy overtones. The effect is sophisticated and crisp from nose to tail, where massive LED taillights bracket the tailgate, and where LED illumination is provided even for the the crest badge.

The invitingly sculpted cabin provides a warm counterpoint to the sharply creased body. Now in harmony with the rest of the Cadillac lineup, the Escalade's interior gets cut-and-sewn upholstery in leather and suede, a variety of wood trims including a spectacular open-pore selection. A premium Kona-brown leather interior is easily one of the finest offered by GM. This array of high-quality finishes frames the touchscreen CUE interface and TFT gauges deftly, without making them look like age-inappropriate accessories.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade

Performance

The Escalade gains the competitive advantage on corporate cousins like the GMC Yukon with GM's biggest V-8 and adaptive shocks.

The Escalade comes with only one engine: a 6.2-liter V-8 that puts out 420-horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. A variant of the latest 5.3-liter V-8 used in big SUVs at Chevrolet and GMC, the smooth and powerful motor enhances performance and fuel economy with direct injection and cylinder deactivation. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Despite its 6,000-pound avoirdupois and a tow rating of around 8,000 pounds, the Cadillac Escalade will storm to 60 mph in around six seconds. This puts it in a class with performance-oriented competitors like the Mercedes-Benz GL63 and Range Rover Supercharged.

The flexible four-wheel-drive system has separate modes for "4 High" and for an all-wheel-drive mode that automatically redistributes torque when it senses wheelspin. Despite its on-road finesse, the Escalade is still built like a truck and tow between 7,900 and 8,300 pounds, depending on configuration. Like its close relatives—the 2016 Chevy Tahoe SUV and the 2016 GMC Yukon—the Escalade's front strut and solid rear axle suspension are derived from GM's full-size pickups.

Unlike its cousins, the Escalade includes Magnetic Ride Control on its list of standard features. Cadillac claims the system's dampers, which use reactive magnetic fluid to adjust stiffness, have the quickest response of any adaptive setup. Drivers can choose Tour or Sport modes.

Our first drive of the Escalade steered clear of sportscar-styling roads, but that's hardly the point for an SUV that commands Secret Service levels of presence. A couple hundred miles skimming South Carolina low country gave some of the same impressions we've had in the Yukon and Tahoe—that there's a reason GM's full-size SUVs are the best sellers of their size. With its stiffer body structure and light-touch electric power steering, the Escalade's far from a daunting drive, even if the driver's not used to plus-size vehicles. The steering's weighted to filter off the wandering that a trailer or a big crosswind could cause, but heavy? Not at all. And with the magnetically controlled shocks, the Escalade now has better ride control—less of the bounding out of potholes that marked General Motors' last-gen 'utes.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade

Comfort & Quality

The Escalade's eight-passenger cabin is vast, elegant, and beautifully upholstered.

The latest Cadillac Escalade's finest achievement might be the design, fit, and finish of its restyled cabin. It no longer has any apologies to make. 

Just last year, GM upgraded the structure of the Escalade with more vertical side pillars and a more rectilinear shape. The big SUV measures in at 204 inches; the Escalade ESV stretches the wheelbase by 14 inches and adds 20 inches of overall length.

Though changes to the standard third-row seat decreased overall interior volume, there's more passenger space—particularly in the front seats where occupants gained 4 inches of leg room and 1.5 inches of head room. The latter is of particular importance because taller drivers and passengers may now keep hats and sunglasses atop their heads. The seats themselves are softly supportive, with multi-adjustable support, including lumbar. The door panels have perfect little pads to cushion elbows.

Leg room and head room in the second row are also better than ever, but the standard heated bucket seats feel a little narrow, and armrests sit a little low. A three-seat bench is an option. While adults will fit in the standard third-row seat, and leg room is decent, only shorter passengers will be comfortable on seat cushions that are situated so close to the floor.

In all, the Escalade can carry up to eight passengers—and 15.2 (Escalade) or 39.3 cubic feet (Escalade ESV) of cargo behind the third-row seat. This grows to 51.6 and 76.7 cubic feet when the third row is folded, and a positively massive 94.2 or 120.9 cubic feet with both rear seats folded. 

Configuring seats to gain all that space is a snap, and it can all be done from the back of the Escalade. Simply press buttons from the cargo deck to power the third-row seat up or down. Another button cause the second-row seats to flop forward, but they must be raised manually.

The third-row seats stow under a rigid cover that gives the Escalade a flatter load floor, but the cover and the power-folding seat do lift the overall cargo floor higher. The third-row seats can be taken out entirely, if you're handy—but we think the trade-off of a few cubic feet is worth the easier load-in height. A power tailgate is standard.

Storage elsewhere in the Escalade is excellent.The cabin's storage bins are more useful, with a center console bin deep enough to hold tablet or small notebook computers. The rear doors have molded-in cupholders that hold grande iced coffees.

The leap in style is obvious even with the standard Escalade interior. Cut-and-sewn upholstery and trim materials, several different options for accents in real wood, suede accents, and specially engineered seats are designed to separate the big luxury truck from lesser siblings much more sharply than in the past. The $2,000 Kona brown interior is a certified knockout, and it seems even richer in the quieter cabin, which benefits from pounds more sound deadening and Bose active noise cancellation.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade

Safety

We don't have crash test ratings for the Escalade, but big trucks from GM tend to perform well in NHTSA tests.

While the NHTSA has established preliminary five-star side-impact ratings and three-star rollover ratings for the 2016 Cadillac Escalade, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have conducted full crash tests. We anticipate good ratings based on strong results for GM's closely related trucks. 

For guidance on the likely crash performance of the Escalade and Escalade ESV, we look to the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban. The short-wheelbase Tahoe gets five stars for front and side impacts from the NHTSA, but a three-star rollover rating brings its overall rating down to four stars. The long-wheelbase Suburban gets a similar four-star rating despite lower four-star scores for front and side impacts. Until we have Cadillac-specific data, we're using these figures to determine our safety rating for the Escalade.

The Escalade comes with an array of new safety features this year. Of particular note is an innovate airbag placed between the front seats; it's designed to protect passengers from colliding with each other in a side impact. The Escalade also offers automatic braking, which uses short-range radar and ultrasonic sensors to warn drivers of an approaching obstacle before finally applying the brakes.

Because Escalades have high theft rates, they're fitted with several levels of security that can sense can detect if glass is being broken or the car is being elevated during a theft. The systems can sound the vehicle's alarm and prevent it from starting or moving.

An optional package of driver-awareness features includes forward-collision warnings, lane-departure warnings, and a safety-alert seat system—which vibrates to warn the driver of a possible accident threat on one side of the vehicle or the other. On Luxury and Premium trim levels, those features are made standard equipment. An optional Drive Assist bundle adds fully adaptive cruise control, collision preparation, automatic seat-belt tightening, and front and rear automatic braking.

We'll update this page as more information becomes available.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade

Features

Even a base Escalade is loaded with luxury features—but moving up to Luxury, Premium, and Platinum trim levels has appeal.

Pricing for the 2016 Cadillac Escalade starts at over $74,000 for a rear-drive, base model and reaches into $100,000 for a fully decked ESV Platinum model with all the bells and whistles available. That's leveled off from 2015, but higher than the 2014 model.

Any Escalade is well-equipped, and even a short-wheelbase model with rear-wheel drive and no options won't feel entry-level. The 420-horsepower V-8 and 8-speed automatic are standard, as are leather upholstery, wood trim, 20-inch wheels, heated seats and mirrors, a power tailgate, Bose audio, and Magnetic Ride Control. The driver can choose one of four themes for gauge clusters on a 12.3-inch display. And it's possible to recharge virtually any device with myriad power points and USB ports in the center console.

The Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment system is also standard; it rolls up Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and navigation, and controls them with voice or touchscreen or steering-wheel controls. As usual, we've had more success than failure in connecting our smartphones to CUE and in swiping and zooming across its nifty touchscreen—but the failures come every so often, mostly in the form of frozen directions and unrecognized voice commands. The CUE screen is canted slightly upward, and in such a large vehicle, the touchscreen surface is a fair reach from the driver seat.

The CUE system now features 4G LTE connectivity for functionality as a wi-fi hotspot. Data for the hotspot is provided initially via a free trial, but data charges can quickly add up. Also new for 2016 is Apple CarPlay compatibility.

Late in 2015, Escalade added a range-topping Platinum trim level to the existing Base, Luxury and Premium. These packages add features such as running boards, blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings, and a head-up display. Those packages remain and available lane keep assist has been added new for 2016.

Stand-alone options include a dashing Kona Brown leather interior with beautiful open-pore wood, power running boards, and a rear-seat Blu-ray entertainment system that plays DVDs on a single 9.0-inch screen that descends from the roof on the standard Escalade, and on two separate 9.0-inch screens on the longer ESV model.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade

Fuel Economy

Fuel efficiency would be more impressive if it were calculated by passenger count.

Cadillac has made an extraordinary effort to reduce fuel consumption, but there's no getting around the Escalade's sheer heft. Moving 6,000 pounds isn't easy.

The Escalade doesn't use start-top technology in its 6.2-liter V-8 to save gas. Instead, it relies on features like direct injection and cylinder deactivation under light load. Grille shutters improve aerodynamics by closing at higher speeds, and weight is reduced with some aluminum construction. 

The base Escalade is rated by the EPA at 15 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined—pretty low, but still a good bit better than, say, a Mercedes GL 450. With four-wheel drive, the ratings fall to 15/21/17 mpg. Opt for the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV with rear-wheel drive, and fuel economy checks in at 15/21/17 mpg—but add that four-wheel-drive system, and it drops to 14/20/16 mpg.

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November 25, 2016
2016 Cadillac Escalade 4WD 4-Door Platinum

Worst overpriced junker

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We own a 2016 Cadillac Escalade platinum edition and have had some many issues with it. CV boot replaced due to leakage, front roters wearing unevenly, replaced along with brakes at 15k miles. Left me stranded... + More »
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