- Imposing style
- Impressive technology suite
- Strong V-8 engine
- Voluminous cargo area
- Still a luxurious Suburban, albeit a much fancier one than before
- Awfully expensive, even against its rivals
- Is it simply too brash?
A pop culture icon in its own time, the Cadillac Escalade offers unmatched gravitas and presence—if that's your thing.
The Cadillac Escalade is the big hoss of GM's luxury lineup. It's more than just the high-falutin' version of the Suburbans, Tahoes, and Yukons that almost rival it for luxury fittings; it's probably the most recognizable Cadillac on the road today, thanks as much to its beveled edges to its imposing stance.
Available in base, Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum configurations, the Escalade goes from well to lavishly equipped with the tick of a few option boxes.
The Escalade earns an impressive 7.7 on our overall scale thanks to its comfort and surprising performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
There's no question that the Escalade boasts more bravado than just about anything else to ever hit the road, but this latest SUV is far more luxurious, refined, and capable than ever before. Straddling the line between tasteful and excessive, the Escalade's unmistakable style is evident from every angle. At its core, it shares its frame, its structure, and much of its running gear with the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and the GMC Yukon, but the Escalade takes things to an entirely different level inside and out.
Two configurations are on offer, the standard wheelbase shared with the Tahoe and Yukon and a extended Escalade ESV model based on the Suburban and Yukon XL. Either way it is ordered, all Escalades ride on a choice of 20- or 22-inch alloy wheels, the latter of which feature a new design for 2017. Full LED lighting outside is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Escalade's high-tech features; LEDs line its vertical headlights and taillights and they illuminate the Cadillac logo on the SUV's grille.
Cadillac Escalade interior and technology
Inside, the Escalade moves even further from its comparatively pedestrian siblings. Cut-and-sewn leather upholstery trims out the cabin, with genuine hide and suede tucking neatly next to open pore wood trim. From the front seats—which are heated and cooled as standard—the centerpiece of the dashboard is Cadillac's tablet-like CUE touchscreen infotainment 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. A head-up display is optional and projects selected information onto the windshield for the driver.
New for 2017 is a rearview mirror that isn't a mirror at all. Instead, it is actually a high-resolution screen for a camera mounted to the Escalade's tailgate. The mirror takes some getting used to, but it eliminates any blind spot normally caused by the SUV's big roof pillars.
CUE includes as standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as a Bose Centerpoint 2.0 audio system. To keep rear seat passengers occupied, rear seat entertainment systems are available with one or two screens depending on trim. (Luxury and higher trims can get dual monitors in the front headrests, when selected.) Parent company General Motors' OnStar 4G LTE connectivity also comes standard and includes a wi-fi antenna that makes the 'Slade into a mobile hotspot—albeit for an extra monthly charge after an initial trial period.
Opt for the range-topping Escalade Platinum package, available on either wheelbase, and the interior comes alive with aromatic semi-aniline leather trim. Short of a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce, we can't think of many vehicles upholstered in so much leather. Second- and third-row seats fold flat at 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 relatively easy to load and unload heavier items. There's over 15 cubic feet of space behind the third row on the standard Escalade, a capacity that more than doubles on the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV.
Cadillac Escalade performance
A different kind of beast sits under the SUV's angular hood: A 6.2-liter V-8 rated at 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It pairs well with the standard 8-speed automatic transmission to reach 60 mph in around six seconds, an impressive feat for a vehicle that tips the scales at about 6,000 pounds when fully equipped. That performance doesn't hurt efficiency as much as you might think—with features like direct injection and cylinder shutoff, the V-8 earns EPA ratings as high as 17 mpg combined.
As in previous generations, the 2016 Escalade comes in rear wheel-drive and all wheel-drive variants, the latter of which is designed more for slushy weather than climbing a mountain. With running gear derived from that of GM's full-size pickup truck line, the Escalade one of few large luxury SUVs with a solid rear axle. That's old-school tech, and it helps explain the high cargo floor, but Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control dampers are standard and finally give the Escalade a ride quality almost on par with segment leaders. Where the Escalade really comes into play is its towing ability; rated at up to 8,300 pounds, the big SUV tows especially confidently.
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 emergency braking is newly standard on the Luxury trim level, while the optional Driver Awareness package adds a lane departure warning system that can tug the big SUV into its lane if it wanders as well as automatic high beams.
Luxury and Platinum trim levels are available with a Driver Assist package that includes adaptive cruise control and front and rear automatic braking. An additional new option is an automatic parking assistance feature that, utilizing cameras and radar, parallel parks the Escalade at the touch of a button with no driver intervention.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
Bold and brash, the Escalade isn't for everyone. But its style has remained consistent and it is instantly recognizable.
Subtlety is not a Cadillac Escalade virtue. This SUV is big and grand in everything it does, making a statement anywhere it goes. It is not a vehicle for those who don't want to be noticed, even if it has become somewhat commonplace in the two decades it has been on sale. The first Escalades were just Chevrolet Tahoes with (lots of) lipstick on. Today, however, Escalade is thoroughly refined—if still swathed in chrome.
It gets an excellent 8 score in our book thanks to an above average exterior and an excellent interior. (Read more about our new rating methodology.)
There are lots of technical highlights to the way the Escalade looks and goes about its business, too. LED head and taillights channel Cadillacs of yore without the kitschy overtones for an effect that is sophisticated and crisp from hood to tailgate. Unlike the outgoing Escalade, the big bruiser's look deviates a little further from the Tahoe and Suburban on which this Caddy is still based, although in profile the trucks are identical.
The biggest changes come inside, however, where a warmly sculpted look that wouldn't be out of place in a luxury sedan stands as a desirable counterpoint to the truck's sharply-creased body lines. Dripping with leather in even the base configuration, Escalades get more luxurious with each step on the trim level food chain until you get to the downright decadent Platinum flagship. Awash in semi-aniline leather trim and real wood, it can play in the big leagues up against long-time luxury leaders from Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
The Escalade is genuinely fast thanks to its big V-8, but its truck chassis underneath dictates some tradeoffs when it comes to cornering and ride quality.
Escalade buyers needs make only one decision when it comes to performance: rear- or all-wheel drive. That's because all Escalades use parent company General Motors' smooth and sonorous 6.2-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Related to the 5.3-liter V-8 used in GM's big Chevrolet and GMC pickups and SUVs, the 6.2-liter benefits from direct injection and cylinder deactivation, the latter of which helps it achieve better fuel economy than you might expect.
We gave the Escalade an 8 out of 10 thanks to its strong powertrain, above average transmission, and great ride. (Read more about our new rating methodology.)
All Escalades use an 8-speed automatic transmission that, in GM tradition, is silky-smooth in its operation.
Although the latest Escalade may tip the scales at 6,000 pounds, it can tug up to 8,300 pounds worth of trailer and it can storm from a stop to 60 mph in about six seconds (albeit not with a trailer attached, of course). That kind of thrust is about par with the optional engines on some competitors.
Even though the Escalade utilizes a separate truck chassis and suspension that is not all that sophisticated on paper, the latest model's ride quality has been vastly improved thanks to standard Magnetic Ride Control dampers that use reactive magnetic fluid to adjust stiffness between gentle Tour and stiffer Sport modes. Opt for all wheel-drive and drivers don't need to plan ahead for slippery terrain.
That said, the Escalade is far from sporty, and rivals like the Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class feel more nimble and poised on curvy roads overall.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
Comfort & Quality
Cadillac has made bigger strides here than anywhere else, with the Escalade finally feeling like a proper luxury SUV.
If you haven't been in an Escalade in a while, you might be surprised to learn that its restyled cabin is properly luxurious. Looking more like it belongs in a car than in a big, 204-inch long SUV (in ESV form), the Escalade pampers with Lear Jet-esque comfort and a selection of materials that feels more bespoke than assembly line.
Above our base score of 5, we gave the Escalade points for good front and rear seats, and its versatility with a third row. (Read more about our new rating methodology.)
Even the base Escalade's leather feels nice and hard-wearing, but stepping up to the Platinum's semi-aniline puts this SUV in an entirely different class. All around, Escalade's plastic and padded surfaces are a cut above the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Cut-and-sewn upholstery and trim materials, several different options for trim in real wood, suede accents, and nicely padded seats are designed to separate the big luxury truck from lesser siblings much more sharply than in the past. The available Kona brown interior is a certified knockout, and it feels even richer in the Escalade's quieter cabin thanks to pounds of sound deadening and Bose active noise cancellation.
In terms of roominess, the Escalade is hard to beat, although its solid rear axle design means that the rearmost row of seats folds flat but requires a higher load floor than in any rival. All three rows offer better room than ever, but the second row's heated individual bucket seats can feel narrow and a little thinly-padded over a long trip. The third row stows away and redeploys at the press of a button, but the second row must be raised by hand.
Opt for the Escalade ESV and you'll benefit from the 14 inches added to the wheelbase and 20 inch overall length increase, all of which pays dividends inside to make this big SUV feel genuinely palatial. 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.
With all that available real estate, it isn't much of a surprise that the Escalade offers stellar storage inside for smaller items. A big center console bin can hold a laptop or tablet computer and there are numerous pockets for items like pens, drinks, and notebooks.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
Escalade offers a full suite of collision prevention features, but not all are available on the base Standard trim level.
Neither NHTSA nor the IIHS have conducted full crash tests for the Escalade, but GM's closely related Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon range have performed well and we would anticipate similar ratings for the Cadillac.
We gave the Escalade 8 out of 10 on our scale based on its available technology and related crash scores. (Read more about our new rating methodology.)
In federal testing, the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon are rated at five stars for front and side impact ratings and they net a three star rollover score. The long wheelbase Suburban and Yukon XL, which share their structure with the Escalade ESV, scored four stars in the front impact test, five for the side impact, and three in the rollover test. IIHS, however, hasn't tested any of the SUVs.
Escalades include as standard an innovative airbag placed between the front seats designed to protect passengers from colliding with each other in a side impact. Automatic emergency braking is standard on all but the base Escalade, while adaptive cruise control, rear automatic braking, and automatic seat belt tightening are packaged together as an option for Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum trim levels.
One thing to note is that Escalades are often stolen. As a result, they're fitted with several levels of security that can sense can detect if glass is being broken or the car is being raised onto a tow truck. The systems can sound the vehicle's alarm and prevent it from starting or moving.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
Cadillac's CUE infotainment has been thoroughly upgraded; little, if anything, is missing here compared to even pricier rivals.
Cadillac offers a bevy of Escalades in base, Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum guises. Go crazy with options and you'll be into six figures for a fully decked Escalade ESV Platinum. Optional equipment for the short wheelbase Escalade essentially mirrors that of the Escalade ESV.
We gave it a 9 out of 10 for its exceptional array of features that cover all the luxury bases. We stopped short of a perfect score because Cadillac doesn't go as far as Land Rover or Mercedes-Benz in all-out features. (Read more about our new rating methodology.)
Even the base comes well equipped with the 420-horsepower V-8 and 8-speed automatic as standard, in addition to 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.
Stand-alone options include a dashing Kona Brown leather interior with beautiful open-pore wood, power running boards, and rear-seat DVD or Blu-ray entertainment systems based on the trim selected.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
The Escalade is thirsty, but it isn't actually as bad as you might think: regardless of rear or all wheel-drive, it is rated at 17 mpg combined.
Cadillac has made an extraordinary effort to reduce fuel consumption, but there's no getting around the Escalade's sheer bulk. Moving 6,000 pounds with alacrity isn't easy, even with 420 horsepower on tap.
We give the Escalade a 5 for gas mileage, since its numbers aren't very good in the wider scheme. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Escalade doesn't use start-stop technology in its 6.2-liter V-8 to save gas, like some European rivals do. Instead, it relies on features like direct injection and cylinder deactivation, which effectively turns off half of the engine under light load situations like highway cruising. Grille shutters improve aerodynamics by closing at higher speeds, and weight is reduced with some aluminum construction.
The rear wheel-drive Escalade is rated by the EPA at 15 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined—that's low, but not totally intolerable when you figure that this is about as big and heavy a vehicle as a consumer can buy. And it's better than the Mercedes-Benz GLS550 4Matic's 16 mpg combined. Opt for the all wheel-drive Escalade and the highway figure falls to 20 mpg. The EPA does not differentiate between the Escalade and the Escalade ESV.