With the introduction of the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, General Motors moves a step closer to reinventing its luxury brand as a world-class competitor. And if any model in the Caddy lineup needed it, it was this big, full-size SUV.
We drove a 2013 Cadillac Escalade a while back and, we didn’t see the point of paying so much more for a vehicle that offered so little over its counterparts from Chevrolet and GMC. Throw in competition like the Land Rover Range Rover and Infiniti QX56 (QX80 these days), and the Escalade seemed conspicuously without substance to back up its $75,000-plus price tag.
No more, says Cadillac.
While still sharing its bones with the new 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon–and also coming in standard and extended ESV models–the 2015 Cadillac Escalade is the most distinctive version of the big SUV to date. The headlights–previewed a couple weeks ago–make good on its distinctive billing. The multiple elements are arranged in a vertical pattern, and an LED accent light extends far down the side of the headlight and into the bumper, similar to what we’ve seen on the ATS and the 2014 Cadillac CTS. Then there’s the humungous grille, with three horizontal bars so big and widely spaced that it looks like a stepladder. The rear end is also distinct from its Chevy and GMC brothers, with tall vertical taillights that extend all the way to the roof…the assembly has to be a good three feet long at least. However, step back, and the profile of the Escalade is still virtually identical to the Tahoe and Yukon. Granted, there’s not that much wiggle room in the two-box shape of an SUV’s design, but a little more distinctiveness along the flanks of the vehicle–aside from chrome window surrounds–would’ve been nice.
It’s an entirely different story inside. The new Escalade’s distinctive interior looks a lot more like the CTS than the Tahoe. Not only does it bear a spot-on resemblance to the rest of Cadillac’s lineup, at long last it looks like something that should be in a luxury SUV with a price tag in the high five-digits. Standard on the Escalade is a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, that can be reconfigured at the touch of a steering wheel-mounted button. The interior also gets a cut-and-sew treatment, with stitched materials on the dash, real wood trim, LED accent lights, and seats Cadillac says have been engineered for comfort and appearance. There’s an optional Blu-Ray player that can power one screen in standard-length Escalades, and two of the 9-inch screens in the ESV. Like the other new GM SUVs, the third- and second-row seats finally fold flat, easing cargo utility. The one truly truck-like element left inside is the column mounted shifter; it seems like a throwback, but note just how much more room you have on that wide center console when there’s not a shifter taking up a big chunk of it.
Under the hood is a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine with 420 horsepower, connected to a six-speed automatic and either rear- or four-wheel drive. Savvy shoppers will note that’s the same engine that’s in the Yukon Denali, and also the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado High Country, where it gets surprisingly good fuel economy. The suspension is similar as well, independent in front and a five-link solid axle in the rear. Yes, you read right: Unlike every other body-0n-frame SUV competitor, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade soldiers on with a very truck-like solid axle. However, Caddy has also fitted its excellent Magnetic Ride Control shocks–with Tour and Sport modes–to help quell the vibrations and shakes that often accompany a solid rear axle. Whether it works or not will have to wait until we get behind the wheel.
Safety is, of course, a paramount concern, and Cadillac has stepped up here as well. The 2015 Cadillac Escalade Luxury or Premium models come standard with blind spot alerts, rear cross traffic warnings, and lane change alerts. A Driver Awareness package adds forward collision alert and lane departure warning tied in with Cadillac’s Safety Alert Seat, which uses vibrations instead of beeps to warn drivers of possible collisions. There’s also a Driver Assist package that adds active cruise control, front and rear automatic braking, and automatic seatbelt tightening. Interestingly, Cadillac made it a point to call out anti-theft measures on the 2015 Escalade, which include glass breakage, inclination sensors, and other technology that shut down the Escalade and make it “almost impossible to start or move the vehicle,” as well as using OnStar to alert authorities to help find the vehicle. Why the anti-theft attention? Because thieves LOVE the Escalade, that’s why.
So, is it enough to compete against newer, more luxurious SUVs? Hard to say for now, really. Taken at face value, Cadillac has certainly taken the steps it needed too, addressing virtually all of the complaints we had with its predecessor. Whether that’s enough to go head-to-head with the likes of Land Rovers, Lexuses and BMWs remains to be seen. We’ll find out when it goes on sale early next year.