BY STEVE SILER
The palatial Cadillac Escalade tells the world you’ve arrived—before you arrive.
Cadillac can be credited with making the luxury SUV a “thing” back in 1990s when it created the Escalade out of a workaday Chevy Tahoe. Everyone from haughty horse owners to rap stars rejoiced, even if a bouncy, trucky GM truck lurked not too far beneath the Escalade’s shiny, chrome-drenched skin. Since then, competitive lux-u-vees like Range Rovers, BMW X5s and Lexus LX570s have emerged, and the whole lot just got slicker and sweeter, so when Cadillac redesigned the Escalade most recently (for the 2015 model year), they really had to, as the kids say, bring it.
Well, consider it brung. More than any of the three previous models, this fourth-generation Escalade is a real Ca-dil-lac—with everything a Cadillac needs to earn the Technicolor crest on its gleaming, “Galvano” chrome grille. This starts, of course, with luxury. The Platinum-grade test vehicle ($93,390 base price) arrived with a cabin full of spoils, from Cadillac’s softest, semi-analine leather to gorgeous open-pore wood, with a beverage cooler between the front seats and three entertainment screens in back—all standard. Craftsmanship is outstanding, and the ‘Slade features countless lovely design touches like stitched-leather dash top and classy electronic gauges. There remain a few too many spots where hard plastics are used, and the capacitive touch controls for the stereo and climate systems can be a bit fussy and collect fingerprints nearly as fast as your smartphone screen. But there is no denying that this is luxury writ large, a Cadillac in both the traditional and modern idioms.
One can configure the second-row seat one of two ways—a 60/40 split bench or dual captain’s chairs—for the same price, and both styles feature one-button power fold-and-tumble functionality to let people into and out of the third row more easily. Actually being back there (and enjoying it) for long stays depends, however, on how long of leg and/or torso the occupant happens to be. Anyone over about 5’ 10” will want out sooner than later. Fortunately, Cadillac also offers the Escalade in ESV form that is more than 20 inches longer, with about half that span devoted to third-row stretch-out room. Unfortunately, both models feature cargo area floors that represent quite a lift from the ground, a reminder that this one of the few remaining true truck-based SUVS, with its body sitting atop a ladder frame.
It’s one powerful truck, however. A burly V-8 with 420 horsepower gives a massive shove when you go hard on the rightmost pedal. Got a boat? It can tug more than four tons. The brakes are just as strong, that is provided you push that pedal down far enough; the somewhat slow-to-respond brakes didn’t surprise us, however, considering that many of these trucks serve as limousines, and a chauffeur can’t have a touchy brake pedal if he plans to keep his job for long. Ditto the steering, which is easy but also hardly twitchy off-center. And then there’s the creamy ride, which at no point feels trucky or brittle even with the adjustable air suspension in its firmest “Touring” mode. Indeed, if you regularly play chauffeur to your family and friends and you can’t afford a Rolls-Royce Phantom, you can’t do much better than this.
And of course, it looks the part. As a proper Cadillac, it’s not enough for the Escalade to be huge, it must also sport the biggest grille, the sharpest features, and the most extreme vertical LED head- and taillights—modern day tailfins! Cadillac offers no fewer than eight glitzy wheel choices for the Platinum ‘Slade, all of which are a massive 22 inches in diameter.
Want to be subtle? Buy an Audi Q7 or a Volvo XC90. But if you want to tell the world that you’ve already arrived before you arrive, this’ll do it.
2017 Cadillac Escalade
Base price, 2WD/4WD: $74,590/$77,590, Platinum $93,390/$96,390
Body style: 2-door, 2+2-passenger coupe
V-8 (420 hp, 460 lb-ft of torque)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive wheels: Rear or all
Fuel economy (city/highway): 15/20 mpg