Cadillac Escalade ESV — Big luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Cadillac Escalade is a bit of an anomaly in the new global Cadillac scheme of things. The big body-on-frame SUV is like the unloved aunt who is tolerated in the family circle only because she is so popular and influential in the community beyond her small world of relatives.

So it is with the modern Cadillac, sporting a new European-leaning persona made up of sleek sedans and coupes and an all-new European-like crossover SUV. The big ponderous Escalade and its Suburban-sized twin, the Escalade ESV, rang up 19,500 sales in the U.S. through July, a whopping 22 percent of Cadillac's entire output and actually 1.3 percent more than in 2015. This increase points up the big truck's continued popularity among such moneyed folks as Hip Hop artists and pro athletes.

The Escalade and Escalade ESV are actually upscale versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, all popular in their respective price ranges. We tested the larger Escalade ESV, a vehicle that virtually owns its own sub-segment, in essence a big luxury minivan stretching out 224 inches that can carry up to eight people in comfort — third-row occupants have a whooping 34.5 inches of legroom — with 39 cubic feet of storage behind the third-row seats, tow as much as 8,100 pounds, and move its 6,000 pounds from a stoplight to 60 mph in about 6 seconds.

This hauling and towing performance does not come without a price. Apparently there are a great number of people who say price is no object because the extended ESV version sold around 15,000 copies in 2015 with prices starting at nearly $77,000 and ranging up close to 100 grand for the top Platinum edition.

All Escalades come with GM's large 6.2-liter V-8 making 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels or to an available all-wheel drive setup. Although the Escalade ESV is rated at just 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway (21 with all-wheel drive) it won't be necessary to make constant stops to top off the tank because it holds an enormous 31 gallons.

We admit to enjoying the performance of the big SUV because, behind the wheel of something this big, hurtling down the highway is a hoot. Passing and merging is an afterthought — no advance planning is needed, just the ability to maneuver a lot of sheetmetal into flowing traffic.

The Escalade setup includes GM's Magnetic Ride Control, what Cadillac calls "the world's fastest-reacting suspension system" designed to deliver precisely controlled driving performance. All Escalades get an optional sport mode to stiffen up the shocks, but the ride is firm and controlled enough without engaging it. Weighty steering and a firm brake pedal effectively translate driver inputs, while offering excellent feedback for such a big vehicle.

While the Escalade is smooth over nearly any kind of road surface, we found the SUV underperformed on washboard-like pavement offering a too stiff and jiggly ride. This due in part we surmised to its truck underpinnings.

The luxurious interior uses real wood combined with premium cut-and-sewn materials and suede accents, along with ambient lighting, and sculpted-looking seats. There is an impressive 12.3-inch instrument cluster in front of the driver featuring a reconfigurable, high-resolution digital driver information center display. The centerpiece of the dashboard layout is the CUE infotainment placed over the center console. We are pleased to report that Cadillac's effort in making the CUE more user-friendly over the years has paid off.

The Escalade's impressively quiet environment comes in part from the enhanced use of noise-attenuating materials and processes, including triple-sealed doors, acoustic-laminate glass and Bose Active Noise Cancelation technology. Cadillac says that even the exterior mirrors were carefully shaped in the wind tunnel to reduce wind noise.

The Escalade is loaded with the latest in safety features. The top package for us is the available Drive Assist package offered on the Premium and Platinum editions that features adaptive cruise control among other things. Note that a blindspot information system with cross-traffic alert and lane change alert is standard on the Luxury, Premium and Platinum trim levels.

The Escalade ESV comes in four trims — base, Luxury, Premium and Platinum — starting at $76,965 including destination charge. It would not be difficult to take an all-wheel drive Platinum edition into six-figure territory with the addition of two or three options. Our all-wheel drive Premium edition with several options including 22-inch wheels and power retractable assist steps came to $91,885 including destination.


Base price: $76,965; as driven, $91,885
Engine: 6.2-liter V-8
Horsepower: 420 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 460 pound-feet @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 130 inches
Length: 224.3 inches
Curb weight: 6,040 pounds
Turning circle: 43 feet
Luggage capacity: 39.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity third row folded: 76.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 120.9 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 7,900 pounds (4WD)
Fuel capacity: 31 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 15 mpg city, 21 highway, 17 combined
0-60: 6.0 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Lincoln Navigator L, Mercedes GL-Class, Range Rover

The Good
• Strong V-8 engine
• Excellent towing capability
• Enhanced infotainment system
• Quiet big luxury

The Bad
• Parking lot maneuverability limited

The Ugly
• High cargo floor