Taking a look at the 2016 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(March 6, 2016) Let me get this out of the way right at the beginning. I’ve never been a big fan of the Cadillac Escalade. Whether it’s the size, the fact that it’s a well appointed but very expensive version of the Chevy Suburban, the hip-hop imagery, etc., etc., etc., I never could get excited about this vehicle. And while I still cannot imagine myself owning this full-size SUV, I have to admit, it has its positives.

Let’s start with the fact that the latest Escalade is chiseled and handsome. The sharp edges, strong character lines and powerfu
l stance do away with the bling of the previous generations and replace it with a quiet elegance. The vertical taillights frame the powered hatch, while the wiper and washer hide behind the spoiler overhanging the frameless rear window. And the dual-spoke aluminum 22-in. wheels not only fill the wheel wells, they add to the design instead of standing apart from it. This is a tasteful, integrated design.

For the most part, this holds true for the interior. The wide swaths of leather are highlighted by chrome, wood and suede inserts. Unlike its Chevy and GMC stablemates, the instrument panel flows from A-pillar to A-pillar, and integrates the piano black center stack under a stitched leather instrument cluster hood that sweeps away toward the windshield.

It’s not perfect — there are too many seams, the glovebox door should be the lower edge of the instrument panel and not cut into it, and the inductive charger cut into the center console/arm rest looks like it was styled by Rubbermaid — but it’s much better looking than anything Cadillac has done before.

Moving rearward, the twin heated captain’s chairs are very comfortable and, more importantly, are easy to fold flat and fold out of the way for entrance to the third row. And third row passengers won’t feel as though they are stowaways as the power reclining 60:40 third row seats are not uncomfortable. You may not want to go across country back there, but you won’t mind most short- and medium-length trips.

If you’re the driver, you also won’t mind the drive. The Escalade devours long stretches of highway effortlessly, prodded on by a 420 hp/460 lb.-ft. 6.2-liter V8 that can genuinely return 21 mpg under these conditions. With a 26-gallon tank, that’s 442 if you use every last drop; 400 if you are willing to go to the fuel warning light. Around town, the EPA rates the Escalade at 15 mpg, a number which depends on how aggressive you are with the throttle. Drive it with the restraint of an English chauffeur, and you should be able to equal that number as the eight-speed automatic shifts up the range to the highest practicable gear. Get a little frisky, or haul a lot of people and things, and that number will drop.

But what about the ride and handling, you say. How does this body-on-frame behemoth measure up? For such a large vehicle, the Escalade steers surprisingly well. You won’t feel like taking it to the local road course, but you also won’t be passing out Dramamine to your passengers or sawing at the wheel like a crazed seafarer in a storm to make it go around a corner.

In fact, you and your passengers might be pleasantly surprised at how well — and quickly — it can go around corners. What you won’t be impressed with is the slight “tremor” that makes itself felt on surface changes and at certain speeds. The engineers have done a very good job of isolating the frame from the body without having to go to ridiculously soft bushings between the two, but the stiffer bushings used — which help the ride and handling immensely — will transmit forces back into the cabin. This subtle tremor spreads longitudinally before dissipating as quickly as it arises, and is noticeable only because the rest of the time the Escalade performs so well.

Unfortunately, it is joined by a “shudder” that comes from the powertrain as it ambles around town, trying to eke out the best gas mileage by shifting to a higher gear as soon as possible. They are minor concerns, but ones that should not be in a vehicle that, in this instance, starts at $84,070 and retails for $87,360.

This is an expensive vehicle, and one that brings enormous profits per unit to General Motors. It feels like a rolling apartment complex in the city and especially in crowded parking lots, but is king of the highway. If you have the need for a luxury SUV with 94.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, often carry three or more passengers, are looking to accelerate from 0-60 mph (unladen) in less than six seconds, and need the robustness and towing capacity of a body-on-frame truck-based vehicle, this may be the one for you.

Just don’t expect the absolute ultimate in terms of refinement in each and every situation. It’s just not possible to create the ultimate workhorse and luxo barge from truck parts. However, it is possible to create a surprisingly nice, if somewhat pricey, luxury SUV. And that Cadillac has done.

The Virtual Driver