Few vehicles can equal the imposing declaration of Brobdingnagian bling that marks the arrival of a Cadillac Escalade. From its jewel-like headlights to the giant chrome wheels and roof-to-bumper LED taillights, the Escalade is designed to tell hoi polloi that you've made it -- and they haven't.
But while it's easy to understand the Escalade's snob appeal elite, this SUV's luxury is disappointingly skin deep.
On the way to the red carpet, driving this showboat feels far from luxurious. The Escalade simply floundered in our driving tests. The Escalade's ride atop those shiny 22-inch rims is rather stiff. The driving position feels wedged between the overstuffed center console and the thickly padded door panel.
Stopping distances outstretch other full-sized SUVs. In emergency maneuvers, the Escalade is unusually slow and ungainly. That may seem self-evident for such a behemoth, but the Escalade makes the Lincoln Navigator, and even the Escalade's overgrown little brother Chevrolet Suburban, feel almost graceful by comparison. And every time you go to the mall, parking the Caddy feels like docking the supertanker it takes to fuel this leviathan.
The Escalade's standard 6.2-liter V8 brings the thrust necessary to motivate this beast. But at 16 mpg overall, its fuel economy is no leap forward.
So, how does the Escalade treat your posse? The second-row seats leave your VIP passengers feeling like they're flying coach, and the third-row is simply cramped and awkward.
Can you make a ladylike arrival when you exit the doors in this beast? Most of our staffers appreciated the optional power running boards to give shorter occupants an assist. Taller folks, though, found the boards just got in the way.
If you need more space and a comfortable third row, choose the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV, which is based on the longer Suburban. However, that will set you back an extra $3,000 -- and at over $88,000, our standard-length Escalade is already well into Range Rover territory.
There is no doubt the Escalade is extremely quiet and plush, with a natty interior finished in hand-stitched leather, with a choice of walnut, elm or Santos wood trim. Power folding second- and third-row seats make loading your loot a snap.
Still, for a brand that likes to brag about technology, the CUE infotainment system is infuriating -- even for something as basic as finding your smartphone's music selections. And the column shifter feels sadly old-fashioned.
If you're looking for a big chrome-and-black bus to haul your entourage, the humbler Chevrolet Suburban does a better job. Compared to the 'Slade, the Suburban has a more comfortable third-row seat, plenty of cargo space, and a better driving position and ride. And at $17,000 less, you won't miss any critical amenities beyond the intimidation of the Escalade's sparkly bits. You may lose some style points as you disembark, but you'll arrive far more comfortable and composed.