Flagship 2015 Cadillac Escalade misses the boat

Large SUV has bling but overlooks a few things

Published: April 26, 2014 09:00 AM

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Now that the revamped 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe, Suburban, and GMC Yukon are out, it’s the Escalade’s turn to make a splash. GM positions this well-dressed behemoth as its flagship SUV, with pricing to start at $72,000. Our model stickered at $85,690, positioning it against such status machines as the Land Rover Range Rover or a Mercedes-Benz GL, and raising expectations.

The new ’Slade certainly looks the part, with chiseled exterior styling and a tastefully finished, leather-laden cabin. But in some ways this flagship misses the boat, as it were.

Let’s start with the engine: The 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8 also serves as the up-level choice for the Yukon Denali. You’d think this powerplant ought to propel this coach smoothly, effortlessly and luxuriously, but it doesn’t.  

It’s not like GM doesn’t already have modern powertrains in the inventory. The Cadillac CTS Vsport has a terrifically potent 420-hp, 3.6-liter turbo V6 and eight-speed auto that might have put the Escalade on more modern footing. And, a supercharged V8 is also in the arsenal. We’ve found that forced induction in other competing vehicles does wonders in terms of low-end torque and midrange punch.

Just like its platform mates, the Escalade is truly quiet inside, with an ambience worthy of a high-end luxury car. Handling is commendable, too, with well-suppressed body lean and responsive steering. Still, the sheer size and bulk of this tall ship is hard to ignore. Furthermore, the very high step-in makes getting in or out an ungracious exercise—with or without the power-retractable running boards, which we found noisy in the new Tahoe.  

This Escalade, rented from the automaker for a fee, has GM’s magnetic ride system as standard equipment; it’s designed to proactively vary the damping level in each shock absorber. On some pavement types it works beautifully, quelling body motions and contributing to a steady sail. But the 22-inch tires tend to transmit rough, rubbery jiggles into the cab, especially on broken pavement.

The cabin looks sumptuous at first glance, and maybe at second glance, too, with its supple leather, abundance of matte-finish wood, and a modern wrap-around dash. Like the revamped Tahoe/Suburban, though, the Escalade uses a big old column shifter that brings all the grace and subtlety of a bumper jack. Other modern luxury SUVs employ more discrete shifters that are low effort and easy to reach. GM tells us that they are looking into a more elegant solution. At least the parking brake is electrically operated instead of using a clunky foot pedal like in the Tahoe and Suburban do.

Clearly, it wouldn’t be a modern Cadillac without the CUE infotainment system. But in the Escalade’s vast cabin, the fiddly touch screen is a far reach and a distant glance away, compounding the inherent ergonomic flaws of the system.

As attractive as Cadillac’s sculpted styling is and as gorgeous as the interior looks, we can’t help feeling that GM missed an opportunity to escalate this new flagship into a world-beater. At this lofty price, bling alone won’t do.  

Gabe Shenhar

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