First Times Drive: Cadillac’s 2015 Escalade can’t hide humble roots

The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is based on the more humble Chevy Tahoe, itself based on GM's trucks. Though the Cadillac is sharply designed, comfortable, and quiet, it can't mask its roots like an $88,000 luxury SUV should.
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is based on the more humble Chevy Tahoe, itself based on GM’s trucks. Though the Cadillac is sharply designed, comfortable, and quiet, it can’t mask its roots like an $88,000 luxury SUV should.
(General Motors)

Consider the new Cadillac Escalade lipstick on a cow.

The full-size SUV, redesigned for 2015 and on sale now, is an attempt by General Motors’ luxury division to run with the heavyweights of the SUV world. Think Land Rover Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz GL, Lexus LX and Infiniti QX80.

But after a week testing a loaded Escalade Premium AWD -- yours for a cool $87,985 -- it was clear that no amount of chrome or wood could hide the SUV’s humble roots as a GM truck. The unrefined chassis doesn’t measure up in this premium segment, in which competitors have a bank-vault solidity the Caddy can’t match.

As with the three previous generations of the Escalade, this new version is based on the immensely profitable Chevy Tahoe we tested recently. That SUV, in turn, is based on GM’s pickups. The modest underpinnings make the Tahoe a cash cow that analysts say rakes in at least $10,000 in profit per vehicle.


The pot only gets sweeter on the Escalade. The basics are largely the same as the cheaper Tahoe and the mid-level GMC Yukon -- stout V-8, seating for seven or eight, huge towing capacity.

Cadillac throws in a brash American exterior, a Texas acre’s worth of interior leather, and a trove of high-tech features. The result is a vehicle that looks good, coddles passengers and prints money for GM.

But $90,000? Really?

On paper, the Escalade ticks all the right luxury boxes. A 6.2-liter V-8, donated by the GMC Yukon Denali, pumps out 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It’s strapped to a six-speed automatic transmission with a tow mode.

With more than 5,800 pounds to move, the V-8 does a decent job of motivating the Escalade. Cadillac says our four-wheel-drive model will do zero-to-60 mph in less than 6 seconds, though it felt slower in real world driving.

It’s also relatively efficient, thanks to direct injection and cylinder deactivation, which switches four of the eight engine cylinders off under light loads. The EPA rates our tester at 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, up from 13 and 18 mpg, respectively. Our week of testing on more freeways than city streets averaged 19 mpg.

The powertrain can also tow 8,100 pounds, enough to beat the Mercedes, Range Rover and Lexus, Cadillac says. But the transmission and throttle don’t feel as crisp or eager as those country-club models.

All Escalades come standard with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control, a suspension system that continuously adjusts stiffness based on road conditions. There’s a Normal and Sport mode, with the actual difference being less obvious than your dealer would concede.


Although the overall ride of the Escalade is comfortable, there’s a low-rent chatter to the vehicle over bumps. It’s the kind that is expressly verboten in other luxury marques, and unworthy of the price tag.

The rest of the riding/driving experience is plenty luxurious. Real leather, suede and wood are mixed stylishly together, and our tester had an additional $2,000 worth of deliciously soft perforated leather seats.

While the middle bucket seats offer gobs of room and comfort (with their own climate system), the power-folding rear seats are tight on space for adults. Kids will be fine. The ESV version also returns for 2015. It uses 14 inches of extra length for more space in the third row and nearly double the cargo room out back.

A basic rear-wheel-drive Escalade starts at $73,685. AWD is an additional $1,600. Every model comes with power folding third-row seats, heated front and middle seats, Cadillac’s 8-inch CUE touchscreen infotainment system, 12-inch digital instrument panel and a 16-speaker stereo system.


There’s also a clever new air-bag system that inflates between the two front passengers to keep them from knocking into each other in a side impact. It’s one of seven air bags, and because our tester was the loaded Premium model, more advanced safety features abound.

These include automatic collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and a driver’s seat that vibrated to alert of hazards near the SUV.

The outside of the Escalade continues to eschew subtlety; its presence on the road is unmistakable. The chrome grille is wider and more pronounced, and the headlights are now full LED with daytime elements that run up from the bumper over the front quarter panel.

Out back, intricate LED taillights run from the bumper to the top of the rear window. All told, the Escalade’s look is cleaner, bolder and more modern while being undeniably Cadillac.


It’s style from a company confident in its future. Cadillac is hitting its stride in the luxury world, not just for its looks, but execution as a whole. The compact ATS and mid-size CTS make this clear.

There’s a lot to like in this new Escalade too. But the luxury outerwear just isn’t enough to cover up its blue-collar bones.