What's New for 2012
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade gets minor enhancements to its navigation system.
There are big SUVs, and then there's the 2012 Cadillac Escalade. There are luxury SUVs, and then there's the Escalade. You could buy any number of more sensible and all-around better vehicles instead, but there's just no substitute for the Escalade's visual presence and grand celebration of wealth and power.
The Escalade is the king of General Motors' full-size truck and SUV platform. It shares its basic body structure and dimensions with the Chevy Tahoe, but from there thorough upgrades make it so much more than just a rebadging exercise (unlike early Escalades). The 403-horsepower V8 gets the Escalade up to speed quicker than you'd expect from something so big. The suspension is adaptive, allowing for a more compliant and controlled ride. The styling obviously sports Cadillac's unique brand of pomp, but it's the interior that demonstrates a more luxurious aesthetic.
That said, there are still significant practical drawbacks. First of all, the third-row seat is cramped and uncomfortable for the middle passenger and must be physically removed should you need extra cargo space. The third-row seat in most competing vehicles folds neatly into the floor. The Escalade is also unwieldy on tighter roads, suffers from lackluster brakes and is very thirsty. There's also its perennial placement atop the list of most-stolen vehicles. In light of these drawbacks, it would be wise to check out the Infiniti QX56, Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and Porsche Cayenne. Each would be more sensible in one way or another than the 2012 Cadillac Escalade. But then again, none of them would equal its particular celebration of ostentation.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade is a full-size SUV available in Base, Luxury, Premium and Platinum Edition trim levels. It comes standard with seating for seven, but all except the Platinum can be fitted with a second-row bench seat that increases capacity to eight. Other Escalade variants -- the Hybrid, the extended-length ESV and the pickup-style EXT -- are reviewed separately.
The base Escalade comes standard with 18-inch wheels, an adaptive and auto-leveling suspension, a locking rear differential, a tow package, rear parking sensors, a power liftgate, automatic xenon headlights, foglamps and heated mirrors with power-folding and driver-side dimming. Interior features include remote ignition, tri-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-only steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, heated and ventilated 10-way power front seats with four-way lumbar adjustment, driver memory functions, heated second-row captain's chairs, leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Additional features include a rearview camera, Bluetooth, OnStar, a navigation system, a touchscreen interface, real-time traffic and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD/DVD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB audio interface, rear audio controls and two rear headphone jacks.
The Escalade Luxury adds 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels, a magnetically controlled adaptive suspension, automatic high beams, a blind-spot warning system, a sunroof, power flip-and-fold second-row seats and a heated steering wheel. Options include power-retractable side steps and a rear-seat entertainment system with a single display.
The Escalade Premium adds the above options plus body-colored styling components in place of chrome, dual exhaust outlets and painted wheels.
The Escalade Platinum Edition gets a unique grille and wheels, LED headlamps, upgraded leather upholstery, extended leather interior trim, upgraded interior trim, heated and cooled cupholders and a different rear-seat entertainment system with twin headrest-mounted screens.
Powertrains and Performance
The Escalade comes with a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 403 hp and 417 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard, but all-wheel drive is optional.
In Edmunds performance testing, an all-wheel-drive Escalade took just 7.5 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph, a relatively impressive number for a vehicle this size. Properly equipped, two-wheel-drive versions can tow a healthy 8,300 pounds. Fuel economy, as you might guess, is pretty dismal. The EPA estimates 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 13/18/15 with all-wheel drive.
Standard safety features on the Escalade include stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, front side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and OnStar emergency telematics. A blind-spot warning system is standard on all but the base model.
In Edmunds brake testing, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade came to a stop from 60 mph in a disappointing 144 feet; this is poor even for a full-size luxury SUV. In government crash tests, the Escalade earned an overall rating of four stars (out of five), with five stars for both overall frontal and side crash protection. Its three-star rollover score resulted in its lower overall rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Escalade's cabin, highlighted by supple leather upholstery and attractive faux-wood and alloy trim, looks and feels more luxurious than what you'd find in a Tahoe or Yukon. The gauges and controls are well placed and intuitive in their operation, and there are plenty of luxurious features to keep you and your passengers comfortable and entertained.
In its standard seven-passenger configuration, the big Caddy features second-row captain's chairs and a three-person third-row bench seat. Adding the available second-row bench raises total seating capacity to eight. However, the 50/50-split third-row seats don't provide much legroom and the middle passenger must sit atop the gap between seats. The third-row seats also don't fold neatly into the floor as in most other SUVs. Instead, owners looking to carry bulky items are forced to either fold and tumble the entire assembly forward -- eating up precious cargo space -- or remove the heavy seats entirely.
If you choose to remove the third-row seats, you'll end up with a cavernous 60.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats. Fold those second-row seats down and the cargo capacity grows to an impressive 108.9 cubic feet.
On the road, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade delivers swift acceleration at all speeds thanks to its big V8. Its handling inspires confidence, especially with the active Magnetic Ride Control suspension, though you'll still never mistake the Escalade for anything other than a truck-based SUV. You will appreciate the ride quality, though, as it remains comfortable even with the larger 22-inch wheels. A relatively tight 39-foot turning circle helps with overall drivability, but maneuvering in tight quarters can be a chore despite the aid of the standard rearview camera.