Quick Summary: The fourth-generation, 2015 Cadillac Escalade is all-new, but it's more of a subtle evolution than earlier redesigns. Compared to the Escalade it replaces, the 2015 edition has more power, a far nicer interior and a higher price. Sacrifices were made to cargo capacity and load height for the third row, which now folds flat. Full-time all-wheel drive has also been ditched for 2015. Instead, a part-time 4WD system is optional.
What Is It?
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is a full-size SUV based off the all-new Chevrolet Tahoe that seats seven normally, or eight with the optional second-row bench. The Cadillac features a unique, unmistakably Cadillac exterior and an interior awash with leather, wood and high-tech features. The Escalade now starts at $72,690 for the well-optioned base model and climbs to $83,790 for the top-of-the-line 4WD Premium trim with four-wheel drive that we tested here.
Included in the Premium trim are amenities like a rear-seat entertainment system with a Blu-ray DVD player and additional safety and driver awareness features. Our test vehicle went a little further with optional interior trim, power running boards, optional wheels and more for a sticker price of $87,985.
For those wanting even more space, a long-wheelbase Escalade ESV, based on the Chevrolet Suburban is also available. This XL Escalade adds about $3,000. Both the ESV and "normal" Escalade are available with optional four-wheel drive across all trim levels. The ESV is our pick for shoppers who actually plan to use the third row. The ESV drives nearly the same as the normal Escalade, but offers enough rear passenger room to be a truly useful seven-seater.
The Escalade EXT truck and the Escalade Hybrid have been discontinued.
How Does It Drive?
Look at the list of competitors for the 2015 Escalade and you'll see a bunch of fancy drivetrains. You'll see turbochargers. You'll see superchargers. You'll see overhead cams. You'll see transmissions with seven or eight gears.
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade has none of the above. What it does have is a 6.2-liter V8 and a six-speed automatic. Drive the Escalade for a few days, however, and you'll wonder why those other vehicles even bother.
The V8 cranks out 420 horsepower and a whopping 460 pound-feet of torque. That's not as much as some of its competitors on paper, but this motor has an effortless quality that is unlike the high-strung engines used elsewhere. The Escalade's 0-60 time of 6.4 seconds isn't quite as fast as the more powerful Land Rover Range Rover, but the Escalade never disappoints.
The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and quickly, even if it's down a gear to its competitors. There's also a tow-haul mode and a sport setting that add additional adjustability. We have zero complaints. Great powertrain.
Handling, as one might expect from a vehicle of its size, isn't particularly precise. It weighs 5,848 pounds, has massive 22-inch wheels with all-season tires and is a body-on-frame SUV with 4WD. This translates to steering that is often unnecessarily heavy and annoyingly slow in day-to-day life. Be prepared to turn the wheel a lot.
As for the ride itself, it's good for a 5,800-pound truck with 22-inch wheels. The ride is more surface-dependent than many other vehicles. Smooth pavement and low speeds? Beautifully smooth. Driving on cracked pavement or those fun little frost heaves that bisect most roads in the Snowbelt results in a thunk and a jiggle. This kind of behavior is very familiar to anyone already driving a truck or body-on-frame SUV, but won't meet the ride quality standards of anyone used to a more refined crossover.
Simply put, despite the fancy suspension, the Escalade's truck-based bones means it's not as controlled or as quiet as its main competition.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort, Refinement and Toys?
You can't judge the interior of the 2015 Escalade without reviewing CUE. This is Cadillac's touchscreen-based infotainment-navigation system along with a capacitive touchpad for heating, ventilation, etc.
This system has never been ideal, and isn't great here either. It's slow to respond, which often leads to pressing the same button multiple times to make things work. This lack of confidence means that basic functions like adjusting the fan speed require you to take your eyes off the road more than we like. Even the steering wheel controls are slow and lack any sort of confirmation.
Our test vehicle had the optional $2,000 Kona Brown leather with jet black accents. The leather itself is lovely, but the seats are flat, featureless and have disproportionality short seat bottoms. On the other hand, the open-pore wood that comes with this interior is as impressive as any wood we've seen in a sub-$200,000 vehicle. We only wish there were more of it.
How Safe Is It?
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade has received five stars for side crash protection and three stars for rollover protection in testing by NHTSA. The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe, on which the Escalade is based, received five stars for frontal crash protection by the same agency.
Adding to the Premium-trim Escalade's safety cred are a litany of driver-safety features including dual-stage front airbags; head curtain airbags; side-impact airbags; an automatic collision mitigation braking system; automatic seatbelt tightening; adaptive cruise control; forward collision alert; lane departure warning; cross-traffic warning; and GM's OnStar suite including automatic crash response, emergency services and crisis assist.
And while it's not directly safety related, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade has a dominatingly high seating position that allows a wonderful forward view as well as ultra-bright full-LED headlights. The brakes are solid as well, as the big SUV required only 131 feet to stop from 60 mph. There was some nosedive, but nothing dramatic.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The EPA says the 2015 Cadillac Escalade with 4WD will get 16 mpg combined (14 city/21 highway), but we managed just 13.9. Our best tank, achieved during our evaluation loop, was 14.9 mpg. We usually get EPA or better on this loop, which just shows this truck's aversion to inclines and stop-start situations.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Infiniti QX80: This less expensive option is worthy of consideration for its potent engine and towing ability, but third-row space is smaller than average. It does have a more engaging and carlike feel from behind the wheel, though.
Land Rover Range Rover: Notable for its off-road prowess and more luxurious interior, but comes up short in terms of cargo space, it lacks a third row and it's quite a bit more expensive.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class: Perhaps the only thing on the road with as much visual punch as the Escalade, the G-Class doesn't offer as many seats, but has more available horsepower.
Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: Residing at the top of the list of challengers, it benefits from a broader choice of engines including a fuel-efficient diesel option. The GL also showcases Mercedes' reputation for fine craftsmanship and quality. Similarly equipped, the Benz will set you back an additional $10,000 and feels like it The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class received an A rating from us.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is currently the apex of American luxury. It's big, it's bold and it ticks all the boxes all the other lux SUVs do. It's got a fantastic motor. It'll tow a boat. It'll annoy your Prius-driving neighbor.
When your money's on the table, though, the only logical reason to consider the 2015 Cadillac Escalade is because you really, really want it and don't care about the cost. Can you put a price on having that face in your driveway?
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you do care about the cost, however, there are better options than the new Escalade, some within GM's own stable. Consider the GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali. They have their own unique style and the same 6.2-liter V8, 22-inch wheels and fancy features as the Escalade. You don't get the Cadillac name, but you do get all the same capability for around $15,000 less.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.