Cadillac will be the first to admit that its flagship 2015 Cadillac Escalade SUV is not setting record sales numbers right now, but neither is any full-size luxury SUV. A long time ago, in a land where gas was cheap, these oversized rides roamed the highways of America like great buffalo herds. But, as we all know too well, fuel prices often dictate vehicle size. As pump numbers climbed, big SUVs fell out of favor. Drivers became enamored with hybrids, EVs, and other small-engined glorified golf carts, and big SUVs were vilified worse than eating carbohydrates.
Even though we downsized, there were many who didn’t want to follow the herd. They loved their big SUVs that provided plenty of room for passengers and cargo, the ability to tow great loads, and a commanding view of the road ahead. Because of dwindling sales, however, domestic product planners had a hard time convincing the brass to give them the budget to make major redesigns, which meant both American luxury SUVs remained unchanged for years.
Cadillac and Lincoln, however, have loyal customers in this segment, and at some point understood they had to modernize their vehicles or risk buyers moving elsewhere. At these low numbers, losing any customers might kill the nameplate, and neither domestic manufacturer wants that to happen. So both Lincoln and Cadillac are introducing updated versions of their full-size SUVs this year. The biggest difference between them, however, is that the Navigator is getting refreshed with a new fascia, updated technologies and a new EcoBoost engine, while the Cadillac Escalade is 100 percent new for 2015.
The luxury SUV market is one of the most interesting in the segment. These vehicles are expensive; the Infiniti QX80 loaded is around $80,000, while the Mercedes-Benz GL550 is over $90,000, and the fourth-generation Escalade fully optioned will sit at around $88,000. Buyers who choose these models say that fuel economy is on the radar, but not a primary consideration when making the purchase/lease. If they can afford this ride, fuel prices come with the territory. So what’s the underlying reason why these vehicles fell out of favor? More than likely, peer pressure to drive something more environmentally friendly.
The good news for Cadillac is that the 2015 Escalade and Escalade ESV will give you both great capability and fuel economy. So tell those secretly envious Prius owners to shut up.
The all-new Cadillac Escalade’s underpinnings can be traced to the new Chevrolet Silverado and Tahoe, much like you can trace your lineage to a cave dweller. You both have arms, legs, and a torso, but the rest of the package has evolved drastically. And since Cadillac is the top dog in the GM family, the answer is yes to everything, including class-leading features, technology, and power.
To say the Escalade’s new fascia is pretty is an understatement. The shiny chrome on the grille is gone, replaced by a satin finish that makes the Escalade more elegant than blingy — a welcome change. And the unique lighting elements are worthy of a story all their own. Full LEDs front and rear in Cadillac’s signature vertical format look great, day or night. The stacked fivecrystal-lens low beams create a bright, wide pattern, and the separate strip of four stacked lenses that make up the high beams feature Total Internal Reflection, which bounce the light out and are almost blindingly white. Although we didn’t get a chance to drive the Escalade at night, we did get to see the different settings illuminated.
Lighting elements play a big part in the new Escalade, with inset LED trim on the door handles of the Premium Collection, standard illuminated door sills, and full-height vertical LED taillamps that are plenty bright in the daytime.
Except for the doors (excluding handles), roof and floors that are shared across the platform, the rest is unmistakably Cadillac. The rear liftgate now offers a hands-free power function that operates via a foot movement underneath the rear bumper, 20- or 22-inch wheels and tires are standard depending on trim, and optional retractable power running boards make for easier entry and exit.
Inside is even more Cadillac-y, with beautifully worked hand cut and sewn leather, real wood veneers, and state-of-the-art entertainment and connectivity systems like CUE, a configurable instrument panel, power adjustable pedals and steering column, pushbutton start with remote start on the keyfob, five USB ports, 14-way power front heated and cooled seats, and a heated steering wheel.
There are three interior trims that can’t be mixed and matched; however, the trims we saw, we liked. Our favorite was the Kona brown interior mated with unvarnished Elm wood trim.
The other big news for 2015 on the Cadillac Escalade is the switch to power-folding third-row seats. Although not new to the segment, they will be a big reason for current Escalade customers to move without hesitation to the new model. It’s no secret that the previous third-row removable seats were quite popular with thieves as well as owners. With the change to power seats, there’s nothing to break into the vehicles for anymore. We notified our police friends of the update, and they were beyond thrilled to hear this news. The seats fold fast, in about four seconds, and raise just as quickly. There are also release buttons in the rear cargo area next to the power-seat switches that will drop the second-row seats flat or pop them into to a fold-up position against the front-row seatbacks. The second-row seats have to be manually put back into position, however.
Other interior touches we appreciated included a huge center storage compartment large enough to fit a laptop, the secret dash compartment with USB port for storing/hiding an ipod or other small items, the comfortable steering wheel, and roominess that only comes with big SUVs.