Ever since 1999, Cadillac’s top SUV has earned a reputation for audacious excess. The latest versions have eased up on brashness and bling, but there’s still nothing subtle about an Escalade. Structurally similar to a Chevrolet Suburban/Tahoe, the Escalade retains traditional trucklike construction.

Pricing and Equipment

Starting at $74,590 (destination charge included), the Escalade comes in standard-length or extended (ESV) form. Four trim levels are available: base, Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum. Each contains a 6.2-liter direct-injected V8 that develops 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, working with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear-drive is standard, but four-wheel drive is available for $3,000 additional. An extended-length ESV edition costs $3,000 more than a standard-wheelbase Escalade. Automatic parking assist is newly available.

An Escalade with Luxury trim includes:

  • Driver Awareness Package (forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic headlights)
  • Full LED lighting
  • Heated seats and mirrors
  • Leather upholstery with wood trim
  • Hands-free liftgate
  • Bose surround-sound
  • 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
  • CUE infotainment with navigation
  • Magnetic Ride Control
  • 22-inch alloy wheels

Performance Pros

Cadillac Escalade
  • Strong V8 powertrain delivers surprisingly swift responses. Acceleration to 60 mph takes only about six seconds – a startling figure for a vehicle approaching three tons.
  • Smooth-shifting automatic transmission.
  • Standard Magnetic Ride Control yields ride quality that rivals the leaders in this vehicle class.
  • An Escalade can tow as much as 8,300 pounds with confidence.

Performance Cons

  • EPA-estimated fuel economy is as meager as 17 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving – an Escalade can hardly be called thrifty. Take its weight and performance into account, however, and that figure doesn’t sound quite so bad.
  • Nimble or sporty the Escalade is not. Its truck-based chassis can impede cornering ability, as well as ride quality – though the ride is generally quite pleasing.

Interior Pros

Cadillac Escalade
  • Front seats are heated and cooled, even in base trim, upholstered in leather that feels good and appears durable.
  • CUE infotainment operates like a tablet computer, with a 12.3-inch display, responding to voice, touch, or “swipe” gestures. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
  • Massive cargo space. Standard-length model has 15.2 cubic feet behind the third row, versus 39.3 for the ESV, which is 20 inches longer than the regular Escalade.
  • Plenty of sound insulation, along with Bose active noise cancellation, keeps the cabin quiet.

Interior Cons

  • Separate second-row seats are a bit narrow and not quite as fully padded as expected, which could impair comfort on a long trip.
  • Cargo floor is higher than in Escalade’s competitors – which might actually help loading/unloading of heavier items.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

In addition to voluminous, luxurious interiors, today’s Escalades are way more refined, tasteful, and swift-performing than any of their predecessors.

A new standard rearview “mirror” is actually a display screen, connected to a camera in the liftgate. Getting accustomed to it takes a bit of time, which some drivers might consider a less-pleasant surprise.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Cost. Considering the Escalade’s close physical relationship to a Chevrolet Tahoe, this Cadillac commands additional tens of thousands of dollars for fancier amenities and luxuries. In addition, NHTSA has given Escalade only a four-star rating overall and for frontal crash (five-star for side impact).

The Bottom Line

Even people who care little about cars often know that Escalade has long been a cultural icon, due to its flamboyant details and imposing presence. Few cars are as recognizable – or as sought-after by thieves. The Luxury trim should be a wise choice, because of its collection of active-safety features.