July 24, 2014 10:45 AM | By Jeremy Sinek for MSN Autos

2015 Cadillac Escalade first drive



2015 Cadillac Escalade EXT (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)
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  • 2015 Cadillac Escalade EXT (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)
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2015 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Love it or loathe it, Escalade stays true to itself

2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV (© Photo: Jermey Sinek)

Toronto, Ont. -- The Cadillac Escalade certainly wasn’t the first luxury SUV. It wasn’t even the first really big luxury SUV. Rushed into production for the 1999 model year as a response to the Lincoln Navigator, the original Escalade was little more than a hastily rebadged GMC Denali.

Two redesigns later, the Escalade has arguably become the most iconic nameplate among its breed -- albeit not always in a good way. While it was quickly adopted as the “it” truck among celebrities, it also became stereotyped as the official company car of rather nefarious types. Perhaps more than any other vehicle on the road, it’s the boss of bling.

Following the recent re-do of the Chev/GMC full-size pickups and SUVs that share Escalade’s engineering genes, the Generation 4 Escalade and Escalade ESV (extended) are now in showrooms. And Cadillac hasn’t messed with the formula. Cadillac cars may have undergone a personality transplant in recent years, but the Escalade is still big, brash and unashamedly a truck.

In GM’s own words, the new design is defined by craftsmanship, emotional design and luxury, as well as new safety and connectivity technologies. A quieter cabin, smoother performance and more efficient powertrain also get a mention. Oddly, the press release cites the 6.2-litre V8’s near-five-per cent increase in power (now 420) and 10-per cent torque boost (to 460 lb.-ft.) – and even quotes a 0-60-mph (96 km/h) time of 5.96 seconds -- but passes over the quite-impressive fuel-economy gains of eight per cent city, 17 per cent highway and 13 per cent combined. You’d think Cadillac would proudly promote gains of this order, but I guess fuel economy and associated issues like climate change and energy conservation aren’t on the radar of most Escalade prospects.

Related links: 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban first drive

See and be seen

2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)

Other than that all-important high-and-haughty driving position, there’s relatively little emphasis on the driving experience, either. More important are the external image the Escalade presents to the world, and the internal environment it presents to the occupants.

Beyond its sheer size, and the assertive grille, the re-sculpted design features full LED lighting – headlamps included – front and rear. Less obvious is a re-structuring of the body sides that enlarges the rear door opening, for much-improved access to the rear seats. Power folding of the third-row seat is now standard, as is second-row power release on the top two trim levels.

The cabin decor has been made over in line with the excellent corporate look on Cadillac’s recently re-done sedans. Cut-and-sewn leather and genuine trim accents create an opulent environment, and three trim colours are offered – all black; a light beige called Shale with cocoa accents; and Kona Brown with black accents.

Equipment levels start high, even on the base 1SA trim ($79,900, or $82,900 for the ESV), which is considered the fleet model and apparently accounts for only four percent of sales. Above-and-beyond standard amenities include a hands-free power liftgate, CUE Infotainment including navigation, Bose 16-speaker audio with active noise cancellation, 14-way power driver’s seat, power-adjustable pedals, heated and cooled front seats, and heated steering wheel.

Building your Collection

2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV (© Photo: Jeremy Sinek)

The intermediate $85,500 Luxury trim – sorry, Collection – adds 22-inch wheels (20s are standard), Head-Up Display, power sunroof, and a Driver Awareness Package that includes a laundry list of passive alerts such as Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert.  For another $5K, the Premium Collection adds a rear-seat entertainment system and a Driver Assist Package comprising mostly active electronic co-drivers such as adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.

Still missing from the driver-assist list is active lane keeping: that apparently will be included in the yet-to-be-revealed Platinum Collection, along with an eight-speed automatic transmission and who knows what other hedonistic wonders of modern automobility.

On the grease and gears mechanical side the Escalade shares with Tahoe/Suburban/Yukon such advances as electric power steering, a stiffer body-and-frame structure, and new brakes with corrosion-resistant Duralife rotors. The 6.2-litre V8 also adopts the EcoTec3 engine technology -- variable cam timing, direct injection, and enhanced Variable Fuel Management -- previously seen on its 5.3-litre sibling. The six-speed automatic carries over, as does the basic suspension configuration, still with a beam axle out back (competitors long-ago upgraded to independent rear suspension). As some compensation for the throw-back rear-suspension, the chassis does benefit from GM’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control dampers with Tour and Sport modes.

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