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Sunday, November 9, 2014

2015 Cadillac Escalade review: The fellowship of the bling


2015 Cadillac Escalade
 It was 1963 when blues musician Tony Glover found a song manuscript lay on the table at his friend’s apartment. He skimmed through the lyrics: "Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call/Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall..." Glover didn’t buy it, and turned to Bob Dylan and laid forth his concern about the track being too anthemic.
Bob was unfazed. He knew what the people wanted.

Today, it has become evident that people don’t want hefty SUVs. The period where Cadillac could sell 60,000 Escalades a year is over, with buyers opting for smaller, more versatile forms of transportation. The reworked 2015
Cadillac Escalade has helped boost sales somewhat, but with the past few years hovering at around 1,000 units per month, Dylan’s theory translates here too: There’s young blood in town, and times are now different.

Given the minor reworkings on the new Escalade, it’s as if Cadillac knows this too. You can’t turn Jaws into a goldfish, so why try? The market for three-ton, body-on-frame megatrucks is dwindling, but it does still exist. And the Escalade nametag holds weight. Sales targets may have shifted somewhat, but it’s the one car in the brand’s lineup that remains clearly defined.

I drove the new rig 1,500 miles to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and back. Prior to my trip, a neighbor asked me who buys Cadillacs these days. He presumed it remains a brand for old men – ones that remember Bob’s anthem hitting the charts in ’65, no doubt. But the Escalade: “That’s for younger folk,” he said. “Rappers, probably.”

Yes, it’s hideously stereotypical, but it does show that the ATS and CTS haven’t fully escaped the orbit of those who favor whitewall tires and vinyl roofs. Meanwhile, the Escalade is still thought of as flashy truck that makes a statement. Which is precisely what it is.

Driving the big SUV feels similar to the outgoing model. At 420 hp, the 6.2-liter V-8 shared with the Corvette arrives to produce a tad more power and better efficiency — thanks to clever tricks like cylinder deactivation. And while it boasts an EPA-rated 21 mpg on the highway, in reality, you’ll spend most of your time in the mid-to-upper teens. But you will now sprint to 60 mph in less than six seconds.


Magnetic Ride Control suspension produces a more composed demeanor, and the subtle tweaks to the exterior and new lush interior appointments ensure the Escalade is a lovely place to spend time. The key for the Escalade has always been about defining itself as more than just an expensive Tahoe. And for 2015, even with a new Tahoe on dealers’ lots too, it’s achieved just that.

The most basic Escalade starts at $73,965 in rear-wheel drive trim. The big dog Platinum ESV (long wheelbase) all-wheel drive model starts at $95,870. That’s in line with SUVs like the
Range Rover and Mercedes GL-Class, but those feel like different machines altogether.

Granny with Escalade
Granny with Escalade
That’s because the Escalade is positively massive; my grandmother-in-law posed for a picture next to the truck and looked like a pet Hobbit. I was loaned the Platinum all-wheel drive Escalade, but not the longer ESV version. With the third row seats up, the luggage space is good only for a tube of Sensodyne and a spare pair of Calvins. You need more? Tough.

My family’s
Ford Flex fits more behind its third row — a lot more. And that confused me. Why am I in such a big-ass truck and why do I have so little usable space? Sure, legroom is great, and if I sprouted an extra couple of feet due to my planned Russian leg-lengthening procedure my head would have ample room too. But most of it is wasted, and that wastes fuel. And it ensures you barely fit between the white lines in the road. And, yes, it makes my grandmother-in-law look like Bilbo bloody Baggins.

I’ll admit, I don’t see the need for such a massive SUV. My wife, however, was unfazed. She simply enjoyed the luxurious, smooth-running growl of the Escalade, and digged its ability to make a statement. The only negative she found was its lackluster all-wheel drive system; on a thick muddy road in the forests near Houghton, Mich., the Escalade struggled desperately to find traction (tires were likely a large contributor to our troubles, too).
 But other than that, we both found the Caddy lived up to expectations for a big SUV that, optioned up, costs close to $100,000. I enjoyed my time in it immensely. I was sad to see it go, even. But you can now spend less money, save more fuel, and haul bigger things in a smaller package.

Bob was right. And while the people have spoken, like Glover, there are a few that aren't ready to see the times change again.