Traveling in style is pretty easy these days with luxury cars now breaking into the upper-$20,000 price range, but for those who feel that size matters when it comes to true luxury, there are still plenty of land yachts on the market. And when it comes to big luxury, few vehicles do it as well as the 2015 Cadillac Escalade. This luxury behemoth is an icon among wealthy motorists – even if their last name isn’t Kardashian or they’re not “real housewives” – and to see just how important this SUV is to Cadillac, consider the fact that the Escalade name is the only real name left in the luxury brand’s lineup, while monikers like Eldorado, Seville and deVille have since been killed off.

As such, the fourth-generation Escalade pulls out all the stops and is loaded with improved luxury, better styling and more cabin tech, but Cadillac had even more changes in store for its flagship vehicle. Shortly after its launch last year, the 2015 Cadillac received a few updates, including the latest Cadillac badge as well as the eight-speed automatic, and that’s exactly the model that showed up for me to review. Now my neighbors are used to seeing some high-end vehicles cycle through my driveway, but the 2015 Cadillac Escalade seemed to garner a little bit more attention than usual.

Continue reading for the full review.

  • 2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V8
  • Transmission:
    8-speed
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    420
  • MPG(Cty):
    15
  • MPG(Hwy):
    22
  • Torque @ RPM:
    460
  • Displacement:
    6.2 L
  • 0-60 time:
    8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    72970 (Est.)
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive Wallpaper quality
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2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Exterior Test drive
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One reason the Escalade has always been so popular is its in-your-face styling that makes it instantly noticeable whether you’re pulling up to the valet or the convenience store. Above all else, styling is what the 2015 Cadillac Escalade does best.

It’s hard to miss this Escalade no matter which direction you see it from.

Free from the shackle that was Old GM’s cookie-cutter styling department, the new Escalade looks completely different than its lesser 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and 2016 GMC Yukon siblings. It’s hard to miss this Escalade no matter which direction you see it from.

The face of this new Escalade is dominated by the bold, oversized grille, but the highlight of the SUV’s overall exterior design is lighting. Up front, the tall headlights each feature five jewel-like LED elements, and the parking lights/daytime running lights form a stylish, vertical line that seems to cut right through the fascia. Looking at the rear of the Escalade, those taillights might be the most distinctive on the market, stretching from the bumper up to the top of the D-pillar, with slim LED light pipes. Finishing off the Escalade’s signature lighting, even the door handles have thin light strips built into them.

A good sign for Cadillac moving forward, even the minor details of the new Escalade are eye-catching. For starters, the new Cadillac logo adds to the overall styling by taking up less real estate on the grille and liftgate while adding an extra sense of width, and the exterior trim has more of a matte finish rather than looking like bright, cheap chrome. Power-retractable running boards and 22-inch wheels are nice touches as well, but my one true complaint about the new Escalade is the lack of stylish exhaust outlets (such as what was available on the previous-gen Escalade Platinum) factored into the rear fascia.

Interior

2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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So why exactly is the 2015 Escalade worth thousands more than the Tahoe, Yukon or even the 2015 Yukon Denali? Just check out that interior. Although this big Caddy doesn’t have the same pizazz as say a Range Rover or Mercedes SUV, it is still a solid contender in the luxury world and a welcome departure from previous Escalade cabins. With the exception of the column-mounted shift lever (which looks old and tacky but opens up tons of storage space in the center console), there is little to tie the Escalade in with its platform mates, thanks to features like the reconfigurable digital gauge cluster, the capacitive-touch center console, the matte-finished wood accents and, my favorite, the Kona Brown leather. This baseball-glove-like leather has a rich color, soft feel and even smells exquisite... in other words, if you have this much money to spend on a luxury SUV, this $2,000 option package is an easy choice. Even the smallest details, such as the brushed metal accents, bring a nice touch to the interior.

In other words, if you have this much money to spend on a luxury SUV, the $2,000 leather package is an easy choice.

Like the other GM SUVs, the Escalade’s cabin is cavernous with lots of room for seven passengers or easy transformation to maximize cargo space. Cadillac decided to keep the solid rear axle design, but it improved the third-row seat by creating a stadium-style experience. The problem then became a higher-than-normal load height for the cargo area, but it comes with some hidden storage space.

Decked out with the Premium trim package, the Escalade comes standard with lots of technology and convenience goodies. Love it or hate it; the CUE infotainment system looks great but can be frustrating to use. One such example is the motion-sensing icons on the screen that hide out of sight until the driver reaches to touch the screen. The problem here is that it can be somewhat of a distraction for new users not sure where the icons are supposed to be. Other standard features include heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row outboard seats and a Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system with Active Noise Cancelation.

Drivetrain

2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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One area where the Escalade can’t hang with its European is rivals is the engine lineup. The new model year did introduce the 6.2-liter L86 EcoTec3 V-8, which is more powerful and more efficient than the previous Escalade’s L96 V-8, but this is this the only engine option that customers have, whereas rival SUVs like the Mercedes GL class and Range Rover offer a variety of powertrain options, ranging from entry-level to high-horsepower.

A 1 mpg gain on the highway isn’t going to make it any less hated by the Prius-driving crowd.

Even with that slight disadvantage (which might be addressed with a rumored Escalade Vsport), the Escalade’s engine is still strong, with ratings of 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque – an increase of 17 horsepower and 43 pound-feet of torque over the 2014 Escalade.

This engine benefits from direct fuel injection with Active Fuel Management and cylinder deactivation for a decent boost in fuel economy; it’s rated at 15 mpg in the city and 22 mph on the highway for the standard-wheelbase, 4x4 model you see here. The sole weak spot of the drivetrain was the six-speed automatic transmission, which definitely felt even more dated compared to the advanced transmissions found in the newer luxury SUVs. Cadillac replaced it with an eight-speed transmission, and while it allows the 2015 Escalade to boast a 1 mpg gain on the highway, that isn’t going to make it any less hated by the Prius-driving crowd.

Driving Impressions

2015 Cadillac Escalade - Driven High Resolution Interior Test drive
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Like the interior, Cadillac really looked for ways to separate the 2015 Escalade from the other GM SUVs built on the same Arlington, Texas assembly line. For starters, Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control did its best to smooth out the road and make the Escalade feel less like the truck-based SUV that it is. This computer-controlled system reads the road and tunes the dampers accordingly, allowing the Escalade to glide over rough roads and expansion joints with little to no bounce, which is even more impressive considering the 22-inch wheels. Above all else, I was most surprised by how quiet the interior was even at highway speeds.

Above all else, I was most surprised by how quiet the interior was even at highway speeds.

The engine delivers its power smoothly at just about any rpm range, and the eight-speed transmission feels quicker in acceleration than the six-speed without ever feeling like it’s in the wrong gear. Also, if it wasn’t for the instrument gauge indicator, it is almost impossible to tell when cylinder deactivation is in use.

Even though this Escalade 4x4 weighs in at close to three tons, it doesn’t feel that big on the road. The brakes bring the big boss to a stop pretty quick, while the electric power steering makes parking maneuvers a breeze. When the driver isn’t quick enough to brake, the Escalade’s automatic braking is available in both forward and reverse. You’re not going to mistake this for a 2016 Range Rover Sport, but the Escalade is still pretty fun to drive.

Prices

The base price for the 2015 Cadillac Escalade is set at a reasonable $72,970, but start checking the option boxes and this big SUV gets very expensive very fast. For example, this particular Escalade Premium 4x4 carried an as-tested price of $90,355. The good news is that Cadillac doesn’t get quite as out of hand as the German automakers when it comes to option packages, which means that even the loaded-up Escalade ESV Platinum 4x4 still squeaks by with a sub-six-figure price tag.

Competition

Range Rover

2016 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HST High Resolution Exterior
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If there’s any SUV that can challenge the Escalade’s icon status among pop stars and soccer moms, it’s the Range Rover. The Range Rover lineup starts at $84,950 for the new 2016 Land Rover Range Rover Td6 diesel model, and like the Escalade, it is offered in two wheelbase lengths. The one trump card that the Range Rover now owns over pretty much all other luxury SUVs (… for now) is the ultra-lux 2016 Land Rover Range Rover SVAutobiography model, priced at a mind-blowing $199,495.

Read our full review of the Range Rover here.

Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class High Resolution Exterior Spyshots
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The Range Rover might be the most obvious rival for the Escalade in terms of A-list popularity, but the Mercedes GLS-Class is the closest true competitor to the Escalade in terms of its truck-like build and three-row seating. Like the Range Rover, the GLS outdoes the Escalade with a wide variety of trims that starts with a 240-horsepower diesel V-6 and tops out with a 550-horsepower AMG-tuned V-8. Pricing ranges from $63,600 all the way up $119,450.

Read our full review of the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class here.

Conclusion

Yes, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade gets high marks for style, luxury and ride quality, but the best sign that Cadillac is no longer a badge-engineered Chevrolet is the fact that the minimal changes to the Escalade weren’t held for the 2016 Cadillac Escalade. Now, I bet the buyers of the early 2015 Escalade models weren’t exactly thrilled that the updated model came along so soon, but in an industry that revolves around fashion, fast changes need to be made to stay a step ahead of the competition.

After a week with the big Escalade, I came to realize that this SUV is most likely the modern equivalent of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado – minus the huge fins, of course. Luxurious, stylish and unapologetically huge, the new Escalade gives Cadillac that high-quality recognition it hasn’t had in some time. This is the Cadillac of SUVs.

  • Leave it
    • * Only one engine option
    • * Soccer mom/rap star stigma
    • * This level of quality doesn’t come cheap
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