Cadillac’s $82,795 Escalade Has Brawn Dressed to Impress

Cadillac’s full-size sport-utility vehicle, the Escalade, is all-new for the 2015 model year. Some elements have changed, but its colossal proportions remain the same. The Escalade is one of the few SUVs that makes a Range Rover seem modest in size.

There are longer SUVs, like its Chevrolet Suburban cousin, an aptly named model aimed at Brady Bunch families and their pets. Yet the Escalade lives in a different world -- one where drivers wear black suits and wait for hours outside the hotels and buildings on Central Park South. Some talk into devices in their sleeves and look like they were once “on the job.”

If ex-cops chauffeur many an Escalade owner about town, that’s because the General Motors Co. SUV is tough enough to be part of a security detail and also upscale enough to impart a dose of menacing prestige.

No other American-made SUV is quite as expensive. The model I drove, the 4WD Premium, starts at $82,795 and came to $87,985 with options and $995 destination charge.

That’s a heap of money for a SUV that’s not a Porsche, BMW or Land Rover. Even a well-optioned Lincoln Navigator from Ford Motor Co. with 4x4 comes in under $70,000.

Both the exterior and interior of the Escalade are new. Yet anyone who could previously identify an Escalade will continue to be able to do so. Nonetheless, the details are nice for a vehicle this big. There’s a crisp character line running just below the windows. The grille is bigger and has more bling. Still, Cadillac has reined in excessive chrome additions.

CTS Resemblance

The nose is bordered by a row of stacked LED running lights; the lower ones have a distinctive “L” shape. It plays in nicely with latest design philosophy at Detroit-based GM’s luxury brand. The Escalade has a passing family resemblance to the latest CTS sedan, and that’s a good thing.

How big is it? Well, it’s almost 17 feet (5.2 meters) long and the hood is momentously high. The top of the roof is miles over your head. My test model had 22-inch wheels, which is totally nuts, yet they didn’t look out of proportion to the rest of the truck.

This means that you have to step up to get inside. One trick feature is an optional, $1,695 running board, which automatically descends when you open a door. Its surprise (and welcome) appearance is accompanied by a gentle mechanical hum.

There are three rows of seating. The second row is available as either a bench seat or two bucket seats; the third row will accommodate as many as three passengers. It’s pretty cramped all the way back there, but the lucky people in the second row will have 39 inches (1 meter) of legroom, and those in the very front get more than 45 inches. There’s also almost 39 inches of headroom in the second row. Got a big hat? Come on in!

Space Available

Maximum cargo room is 94.2 cubic feet (2.7 cubic meters). To put that in perspective, a Honda Civic has 12.5 cubic feet. You could basically pack many a Manhattan apartment inside.

The fit and finish on the interior are far better than before, an upside to a company that now pays attention to such things. After all, its customers certainly do. The surfaces are nice to the touch and the digital gauges in front of the driver look very cool indeed. Unfortunately they’re hard to read -- a case of pizazz trumping usefulness.

So too goes Cadillac’s CUE touch-screen infotainment and navigation system, which has also made its way to the Escalade. As on every other model, it’s lousy. Even raising the radio volume is a pain.

New Engine

The 2015 model gets a new engine as well: a 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It is able to deactivate four cylinders under some circumstances, helping efficiency. (It’s “about 17 percent” more efficient on the highway, GM says.) Still, the mileage-per-gallon ratings with four-wheel drive are only 14 in the city and 21 highway. Luckily the tank is capacious (26 gallons), and it at least seems like the fuel gauge takes a long time to empty.

The truck moves along capably and the six-speed automatic rarely hunts for gears, even up steep hills. Cadillac says it gets to 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds. Nonetheless, any vehicle this big has to push a lot of air out of the way at highway speeds and it always feels like it’s fighting against physics. The magnetic suspension compensates for bumps in the road, but passengers will be rolled side to side on fast turns. There’s a “sport” setting, which must have been some engineer’s idea of a joke.

Ultimately, the Escalade is happiest at repose. It’s just posh enough to look at home outside of the Plaza and plush enough to keep occupants happy.

The 2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium at a Glance

Engine: 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: six-speed automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 14 city, 21 highway.

Price as tested: $87,985.

Best feature: A nice place to rest up while your security detail checks out the situation.

Worst feature: Still not exactly a model of efficiency.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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