To the dismay of old-time auto aficionados, Cadillac a few years back abandoned the traditional, classic names for its lineup and has followed the trend in the luxury segment of using alphanumeric combinations instead.
Like the huge tail fins of the past, gone are such revered names such as DeVille, Eldorado, Seville, and some not-so-revered like Allante, Catera, Cimarron, replaced by three-letter combinations ATS, CTS, and STS and the coming CT6 sedan.
Only one survives: the Escalade SUV and its bigger brother, the Escalade ESV.
Though according to at least one source it may be losing its grip on the hip-hop crowd, the Escalade remains the big bully on the block in the luxury SUV segment. Introduced as a 1999 model, it moves into its fourth generation for 2015 with an updated but familiar exterior look and the latest technologies in an elegant package on the inside.
There is nothing shy or reserved about the Navigator with its in-your-face grille, big, boxy stance, and get-out-of-my-way attitude.
It comes in four trim levels, all powered by a behemoth 6.2-liter V8 engine that can move its nearly three tons of bulk from zero-to-60 mph in under six seconds, according to the company clockers.
Mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission for Escalades built since last October, it pumps out 420 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 460 pound-feet of torque at 4100 rpm while promising fuel economy ratings of 14/15 miles-per-gallon city and 20/21 highway, depending on whether it is two-wheel or all-wheel drive (premium fuel recommended but not required).
Those numbers certainly aren’t going to earn any plaudits from the green crowd, but are what to be expected for the class.
The Magnetic Ride Control suspension systems can be adjusted to two settings. Tour is used for more normal conditions and provides a softer ride. The Sport setting adjusts for those who prefer a stiffer ride and more road feel, but you can’t overcome the fact this is a large vehicle, really large, and the ride seems more along the lines of what you get from a full-size pickup, not a sedan or sports car. On the plus side, the cabin is quiet in just about any condition.
All trim levels are what you would expect from a vehicle in this class. Even the base, dubbed “Standard,” gets a long list with such niceties as navigation, keyless ignition and entry with remote start, a power lift gate that can be opened with a kick of the foot under the rear bumper (handy when your arms are loaded with packages), a 16-speaker Bose sound system, LED headlamps, rear view camera, front bucket leather seats that are both heated and cooled and feature power lumbar support, and a “surround vision” system that provides an all-around view of the vehicle (a nice feature for getting out of tight spots).
Luxury, Premium, and Platinum editions tack on extras like a configurable head-up display, sunroof, second- and third-row power folding seats, rear-seat entertainment system, forward collision and lane departure warning systems, blind spot monitoring and more. Some options, like a power retractable running board, are available only on the upper trims.
The biggest issue with the Escalade is the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system for operating many of the telematic and other functions. Designers have carried over the fingertip touchscreen principles to the entire center stack with certain touch points for manual operation of the audio and climate control systems. Instead of turning a knob to raise or lower the sound from the radio, for example, you touch a sliver of metal at the right spot on the stack’s face.
Response times to fingertip and even voice commands can vary, and at times it seems the system is ignoring you completely. Surfing the radio dial is a lengthy and frustrating experience. Yes, the driver can operate some of the functions via buttons on the steering wheel, which helps, but not all of them. The passenger is left to his own to figure out things.
Operation of all the new technological systems found in today’s new cars is an issue that many manufacturers seem to be struggling with, and each approach they have come up with has its merits and flaws. But this CUE system is so mind-boggling that it could even be a deal-breaker. Don’t just accept the salesman’s demonstration blindly. Give it a good trial run before plunking down your dollars.
Speaking of dollars, the Standard Escalade has a starting MSRP of just under $73,000. The Platinum starts at just under $93,000 when the destination and delivery charge are included, and MSRPs for Luxury and Premium models fall in between.
For a look at the Escalade Platinum and some specs, check out the accompanying slide show.