First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Cadillac Escalade

Fourth-generation of Cadillac’s flagship SUV delivers style, luxury and utility

2015 Cadillac Escalade - side 3/4 view
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$79,900 base.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 16.2 city. 1.4 highway. 9.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
6.2-litre OHV V-8 engine, 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft of torque; Six-speed automatic transmission; 4W

JACKSON’S POINT, ON. – If you need a full-size SUV for hauling people and things, or towing a boat or travel trailer, a big rig such as Chevy’s Tahoe or Suburban will do the job just fine. But if you want to do all those things – and also make a statement – there’s only one choice: the Cadillac Escalade.

The Escalade is the SUV of choice for image-conscious buyers: celebrities, pro athletes and folks who just want to let the world know they’ve made it. The all-new 2015 iteration of this flagship SUV in the Cadillac lineup fulfils the task even better than its predecessors.

World-class quietness

One of the most noticeable improvements in this fourth-generation Escalade is its world-class quietness. Cadillac engineers have used a full suite of techniques to isolate the cabin from intruding sounds.

T2015 Cadillac Escalade -front seats and instrument panel.JPGhe doors are now inlaid and triple sealed; the exterior mirrors have been redesigned to minimize wind noise; the windshield and side windows are now made of sound-deadening acoustic glass and additional barrier insulation has been added in the engine bay, instrument panel and floor tunnel.

Even the fuel pump has been relocated and enclosed with an acoustic cover to ensure silence.

On a two-hour drive out of Toronto’s upscale Yorkville area north to cottage country on Lake Simcoe, one couldn’t help being impressed by the serene quietness in the Escalade’s luxuriously appointed cabin.

Quality and craftsmanship

Also impressive is the high quality of materials and craftsmanship found in this new Escalade – it’s at a level that surpasses any other SUV in the General Motors lineup.

French stitching abounds; the polished wood accents are genuine, not plastic; soft leathers and suede trim the interior throughout. The heated/cooled seats are as comfortable as your favourite lounger, yet sufficiently supportive to keep you in place through turns and curves.

2015 Cadillac Escalade - rear seats.JPGStorage space has been increased with numerous cupholders, bins and cubbyholes tucked in the doors, console and rear cargo area.

This Escalade has more interior room than ever – and access to the second and third rows of seating has been improved significantly by modifications to the B- and C-pillars.

The standard power-assisted third-row bench now folds flat – and resumes its upright position – at the touch of a button located just inside the rear cargo area. There are also buttons at that same location that automatically collapse the second-row captain’s chairs. Bringing those seats upright is still a manual task, but nearly effortless.

Superb audio

Of course, a luxurious environment like this wouldn’t be complete without a superb audio system and the Escalade features a premium Bose system that’s exclusive to Cadillac. Sixteen speakers are positioned strategically throughout the cabin to provide complete surround sound while Surround Stage technology ensures each occupant can enjoy the full 360-degree experience regardless of their seating position.

2015 Cadillac Escalade - cargo area.JPGBose has also included an active noise cancellation system that compensates for any sounds that may leak into the interior, ensuring that impressive quietness.

Cadillac’s standard CUE connectivity system features wireless support for up to 10 Bluetooth-enabled devices, an SD card slot and 3.5-millimetres auxiliary audio jack. There also five USB ports and five 12-volt power ports, plus a 110-volt outlet. An available rear-seat entertainment system includes a nine-inch, drop-down screen and is capable of playing Blu-ray DVDs.

Evolutionary style

The exterior styling of the 2015 Escalade is an evolution of the previous design theme. The vehicle has a bold, head-turning presence with Cadillac’s signature sharp edges, emphasized by vertical LED headlamps and running lights up front and matching taillights framing the hands-free power liftgate.

2015 Cadillac Escalade - rear 3/4 view low.JPGLike its redesigned 2015 GM stablemates, the roofline extends into a spoiler over the rear window, concealing (and protecting) the rear wiper.

It’s not just affluent consumers who are drawn to the Escalade – it’s in high demand by car thieves, too. To help dissuade them from stealing this ride, Cadillac engineers have added several new theft deterrence features for 2015, including sensors that detect movement inside the car and ones that sense a change in inclination, which would occur if a tow truck latched onto the vehicle.

There are also sensors that detect window glass being shattered, shields that prevent the door lock from being unlatched by a "slim jim" and a remotely located power supply for the horn – and no one is revealing where they’ve mounted that battery.

More power

There’s more power under the hood for 2015 – the all-new 6.2-litre Gen 5 V-8 engine generates 420 horsepower, up from 403 in the current model, and torque has been boosted 43 lb-ft to 460.

The output is delivered smoothly throughout its rev range and throttle response is immediate. During a passing manoeuvre on a two-lane secondary road, the engine reacted instantly when the go pedal was pushed, allowing the pass to be made without drama.

2015 Cadillac Escalade - front view.JPGYet fuel efficiency is impressive – my driving partner and I noted an average rate of about L/100 km in combined highway and urban driving – and we certainly weren’t using eco-driving techniques.

We did notice a slight vibration while cruising at about 100-120 km/h, but were told it was simply the big V-8 operating in fuel-conserving four-cylinder mode. Perhaps it was because everything else about the Escalade was so quiet and smooth that we even noticed the vibration. Still, one would expect the signature smoothness to be the standard, regardless of the number of cylinders at work.

The engine’s output is channelled through a six-speed HydraMatic transmission to a new four-wheel-drive system, which replaces the previous all-wheel-drive setup. Now drivers can set the system on automatic and let the vehicle make its own decisions, or they can select 4 HI for the most drive capability or 2 HI to achieve the best fuel efficiency.

We were told there’s a very slight difference in fuel consumption between the Auto setting and 2 HI. (With GM just announcing a new eight-speed transmission will be standard on its 2015 full-size Chevy and GMC pickups and SUVs later this year, don’t be surprised to see that gearbox also fitted to the Escalade as they all share the same 6.2L engine.)

Road-monitoring suspension

It’s a given that the ride and handling of vehicles in this premium category should be sublime – and the Escalade lives up to those expectation. For 2015, it’s fitted with GM’s impressive Gen 3 Magnetic Ride Control system – the same suspension-dampening system initially introduced on the Corvette.

Reported to be the world’s fastest-acting suspension system, it monitors road conditions 1,000 times per second and can react to changing road conditions in 10-15 milliseconds.

2015 Cadillac Escalade - front 3/4 view.JPGEscalade drivers are able to choose between two suspension modes: Sport and Touring. I tried both settings while driving the longer-wheelbase ESV model (a shorter wheelbase model is also available) and liked the firmer feel of the Sport setting, especially when accelerating through on-ramps to multi-lane highways.

The system all but eliminated body roll, while ride quality remained superb. Escalade product manager Craig Couch explained that while other full-size GM SUVs such as the Tahoe and Suburban have a similar Magnetic Ride system available, the bandwidth of tuning is broader on the Escalade. Different calibrations have been applied to both modes – there’s more "sport" in the Escalade’s Sport setting, while the Touring mode has been tuned to enhance ride comfort.

Other improvements under the Escalade’s skin include shear-style body mounts to better isolate the cabin, retuned hydraulic engine mounts, a redesigned frame with new attachment points and engine compartment corner bracing to improve chassis rigidity and new cross-axis ball joints to improve steering response in the electric power steering system, plus new tires designed to improve ride, handling and stopping capabilities – and increase fuel efficiency.

Three trim levels

The Escalade and Escalade ESV are offered in just three trim levels – the Standard, starting at $79,900; the Luxury Collection ($85,500) and the Premium Collection ($90,500). Cadillac says just five percent of Escalade buyers choose the Standard version – more than half go all out and opt for the Premium model. It’s expected a line-topping Platinum package will be added soon.

Cadillac’s Escalade has earned a reputation as a classy combination of luxury and utility that’s just the ticket for image-conscious consumers – and the 2015 version builds on that status.

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