Redesigned 2015 Escalade remains breed all its own

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Cadillac's flagship Escalade sport utility vehicle keeps its bold, distinctive style and immense proportions after a major redesign for 2015.

The luxury, full-size SUV adds more tech features, a more powerful V-8, a quieter interior and power-folding rear seats for the first time while taking exterior bling in a new direction.

The Escalade, which comes with up to eight seats, also is the first in the segment with a standard air bag that deploys into the middle of the front seats, where no one sits. In side crashes, this air bag provides extra protection as crash forces push the driver or front passenger body toward the center of the vehicle, Cadillac officials say.

There's more anti-theft security for the Escalade, which has been popular with thieves. On 2015 models, an inclination sensor sounds an alarm if someone tries to steal the vehicle's wheels, or tow the Escalade away or lift it onto a flatbed truck without the owner's knowledge.

Still, federal government fuel mileage ratings, while improved 1 mile per gallon in combined city/highway travel from the 2014 Escalade, remain low. A four-wheel drive 2015 Escalade is rated at 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, but the test 2015 Escalade 4WD, with a majority of city driving, averaged just 13.5 mpg.

Escalade prices increased for 2015 and now start in the $70,000s.

This means shoppers can find some notable competitors, such as the Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class luxury SUVs that can come with six-cylinder engines, which have lower base prices.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $72,690 for a rear-wheel drive 2015 Escalade with the new, 420-horsepower, direct injection V-8. The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2015 Escalade with four-wheel drive is $75,290, which is $2,600 more than a two-wheel drive, base, 2015 Escalade. These prices are up more than $3,700 from the starting retail prices of 2014 Escalades, which had a 403-horsepower V-8.

In comparison, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator has a starting retail price of $62,475 for a rear-wheel drive model with 380-horsepower, twin-turbocharged and direct injected V-6. The Navigator no longer is offered with a V-8.

The 2014 Mercedes GL350 BlueTec SUV that runs on a 240-horsepower, turbodiesel V-6 has a starting retail price of $64,525. The uplevel, 2014 GL550 with a 429-horsepower, biturbo, gasoline V-8 has a starting retail price of $90,875.

Cadillac's Escalade has been fashionable and aspirational since the start.

The new exterior finally moves away from the well-worn, sharp-edged styling that debuted with the first Escalades and toward the more machine-chiseled and blocky look of its sibling SUV, the GMC Yukon.

The Escalade, by the way, is built on the same platform and at the same assembly facility as the and Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs. But the Escalade is the priciest and most luxuriously appointed of the three.

There are still plenty of shiny silver bits of exterior trim at the front but the thin, stacked, light-emitting diode headlights give a different look.

The back end of the Escalade looks a bit plain.

No matter. The sheer size — 17 feet from bumper to bumper — and more than 6-foot height of the Escalade still grab attention.

The test 2015 Escalade with four-wheel drive towered over people and most other vehicles. The top of the hood was chest high, and even with optional-for-$1,695 power side rails for feet to step on, entry and exit could be less than graceful.

These automatic side "assist steps," as Cadillac calls them, were noisy as they deployed and retracted on the test vehicle.

Inside, the front seats are wide and cushioned. The center console is one of the widest and deepest in a passenger vehicle and easily swallowed an overstuffed purse, with room to spare.

The old-style pull-down shifter mounted on the steering column seems odd in a vehicle that boasts technology like electronic instrument gauges that can be configured four ways.

The Escalade still has a six-speed automatic transmission, and in the tester, it worked well to deliver power. But at times, the shift points were noticeable.

The big, 6.2-liter V-8 is still overhead valve, but it has direct injection now. Torque peaks at a strong 460 foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm, and acceleration can be quite quick, especially considering the heavy, 5,500-plus-pound weight of the Escalade.

The sizable fuel tank holds 26 gallons and doesn't need premium. A fillup of regular gasoline, then, can top $87 at today's prices.

The four-wheel drive tester with optional 22-inch tires showed visually in the instrument cluster that the engine was deactivating cylinders now and then that weren't needed as the vehicle was driven leisurely.

But fuel mileage, with admittedly some aggressive driving included, still was disappointing.

Inside, the Escalade stayed surprisingly quiet unless the fine, 16-speaker, Bose Centerpoint surround sound audio system was on, filling the vehicle with concert-quality sounds. The rear cargo floor is quite high from the ground, so items have to be lifted a good distance to go inside. Third-row legroom is less than expected at 24.8 inches.

Towing capacity is a capable 8,300 pounds.

An overall crash test safety rating by the federal government has not yet been issued for the 2015 Escalade. But in side crash testing, the SUV earned five out of five stars.

The 2015 Escalade has been the subject of one safety recall. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, some 2,900 vehicles may have faulty front passenger air bags that could only partially deploy in a crash.

Note there is a longer-wheelbase Escalade called the Escalade ESV, which has a starting retail price of $75,690 with two-wheel drive.