Cadillac’s Escalade is by now a known quantity—that quantity being big, slathered in chrome, and with a swagger all its own. General Motors has cashed in on its pop-culture icon over the years, gradually raising the price from less than $50,000 in 2002 to a hair under $74,000 today. At a time when full-size pickups and SUVs from Chevrolet and GMC—trucks that share their basic underpinnings with the Escalade—can be optioned to dizzying prices, the Cadillac’s base price is appropriate. So what happens when that cost is jacked to nearly $100,000?
The Escalade’s range-topping Platinum trim level does just that. A two-wheel-drive example starts at $90,345, and the four-wheel-drive model tested here starts at $92,945. With only two options—power-deploying running boards and wheel locks—the final tally for our test rig came to $94,770. Such pricing drags the Escalade into a tougher line of fire than its lower-cost siblings, a hail that includes deluxe SUVs such as the Mercedes-Benz GLS-class and the Land Rover Range Rover. Those vehicles, in their least expensive forms, start at $67,975 and $85,945. Plug in the Escalade’s details to Ancestry.com, and you’ll find shared parentage with the Chevrolet Tahoe, which costs half as much as this Platinum; dig deeper, and a genetic link can be made to the Silverado pickup, which can be had for as little as $28,390.
It’s in the Plati-Numbers
If it sounds as though we’re comparing sticker prices in a vacuum, we’re not. Breeding matters, particularly at the Platinum’s price level. One needn’t root around in the Escalade’s pricing and hereditary chain to notice the built-down-to-a-price switchgear and high-volume assembly methods shared by its more mainstream relatives. This same interior, at its most basic, isn’t perfect but is convincingly luxurious in the low $70,000s; it is less so in the stratosphere. It brings to mind another iconic General Motors product, the Corvette, which despite its improved interior continues to be outclassed by the cabin environment of the Porsche 911 for one reason: Chevy is constrained by the Vette’s $56,395 base price for 2016, while Porsche’s lowliest 911 runs $85,350.
So, sure, the Platinum boasts Escalade-exclusive features such as a cooled center-console cubby, a drop-down 8.5-inch infotainment display, dual rear-seat DVD screens, illuminated “Platinum” doorsill plates, a special chrome grille and 22-inch wheels, nappa leather seats, a leather-wrapped dashboard and door panels, and a sueded microfiber headliner. But it’s all additive, a matter of installing more and more stuff to justify pushing up the price. Just as you can’t toss a few cuts of open-pore wood, scraps of nappa leather, and a roll of sueded upholstery into a regular living room and declare that room a royal castle, the Platinum’s finer cabin materials feel like a veneer for humbler scaffolding.
The swaths of stitched leather atop each door panel, for example, look to have been created by wrapping a cut of leather with a seam in it around a spear of plastic and gluing the result onto the door structure, rather than wrapping the door panel itself. And then there are the window switches and steering-column stalks borrowed from lesser GM products. Mercedes-Benz switchgear, by comparison, tends to trickle down from its most prestigious products; Cadillac still sits downstream from Chevy in this regard. Happily, the CUE infotainment system—among the Escalade’s only Cadillac-specific interior flourishes—and its attendant capacitive-touch dashboard controls are improved over earlier iterations, with snappier responses to inputs.
From Humble Beginnings
Under the Platinum frippery, the Escalade is still an Escalade. That means it’s a truck, with old-school body-on-frame construction and a solid rear axle. The upside to this arrangement is towing; with its 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8, the Escalade can lug up to 8100 pounds—or 8300 without four-wheel drive. The downside is everything else, from handling to ride to body rigidity. Unlike the Mercedes GLS or the Range Rover, which feature independent rear suspensions and optional air springs, the Cadillac’s sole modern suspension feature is its magnetorheological electronically adaptive damper setup. Even those struggle to impart much refinement on the ride, which generally is choppy and occasionally is quite harsh, thanks largely to the Platinum’s heavy 22-inch wheels. Sharper road imperfections will send a shudder through the Escalade’s body, while sharp turns at speed are possible but best avoided.
The Escalade’s trucky underpinnings also force a high load floor, meaning there isn’t as much room inside as the imposing external dimensions would suggest. The Platinum’s standard second-row captain’s chairs are comfortable with plenty of surrounding space, but the third-row bench is tight. Worse, with the third row raised (a power-operable function), there’s barely space behind it for four paper grocery bags. The 15 cubic feet of space back there, by the way, is on par with the trunk of today’s Honda Civic sedan. As if it needs to be mentioned, the Escalade’s mass is epic, punishing our scales to the tune of 5882 pounds. While the V-8 makes mincemeat of the heft, hauling the Platinum to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, the brakes strain against the mass. We managed a very, very long 202-foot stop from 70 mph, and the brake pedal went soft during successive slowdowns. Despite an imperceptible cylinder-deactivation feature, wherein the V-8 disables four cylinders under light load, and the new-for-2015 eight-speed automatic, observed fuel economy over 1000 miles sat at 15 mpg. All of these measurements are in line with other Escalades we’ve tested.
While the Platinum’s demerits are shared with lesser Escalades, they’re more forgivable—perhaps even excusable—for $20,000 less. At nearly $100,000, there’s no getting around the fact that the Platinum’s more pedigreed competitors drive better, are more fuel- and space-efficient, and wear their kingly robes with more aplomb. Bathed in pop-culture mystique, the Escalade has its place in the full-size luxury-SUV market, but consider the upper edge of that charm defined.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $94,770 (base price: $92,945)
ENGINE TYPE: pushrod 16-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 376 cu in, 6162 cc
Power: 420 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 116.0 in
Length: 203.9 in
Width: 80.5 in Height: 74.4 in
Passenger volume: 156 cu ft
Cargo volume: 15 cu ft
Curb weight: 5882 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 14.8 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 19.0 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 6.3 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 3.2 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.1 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.3 sec @ 98 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 112 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 202 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.73 g
EPA city/highway driving: 15/21 mpg
C/D observed: 15 mpg
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