The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is the ultimate in look-good, feel-good luxury SUVs. After a week driving the Escalade around Georgia and the Carolinas, we really came to love the big truck and never ceased to be amazing by its performance and tech achievements in this fourth-generation model.
For many years of the first three generations of Escalade, SUV buyers seemed to bow down to the king Caddy for its prestige appeal -- with the actual changes and upgrades from the Denali seeming less-than-complete. The risk of paying the Cadillac premium is that car-guys might see through the blingy fascade and tinted glass, and scoff at the knob behind the wheel.
This all changes for 2015.
What is most amazing about the 2015 Escalade -- even this early-release Luxury AWD trim from before the 2015.5 updates -- is that its beauty and functionality over the Tahoe and Denali are no longer skin deep. The Escalade simply feels like the best of the siblings in terms of towing and hauling skills -- but with an extra two years of finishing school in the cabin, under the hood and the chassis tuning.
Main theme? See and Be Seen.
The exterior design of the new Escalade is quite interesting and very fresh from all angles. We worried about the LED brake lights recalling 1990s Volvo wagons at first, and lamented the loss of the full-width red brake light bar when the first photos of the new Escalade appeared last year. The whole affair still seemed overly chromed in its press renderings, while the LED lighting seemed, to be blunt, barely better than the previous optional LED lamps.
In the flesh during the day, the new Escalade is far more premium and classy than those worries above. What appeared to be chrome is actually a brushed-alloy in a pewter-like finish. The nose is defined not just by the five-stack of LED low beam lenses for 2015 --- but the full-height blades of white LED lighting that serve as the truck's DRLs. These are very imposing in their day-bright setting - and cut a dashing profile from across highway medians and in rear-view mirrors on the highway. They are very bright and very cool.
Up close in a valet line, they are bright and deeply captivating. They are best seen in the bright mode on a grey day or at twilight. Why? When darkness comes, the automatic lamp setting, parking light setting or lights-on mode dim the brightness of the blades to their evening setting.
In that setting, we now see that the blade turns amber at the top and becomes the side-marker light for the nose. Clean and classy, highly visible and very expensive-looking.
With the five-pack of low-beams on, the Escalade's nose feels extremely special and unlike any other SUV or crossover out there. It is an unforgettable look all its own.
The high-beam LEDs are the four inner lenses that resemble a stack of round glass cylinders. Very cool during the day - bright and ultra-white at night. Excellent visibility comes standard on the Escalade -- both seeing and in terms of being seen.
(One quirk? The white LED blades turn off when the Escalade is in park. For such a popular feature, it would be nice if they stayed on. We took these photos with engine running, car in neutral and parking brake engaged, for example. )
A unique brightwork wind outline sets the Escalade apart from the Yukon, Denali and Tahoe for 2015 - while the power-folding running-boards create a clean lower body design that body-colored and invisible when they tuck upward as the door clicks shut.
The pewter brightwork theme means there is no chrome on this Escalade -- but a premium and classy finish for the door accents and roof rack.
All worries about these new brake lights are gone as they light up instantly. For the first time, the full LED style of the Escalade is visible not just when braking, but all the time at night. They are stunning blades of light that have a 3D depth to their design that feels exceptionally luxurious and designer. They are a block of red light within the clear lamp exteriors, if that makes sense.
At the base of the blade on each side are even Cadillac wreath and crest logos etched into the acrylic clear block lens.
The real surprise-and-delight for an admitted LED fanatic? The backup light and turn signals in back are super-bright LEDs. Fantastic. These lamp units alone must cost Cadillac hundreds of dollars per unit on all four corners of the truck, and they are worth every penny for their memorable impact on the road.
2015 vs 2015.5 - Battle of the Badges
Here are the 2015 and 2015.5 Escalade side-by-side. The new model on the right definitely feels fresher, with the test truck suddenly feeling a bit old-fashioned by comparison. For those who own or might buy a first-series 2015, changing the grille for the new one is a feasible option for the latest style. It is a unique grille with slightly altered details, and not just a badge swap. The painted shroud in back requires a new-shape design to fit the new crest sans wreathe. We'd ballpark $500 for each end to change an older Escalade to the latest badge style after you already own the truck.
The cabin of the Escalade Luxury is extremely posh for 2015 - with four extra inches of front legroom in a truck that was never called snug before. The front seats are so roomy that the power-adjustable pedals are a nice way to ensure all bodies can drive comfortably -- from 5-feet tall up to 7-feeters. Yes, the Escalade knows its 'baller drivers might be statiscal outliers in the population, but are guys who adore the Escalade for feeling like a truck that fits those above 6'6" with ease.
Power-adjustments for the tilt/telescope bring the wheel comfortably to hand, and the seats of this Luxury trim have some extremely soft semi-aniline leathers and suedes that we never thought Cadillac would be able to deliver. None of the shiny and slippery old Detroit leathers here. The dash is wrapped with suede and leathers, but this truck's glossy-finish wood is not nearly as touchable and lovely as the Escalade Premium or the new 2015 Escalade Platinum.
The Platinum has a suede headliner as well, which is an incredibly cool luxury addition for the range-topper (as photographed below in Pebble Beach.)
Great tech in the Escalade, starting right at the digital gauge cluster. This is clearer, brighter and more informative than analog needles any day -- with a huge amount of cool features. One favorite is that the Escalade knows most roads' speed limits. Sounds silly, actually very helpful. You know the moment a speed limit moves from 55-mph to 70-mph on a highway, for example. Navi instructions are piped in, plus knowing which door is open, what media station and track is playing.,..... all at the same time, without the gauges looking busy. Just revolutionary tech.
The heads-up display mirrors many of these functions in full-color as well. You'll take this intuitive tech for granted almost immediately -- and all other cars will feel incomplete and yester-tech.
The CUE (Cadillac User Experience... get it?) system takes a few days to master, but is a delight and falls right to fingertips without a big lean and reach needed. We even started to like the touch-senstive buttons for the volume of the stereo by day seven, after cursing a lack of knobs on day one. It is easy and wipe-clean like no knobs can be.
In back, the Luxury AWD trim brings a blu-ray player versus the Standard trim, plus all the usual mod-cons like HDMI plugs, component inputs, USB chargers, 110-volt plugs, 12-volt sockets.... The list goes on. In the second row, you can recline the seat and have posh armrests like a boss.
Power-folding third row is excellent and will be a revered feature among owners of the old trucks, as will the power-flip/fold second row. Very handy. The luggage area with all the seats up is pretty modest, however.
5.9-seconds to 60-mph has never felt faster than in an Escalade. A deep, burbling V8 will always be a fun element of the truck, and being up so high makes all its furious power all the more smile-inducing.
The 2015.5-model's eight-speed auto should, based on other cars where it is used, make the new-badge trucks even quicker: about 5.7-seconds to 60-mph.
Check the below videos for a thorough assessment of the Escalade on the road.
The 2015 Escalade pricing starts from $72,000 in Standard RWD - and ratchets up to the AWD and ESV long-wheelbase in $2,000 increments.
Luxury trim is one click up the ladder, with a price as tested of $79,000. The Premium and Platinum are each about $9,000 more.
Is that good value? Yes, we believe it is. Compare our test truck's $79k list versus the $68k Tahoe LTZ 4WD we drove in the Spring, and you are likely to agree.
We love the Escalade. Its functional upgrades make it much less of an image vehicle, and one that is truly far better than the Denali and Tahoe thanks to functional, mechanical changes. Most surprisingly, the Escalade is a veritable sports-car among both its siblings from GM and rivals like the Navigator, Infiniti QX80 and Lexus LX570. Nothing else near this size is as fun to drive hard, nor as fast when doing so.
At the end of the day, the Escalade will make you smile and pat yourself on the back.
As this 2015 is upgraded to the 2015.5 with new badges, all we can say is....
The King is dead.
Long live the King.
At the wheel of the Escalade, you will feel like the new king every time you fire up those lights and this engine.
Build your own or explore colors and pricing over here at the below link. This color, by the way, is called Magestic Plum.