The largest Cadillac is a lot like a big-time ’90s rapper. An aging cultural icon, but still rich and gangster. If you want a luxury SUV that can do real work, whether hauling the entire executive team to lunch, or hauling your boat to the lake, it’s hard to beat an Escalade for utility, street presence, and the three tons of features. Here’s our in-depth look at what it’s like to be a baller and own a ‘lade.

Trims

Escalade offers four trim levels with a huge difference in prices. The base model to top-of-the-line Platinum is a $20,000 difference when new. Used vehicles reduce the price differential, but you’ll still pay more for well-optioned trims. Here’s the details on what’s standard, and what you should pay extra for. Keep in mind during your search that two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are available on any trim level, as is the larger ESV option. The Escalade ESV adds nearly 20 inches in length to the vehicle, freeing up additional space behind the rear seats.

Standard

Escalade doesn’t do base, it does bass. Since base models need a name, this Caddy gets the Standard name. It’s isn’t playing around either, as it’s absolutely loaded with standard features, including: a massive chrome three-bar grille, jeweled LED headlights and tail lights, 20-inch 7-spoke chrome wheels, chrome body side moldings, and a chrome exhaust pipe larger than anything in Snoop Dogg’s inventory. You don’t get to choose the engine or transmission options here, but the standard combo is pretty great, with a 6.2-liter V8 attached to a 10-speed automatic. Prior to 2018, the transmission had eight speeds, and a six-speed manual was available for just 2015. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension soaks up bumps, and the backup camera offers a convenient bird’s eye view. There’s wireless charging, navigation, 4G LTE WiFi, a Bose surround-sound 16 speaker audio system, hands-free power liftgate, heated and cooled front seats, and leather wrapped heated steering wheel. You also get keyless start, electronic stability control, heated and power-folding exterior mirrors, 12-way power front seats, headed second row captain’s seats, and tri-zone climate control. That looks like a ton of standard features, but it’s really just highlighting the more interesting ones. This thing is loaded.

Luxury

So a base model, even a loaded one, isn’t your thing? Since you’re buying a luxury vehicle, step up to the Escalade Luxury. This one has all the features of Standard, plus: a cool Head-Up Display that shows vehicle information projected onto the windshield in your line of sight. Then there’s the backup camera in the rear-view mirror, the “Driver Awareness Package” full of active safety features, huge 22-inch chrome wheels, large power sunroof, and a theft-deterrent package. Look to Luxury if you value a sunroof and/or active safety tech.

Premium Luxury

It’s not just luxury, its premium luxury. Like the name suggests, it’s like luxury – but better – and piles on the features. Premium Luxury includes everything from Luxury and adds: rear-seat entertainment system with Blu-ray/DVD compatibility, massive 17-inch brake rotors (the size of old Escalade wheels!), push button parking brake (instead of foot activated), the Driver Assist Package (adaptive cruise control & automatic braking), front cornering lamps for better visibility through corners, and swanky illuminated door handles that finish off the superstar looks. Luxury Premium buyers are probably looking for even more safety features, or want to keep the kids in back entertained.

Platinum (since 2016)

What’s more valuable than gold? That’s right, platinum. This top-of–the-line Escalade costs a solid $100,000 when new. Here’s why. Everything on the above trims is included, and their optional features are now standard. Platinum gets an exclusive grille design, 22-inch chrome and “Ultra Silver” alloy wheels, platinum sill plates, power retractable assist steps, super high-end leather seating, instrument panel, console, and doors, unique exotic wood trim, 18-way front seats with three-mode massage settings, dual DVD screens for rear seat passengers, and an insulated cooler for keeping your Cristal the perfect temperature.

Why the Cadillac Escalade still rocks

Price/Value

A lot of price buys a lot of SUV. Even in a vehicle of this size and price, there are two standout trim levels that offer more for the money. Here’s where the value Escalade is found.

Standard – Below $50,000

It’s loaded out the factory doors, so why not skip the price increases and get what you need? This is the price of the attractive fourth generation Escalade, readily available in Carvana’s inventory with low miles. It’s fast, hauls people and stuff, tows, handles inclement weather, and looks great doing it. It has an impressive list of standard features covering most of what you would want. Awesome sound system, navigation, heated and cooled everything, tri-zone climate, WiFi. Really, why go higher?

Platinum – $50,000 to $60,000

Well, you might go higher for this one. Platinum offers every single thing you can think of in one package, and Carvana inventory shows it’s not much of a price hike. Platinum looks different on the outside, thanks to the grille, wheels, and tons of chrome, but the extra interior features are lovely too. It’s one of the nicest interiors in the class, complete with massaging seats and a fridge in the center console. The Platinum level leather is an experience that must be touched, and who wouldn’t want a massage while you’re sitting in the daily grind rush-hour?

Ratings

The Escalade falls more to the work side of the luxury SUV category, and it earns high scores in utility. It scores lower for the driving experience, but owners seem to love it.

Professional Reviews

Car and Driver noted the Escalade as a capable daily driver, saying, “In our testing, the Escalade was always responsive, and the transmission handled gear changes without fuss. At cruising speeds, the Slade was quiet and refined.”

Motor Trend ranked the Escalade first in their test of all the big luxury SUVs, concluding, “The best looking, the best interior, the best sounding, and the quickest in our test. The Cadillac Escalade Platinum stole our hearts.”

Road & Track called it a “giant blingwagon,” but also loved the interior, quietness, and V8 grunt. They summed up the fourth generation Escalade as, “Crisp, sharp-edged lines, a giant grille, trick-looking LED lamps, and all the tech goodies you could possibly want. Power? Why yes, there’s that, too.”

Consumer Reports rated the Escalade a 61 out of 100 points, placing 6th out of 10 large luxury SUVs. That’s not a great score, but CR shows higher than average owner satisfaction. They praised the imposing exterior and quality interior, and summed up their experience with: “The real strength of the Escalade lies in its work abilities, with a powerful 420-horsepower V8 engine and an impressive tow capacity. We consider a well-trimmed Chevrolet Suburban or GMC Yukon XL to be a smarter buy.”

Consumer Guide listed Escalade an Automotive Best Buy for five years in a row, 2015 through 2019.

Owner Reviews

Owner reviews give us a glimpse of what it’s like to own an Escalade, rather than just reading about it or test driving one. Looking at owner reviews and forums, its obvious owners love the Escalade’s style. There are so few full-size luxury SUVs out there, the Escalade is a pop culture icon that commands street presence even when it’s an older model. Owners also give a thumbs up to the large cargo area, and work capability in the form of the towing and off-road capable chassis. Yes, some Escalade owners actually get them muddy doing work, not just cruising Hollywood. Owners also like the factory sound system, but note that it’s easy to upgrade further.

On the negative side of Escalade ownership, two points of contention stand out. Owners report near universal dislike of the SUV’s gas mileage, with only a few able to manage over 20 MPG. Escalade owners also gripe about Cadillac dealerships, where service is not on par with Japanese or German luxury counterparts.

Why the Cadillac Escalade still rocks

Features

With active suspension, self-parking ability, and a powerful V8 engine, Escalade is quite a different experience from your average non-luxury ride. There’s also massive cargo and passenger space, and huge towing ability built right into every one. Here are the highlights.

The Drive

Under the sculpted hood sits a muscle car engine. The 6.2-liter V8 has 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, directly equivalent to a 2014 Mustang GT. This translates to an impressive 0 to 60 time of only 5.7 seconds, the same time as a Cadillac ATS sport sedan. Magazines show a top speed of 154 MPH, but don’t test that. This is a body-on-frame SUV built on the same chassis as the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, and GMC Yukon, so the Escalade drives similarly. Cadillac engineers tweaked the electric power steering, giving you confidence in urban environments.

It handles well for its size, easy to maneuver at speed and perfectly composed on the highway. Taking a bump, you do feel the truck roots with its solid rear axle, but the Magnetic Ride Control suspension keeps things composed. Bumps aren’t jarring, but are louder than you would hear in a same year Cadillac CTS. Slow speed handling, like in parking lots, you feel the size, but the power steering cranks up the pressure and makes low speed turning easy. Visibility is good, so parking isn’t much of an issue once you get used to the length, plus there’s automatic parking if you don’t feel like doing it yourself. The brakes are excellent, with good bite and a predictable stopping force with more effort.

Comfort/Luxury

Get in an Escalade and you’ll immediately notice the massively wide seats, mimicking the look of the old-school ’70s Caddy bench seats. This truck is a great option if you shop in the Big ‘n Tall section, there’s tons of room. With a complex design, the leather seats look modern and massively upscale. They feel it too, with world-class comfort good enough to sleep in, and a perfect upright seating position. The walnut trim and leather surfaces create an ambitious, upscale look that looks worthy of the price tag. Piano black and chrome trim accents the interior, and there’s no plastic in sight. Active noise cancellation dampens road noise to a hush, while tri-zone climate control keeps everyone in back cool. This just might be the perfect road trip vehicle.

Technology

Cadillac is the tech showcase of GM, and Escalade is often the centerpiece of Cadillac, meaning you get a ton of high tech features in every Escalade. A 12.3-inch digital display replaced the gauges in 2015, while an eight-inch center screen runs CUE infotainment. Automatic parking assist will do the job for you if you hate parallel parking. The Teen Driver setting allows you to set limits on parameters like vehicle speed, and reports driving habits to you. There’s a dozen active safety features, like automatic collision avoidance, and nearly as many entertainment options, like the rear entertainment system. Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control is an engineering marvel of a suspension system that Cadillac introduced to the world in the 2003 Seville, and it’s good enough to be found in Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s best.

Why the Cadillac Escalade still rocks

Reliability

Everyone wants a vehicle that will last them the miles and years. A luxury/work SUV that won’t start is like a rapper that can’t load Auto-Tune. Fortunately, it looks like Escalade has your back for years to come.

Consumer Reports rated the Escalade a 1 out of 5 for reliability. Ouch. CR actually likes the Escalade, but has to give a low grade because of consumers reporting problems with the infotainment system. CUE is one of the lower ranked infotainment systems, due to being a completely knob-less and button-less design, it leads you through a series of screens in order to do anything. CR includes tech difficulties in their reliability rating, which makes the Escalade look unreliable when it’s really slightly-above-average reliability with an unfortunately clunky infotainment system. CUE is best used at stoplights, not while driving.

JD Power ranked the Escalade at the top of their list of large premium SUVs in initial quality, ahead of Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes-Benz GLS. Escalade earned the highest scores in the categories of Exterior & Interior, Features and Controls, and took home the Overall score.

Automotive data site iSeeCars conducts an annual mileage survey, and each year the Escalade and chassis siblings perform well. If you take care of it, you should expect an Escalade to last a quarter million miles. Auto repair aggregator Repair Pal placed the Escalade fifth out of 19 large SUVs, showing that owner repair costs are below average for the class.

Warranty

The bumper-to-bumper limited warranty is a nice four years, 50,000 miles. Powertain warranty is above average and covers an additional year and extra 20,000 miles. Complimentary maintenance when new is below industry average, covering only the first visit.

Size/seating capacity

Whether you’re riding solo to your hustle, or taking the kids to soccer practice, the Escalade’s seating options should fit any family short of the Duggars.

Standard seating is for seven, with two comfortable captain’s chairs in the second row. The Escalade can easily seat eight by swapping the second row chair s for a bench seat that easily holds three adults. The big seats up front have plenty of acreage available, with nearly 43 inches of headroom for your NBA players. Get the Standard trim for taller drivers, as the power sunroof is standard on higher trims and occupies a few inches of ceiling. First row legroom is class-leading at over 45 inches. The captain’s chairs or bench seat offer plenty of passenger legroom, and a mid-size sedan-like 39 inches of headroom. The third row headroom is good too, but the lack of legroom makes it a “for kids only” seating area. The ESV, with its bigger booty, rewards passengers with an extra 9.7 inches of legroom. Remember that you have tri-zone climate, so it’s okay to stuff people back there.

Leather seating is standard, but of various quality; good on Standard, amazing on Platinum. If you’re looking for cargo, Escalade has it. There’s 94.2 cu-ft total cargo space with the second and third rows down. The longer ESV offers an extra 24+ cu-ft. for a massive 120.9 total cargo volume. If you’re not hauling your entourage, you can load up the rear cargo floor with over 1,400 lbs of your sound mixing gear.

Why the Cadillac Escalade still rocks

Fuel economy

Everyone wants an Escalade, but no one wants to feed it. This is the opposite of a Prius, but at least you get massive towing ability.

The Escalade has only one engine available, but a few drivetrain options that affect gas mileage. The best fuel economy belongs to the 2018+ models with the more efficient 10-speed transmission and rear-wheel drive. It’s still big and heavy, so the city EPA rating is only 14 MPG. On the highway, it’s all about aerodynamics more than weight, so this configuration gets 23 MPG, an impressive number for a vehicle of this size.

Four-wheel drive takes a gas mileage penalty, scoring the same 14 MPG in town, but only 21 MPG highway. Earlier models were pretty consistent with these numbers, earning +/- 1 MPG depending on how you spec your truck.

Fortunately the big V8 likes regular 87 octane, so filling the 26 gallon fuel tank (31 gallons in ESV) won’t be too costly. That massive tank allows a 442-mile range between fill-ups. That’s Atlanta to Cincinnati without stopping.

If you must have an Escalade, but need to maximize your fuel economy, look to the third generation hybrid. Available 2008 to 2013, the hybrid delivered a nearly 50% increase around town, to an impressive 20 MPG city. The hybrid didn’t help much on the highway, still listed at 23MPG.

Towing

Gas mileage while towing is less than the EPA rating, but that’s not the point of towing. You’re looking to haul stuff, and the Escalade certainly can, with a tow rating of 8,100 to 8,300 lbs depending on options. That’s a good sized boat, or a trailer and eight jet skis.

Safety

Since you’ll likely be hauling more than just yourself in an eight passenger vehicle, you’ll want to keep your passengers safe.

The NHTSA handed out an overall safety rating of 4 stars. The breakdown shows 4 stars in front crash protection, and 5 stars in side impact protection. The Feds didn’t get their Escalade to rollover, but gave only 3 stars due to a stated 23% rollover risk during emergency maneuvers.

The IIHS hasn’t crash tested the big SUV, but did test some of the active safety features in the fourth generation model. The 2017 model’s Forward Automatic Braking system worked properly, successfully stopping the Escalade in time. The only other rating the IIHS handed out is a Marginal rating for the LATCH child seat anchor points, as they’re a bit clumsy to get to.

The Escalade has a lot going for it in active crash prevention. In addition to Forward Automatic Braking, there’s reverse Automatic Braking, Forward Collision Alert, Hill Start Assist, Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and the safety monitoring side of OnStar.

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