Stepping into the Escalade is quite an event, says Alvin Thomas, after stepping out of the all-new model impressed with the look and feel of the real Caddy: strong, burly and truly American.
The automotive industry is a dynamic and ever evolving sphere: new cars enter and older ones get phased out of the market, monthly. Some even say it is a cruel world out there, and that the only real way to remain relevant is to constantly stay in the news.
While some manufacturers do so by faking tests (yes, you know who they are), others rely on relatively non-scandalous tactics such as bumping up performance figures or simply introducing newer trim levels or refreshing their cars, annually.
Believe us: It works!
However, the Muricans love playing games a bit different. They don’t believe in staying relevant by crafting expensive cosmetic and mechanical changes.
So, what is it that they do? Well, in two words: Hollywood endorsements.
Why in the name of all that’s holy would you spend millions of dollars in research and development when you can hire an actor to do the job for a fraction of the price? Pfft.
This is also the reason the Escalade has been a huge seller for Cadillac. For over the past decade or so, it has been the vehicle of choice of rappers, actors and even politicians. Heck, if an actor is seen driving a Cadillac Escalade at pace, on screen, they’re almost certainly the villain.
Remember the scene where rapper T.I. drives away in a blacked-out Escalade after replicating the diner shootout scene from the Godfather movie, in his music video – King? Aah, classic!
Not only has all of this made the Escalade prominent, but also one of the coolest SUVs you can currently lay your hands on. If you own one of these, you’re deemed a celebrity.
Introduced to the audience in 1999 as a spruced-up variant of the Chevy Tahoe, the first-generation Escalade didn’t turn many heads, to be honest. And not much changed in the following years, either.
The third-generation variant ran for a whole seven years (!), before finally ending production. And even that was a refresh from
the second-generation Caddy from 2002.
In truth, the Cadillac Escalade of today is only in its fourth iteration.
But, looking at my tester, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: for the first time ever the Escalade looks like a real Caddy; a strong and burly American product.
This then is Floyd Mayweather of SUVs. It’s everything you wanted, and more.
Of course, it still shares elements with its plebian cousin, but it sprinkles a lot more glitz and glamour over the Chevy that it is originally based on.
The lights, for instance, are long and swept-back like what you see on the brand’s sedans. They also comprise of a series of LEDs, which gives it a premium feel. Then you have the large brushed-aluminium grille; it’s ostentatiously whopping but ornamental.
The Escalade also stays true to itself in this lucrative segment with its large body, thick chrome panels on the doors and linings around the window, and the long, elongated single-strip LED tail lamp. The latter has split audience, but I found it to be quite pleasing to the eye.
Stepping inside the Cadillac is quite an event: pull the door handles and you’re greeted with a side step, which opens up to let you step into the cabin. It then retracts into place once you have closed the doors. It is signalled by the unmistakable sound of an electronic motor pulling in the heavy side step; resembling what you hear when your pilot retracts the wheels of the flight just after take-off.
Inside, you’re greeted with tons of space: the SUV will seat seven in utmost comfort, and space in the third-row is class-leading if you opt for the long-wheelbase“ESV” variant. I found the space in the third-row of my “regular” variant to be adequate, if a bit cramped.
On the plus side, there is plenty of room to play with for luggage when the rear seats are folded down.
Even better, the interior is crafted in beautifully stitched leather and soft-touch surfaces. Surprisingly, my tester also came with real wood inserts in the dashboard and door panels. It was tasteful, and ups the poshness of the cabin.
There are a lot of nifty tech-toys crammed into the Escalade as well: for instance, you get Cadillac’s ‘CUE’ infotainment system, complimented by a large and responsive capacitive touchscreen. All of the buttons – of which there are several – are capacitive as well. They can be hard to use, initially, but upon spending time with the vehicle, I was able to master the craft.
There’s even a hidden compartment behind the air-conditioner controls that pops open when you lightly brush your finger against the chrome panel. It’s futuristic, yet incredibly thoughtful.
The capacitive buttons are also the best I have ever tested on a car. Kudos to Cadillac for that.
Ironically, they balance it all out by fitting a basic column-mounted gear shifter. It’s phenomenally easy to use, but it isn’t the most sophisticated system out there.
Power comes from the same engine that powers the beastly Chevrolet Corvette sport car. The engine – a 6.2-litre V8 – which has been modified ever so slightly for towing, pumps out 420hp and 623Nm of twist.
It doesn’t sound like a Corvette, but the unmistakable V8 burble is evident if you let down your windows and attack the throttle.
Power is sent to all four wheels through an intuitive six-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox is capable of kicking-down gears when required and settles in with the right cogs at most times.
Thanks to the low-end torque, initial acceleration is strong enough to bury you into the seats for a couple of seconds, but things settle in soon after. Still, naught to 100kph is achieved in a little over seven seconds (during my hot weather test), which is impressive considering the Escalade tips the scales at 2.7 tonnes, not adding the weight of the occupants.
The ride in the Escalade is smooth as its “magnetic” suspension does well to soak up most of the bumps and undulations on the road. It is worlds apart from its previous generation. But, because it is still a body-on-frame SUV, it shows its true colours ever so often; mostly during cornering.
I encountered a substantial amount of body roll while cornering but it was nothing out of the ordinary for an SUV of this heft. Surprisingly – and because the Escalade sends power to the rear wheels at most times – it’s easy to lose the back end during hard acceleration (from a standstill).
It’s incredibly fun, but the stability control kicks in to prevent you from embarrassing yourself if things go out of control.
Sadly, I found the brakes to be a little spongy. Although that could be an isolated case owing to journalists and potential buyers going hard on the brakes before I was given the keys to the SUV.
On the upside, the steering is smooth and sensitive. This means it is easy to park in tight spots; as was the case when I hustled into a parking spot in the crammed parking lot of one of the malls in Oman.
Of course, you also get the rear-backup camera and all-around sensors to keep you from reversing into a wall.
I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the Cadillac Escalade.
Opting for the Caddy over the Chevrolet Tahoe that it is originally based on may seem like a hard decision. But buying an Escalade is so much more than buying a regular large 4×4; it’s buying into a lifestyle. And for that very reason, the Escalade prevails as the coolest kid on the block. Others can only look in vain.