There was a time when the Cadillac Escalade was synonymous with hip-hop bling. Unfortunately for General Motors, that time was the early 2000s, when the Escalade enjoyed an unusual demographic overlap as the extravagant SUV of choice for Versace-loving rap stars and Prada-wearing moms, the two of whom had exactly one thing in common: money.
Sixteen years since it first came on the market, Cadillac hopes to regain some of the Escalade’s bimodal status in a luxury SUV that is more pampering and fuel efficient while remaining one of the biggest cars on the road. With comfortable seating for seven and room to spare, the 2015 Escalade is as large and unmistakable as ever.
While Cadillac has toned down the blinding chrome shine of its exterior accents in favor of a more understated satin, and has jeweled its lights with full LEDs front and rear, it remains boxy and tall with a blunt-face grille that could do double duty as a battering ram.
In fact, the $72,690-plus 2015 Escalade is even bigger than it was before. The $76,690 luxury version I tested rolls on gargantuan 22-inch wheels that allow its inhabitants to sit in an even more lordly position. And the long wheelbase version has grown an astounding 1 1/2 feet.
If its proportions are truck like, driving it is, fortunately, less so. There’s a soothing Calgon quality to the interior of the Escalade that extends beyond the luxury de rigueur leather and wood trim. Its cabin is spa quiet.
Available in both two- and four-wheel drive, the handling has also been enhanced with some of the same standard features Cadillac now has on its CTS sedan. That includes selectable sport and touring modes and a magnetic ride control suspension that keeps this otherwise hulking SUV hunkered in high-speed turns without throwing its inhabitants into the door panels.
It also incorporates some of the same safety features as Cadillac’s smaller offerings, namely an advanced radar and warning system that vibrated my seat whenever the beast ventured outside my lane without signaling, and automatically braked and tensioned my seat belt if I got too close to plowing into a car’s rear bumper.
As much as the Escalade’s proportions suggest a throwback mentality to a gluttonous pre-recession era, its powertrain tells a different story.
For 2015, the Escalade motors with a new 420-horsepower, direct-injection 6.2-liter engine that performs the Herculean task of propelling its 5,594 pounds from a dead stop to 60 mph in less than six seconds. Just as incredibly, it achieves as much as 21 mpg highway due to a cylinder deactivation system that imperceptibly transforms the V-8 into a V-4 at cruising speeds. During my day with the car, it switched between V-8 and V-4 dozens of times, yet the only indication it had done so was a light that displayed on the dash.
The 21-mpg (highway) hybrid option has been discontinued for 2015 due to poor sales — in every state except California, of course — and the updated model’s ability to achieve similar fuel economy with a gas engine.
The choice of long and short wheelbase versions, however, remains. Both models have enough seats to accommodate an entire AYSO team; the long wheelbase version just offers more space behind the third row for bags of brand-name gear and a lower third-row floor that won’t force gangly tween knees into armpits.
What’s new for 2015 is the seats no longer need to be manhandled into submission. The third row now collapses flat at the touch of a button, as do the captain’s chairs in the second row, which can be moved forward to allow better access for third-seat passengers or can gymnastically tumble forward against the front seats to open a space so cavernous it could almost carry a couch.
In acknowledgment that an SUV at this price point is likely to transport passengers that also come with a passel of gadgets, the Escalade’s CUE infotainment system can support 10 Bluetooth-enabled devices. It also has five USB and five power ports to plug in iPads, laptops and other, as-yet-unknown, Apple products.
It’s likely the 16-speaker Bose system will be more appreciated by rap stars than soccer moms, but as a whole, the 2015 Escalade has an alluring, self-indulgent appeal, just like the high-flying, good old days of the Cadillac flagship.