2016 Cadillac Escalade Platinum 4WD Review
Cadillac has earned its way into the century club, having sold luxury cars since 1902, and deserves respect not only for its years but also because it has always sold luxury cars (and hearses), which were once so good they were declared the “Standard of the World” above such revered brands as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Maybach, Horch (Audi’s previous name), and Bugatti. Escalade’s ultimately tall taillights are shocking to the point of surreal, and equally sharp front LED driving lights pull eyeballs from blocks away. And then there’s that dazzling grille, an awesome spectacle with any Escalade, although uniquely distinctive in my top-line Platinum-trimmed tester.
When approaching, some of the nicest door handle jewelry you’ll ever see lights up with LEDs to provide a little extra welcoming visibility at night, while proximity-sensing keyless access requires the push of a button on any of those handles or pressure under the rear liftgate’s latch in order to open. Do so with the former and optional powered side steps lower into place for easy access, at which point you’ll be greeted to one of the more alluring cabins in autodom.
Cadillac has almost completely forgotten about something the brand used to pay tribute to liberally when inadvertently ruining its image—cheap plastic. The roofliner and front two sets of roof pillars in my top-line Platinum model were finished in ultra-rich psuede, while most of the dash top between the A-pillars consisted of separately stitched pieces of leather finished in a beautiful design. It flows over to the midway point of the instrument panel where it butts up against more of that fabulous pseudo suede, the leather and micro-fiber combination stretching around the entire passenger compartment, across the door uppers from front to back. A strip of hardwood, feeling solid on the doors albeit disappointingly hollow ahead of the front passenger, visually divides top from bottom, the lower portion continuing the suede surfacing treatment even over the glove box lid, which incidentally can be opened with a touch-sensitive control on the center stack.
The doors get leather-trimmed armrest handles and soft-touch surfacing down below, while the Platinum model’s center console is finished in leather all the way to the point that it meets the leather-covered armrest/storage bin lid, the lower portion done out in soft-touch synthetic. The same hardwood covers the top of the console, which is actually comprised of two doors, the first opening up to a velvet-lined compartment for what-have-you, also hiding a cooler on/off switch, a 12-volt charger, and two USB plugs, the second door in behind for the metal-trimmed cupholders. There’s also a velvet-lined storage compartment under the center armrest filled with two more USBs, another 12-volt charger, and a holder for a smaller cellphone than my Samsung Note 4. It would have had lots of room for personal paraphernalia too, but the cooler button I mentioned a moment ago is actually connected to a six-pack sized chiller integrated into this compartment. Atop the lid is a rubberized phone tray with Qi wireless charging capability.
Yes, if digital is your thing the Escalade is now fully wired, and wireless. The wired portion includes a high-resolution color TFT primary gauge package that’s as good as this type of system gets, controllable via a whole myriad of buttons on the steering wheel spokes, while this as-tested Cadillac projects a head-up display onto the windshield as well. The infotainment system on the center stack is the brand’s latest CUE design, with proximity-sensing capability and much more. So far they haven’t incorporated Apple CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto, but I certainly had no problem figuring out its complexities or making everything work, from its impressive navigation system to its full load of features. Of course, a backup monitor is included, Cadillac going a step further by offering one of the widest 360-degree overhead views I’ve ever seen in a surround camera system, standard. This really helps when parking, as you can see everything around the car for a considerable distance. Active guidelines help to slot the big SUV into a given spot, while front and rear parking sensors make sure you’ll never scratch the paint.
Cadillac includes a quad-zone automatic climate system with mostly touch-sensitive controls, this being a real step up from what most luxury brands offer. Along with these are GM’s best-in-class seat heaters that offer the choice of three-way heat on both backside and buttocks or alternatively just the back, while three-way cooling is also part of the Escalade’s standard package.
As far as getting comfortable goes, the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, which actually goes a bit further by adding a leather and stitched hub as well as metal and wood trim on the spokes, gets power tilt and telescopic functionality with memory, the latter also automatically adjusting the foot pedals. Of course, the Platinum’s 18-way powered semi-aniline leather-covered seats get the memory treatment as well, and in case you’re wondering that’s an incredible level of adjustability allowing you to find the perfect position for ultimate comfort and support, not to mention three-mode massage function. For a long road trip, the Escalade Platinum would be my choice, providing I had funds to replenish the tank.
On that note, the Escalade’s big, powerful standard 6.2-liter V8 only requires regular unleaded, which will save you about 10 percent over premium at the pump, while its EPA rating is actually pretty decent when compared to competitors at an estimated 15 mpg city, 21 highway and 17 combined with as-tested 4WD. I’m guessing, mind you, that filling the 25.9-gallon tank isn’t an issue if you’re financially capable of stepping up to a vehicle in this class.
Fuel costs aren’t the only reason I wouldn’t want to drive this SUV everyday. It’s beautifully finished and comes close to being as luxurious as sport utes get, but it feels like you’re driving a tricked out pickup truck. Come to think of it, I don’t remember the Silverado or Sierra riding so rough (they’re especially nice riding half-ton pickups). The Escalade’s ride is firm to the point of being a bit choppy over bumpy patches, probably at least partially due to its massive 22-inch alloys and low profile rubber. Additionally, parking is a bit challenging despite its many driving aids. It’s more about finding a spot long enough to fit the big rig into rather than the actual process of slotting it in, although negotiating narrow roads can also be a bit of a chore, and getting anywhere quickly nowhere near as handy as say, driving an ATS. Of course I’m aware that this is just one person’s perspective. I’ve known many people who wouldn’t want to drive anything less, and I respect that. We’re all different, and that’s what makes this wonderful world go around, while I can also appreciate that there’s no substitute for a vehicle like this when trailering a big load. The Escalade is rated at a colossal 8,100 lbs, that aforementioned V8 a big reason why it’s so capable with a load in tow.
The 6.2 makes a sizable 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque thanks to good old cubic inches plus direct injection and variable valve timing, while the latter two technologies plus GM’s class-exclusive cylinder deactivation system, Active Fuel Management, and a heavy-duty eight-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode and Driver Shift Control are reasons for its previously noted excellent fuel economy. All that thrust and twist makes it quick off the line too, at least for a full-size SUV, its substantive 5,840 lbs of heft coaxed to 60 mph in the high-five to low six-second range. I can name you a lot of sports cars that can’t claim such straight-line performance, yet the big Cadillac can also scale mountainsides thanks to the low gearset of its optional two-speed Autotrac transfer case, which is easily controllable via a dash-mounted rotary dial. I would’ve loved to test its mettle off-road, especially to find out how its sport-tuned suspension’s Magnetic Ride Control managed rock crawling and mud slinging, but no such luck this time around.
I’ve already mentioned that the ride can be firm, but I didn’t notice this as much around town as on the highway. In the suburban area I live, which is mostly flat and nicely paved, it was quite enjoyable, comfortable and smooth. Out on the local highways, where there’s a lot more patchwork, I really noticed when hitting pavement irregularities at high speed. When the road started to wind, however, I was shocked at how agile this big ute is. Even through tight twisting backroads it felt stable, secure and plenty of fun to drive. No doubt the big rims and rubber noted before played their part, as did the sport-tuned magnetic suspension. Even with the ride a little firmer than expected the overall setup Cadillac chose suits my personal style well.
Road holding is important, but holding the family is more so in this full-size SUV segment. For such purposes the two second-row seats are limousine-like in their size, comfort and spaciousness. The third row is easy to access, thanks to those second-row seats popping forward and completely out of the way when needed, by the touch of a button no less, but there’s precious little legroom in the very back, relegating these seats to child use only, or at the very most short hops for smaller adults.
On the positive, when all three rows are in use the Escalade provides 15.2 cubic feet of luggage space behind, which is about the size of the average mid-size sedan’s trunk. Dropping my tester’s third row seatbacks down required the push of a button on the right side of the cargo wall, at which point they laid completely flat, opening up a much more utile 51.6 cubic feet. To reverse the process, simply push the button in the other direction. The second row works similarly, but it’s more of a backrest release that drops each seat immediately rather than a fully powered system, as you’ll need to walk around to the side door to manually raise them back up. When both rear rows are fully lowered you can stow up to 94.2 cubic feet of cargo, which is gargantuan as far as SUVs go. Back to those second-row seats, if you hold the same buttons a bit longer they’ll pop all the way forward to get completely out of the way, creating yet more vertical space or access to the third row. That you can do this from up in the driver’s seat is especially helpful if picking up a group of kids from school or soccer practice.
I’ve listed off a number of Escalade Platinum features already, but would be remiss if I didn’t mention some other items that are either exclusive to this ultra-luxe model or grandfathered up from lower trims, the menu also including full LED headlamps with cornering and auto high beam capability, an electromechanical parking brake, unique doorsill plates, adaptive cruise control, 16-speaker Bose audio, a rear entertainment system consisting of a DVD player, a pair of monitors on the backside of each front headrest, and a nine-inch roof-mounted foldable widescreen at center, plus a host of active safety features including blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert, autonomous lane keep assist, a safety alert driver’s seat, forward collision alert, front and rear autonomous braking and auto-tightening safety belts, plus much more. The only options were the aforementioned power-retractable assist steps.
As far as building premium full-size SUVs go, Cadillac has come a long way since it helped to create the segment in the late ‘90s. Where its first attempt was a gussied up Suburban, this new model can respectfully be compared against the best in the industry. As good as a Range Rover? In many ways yes. The new Bentley? Maybe not. But, even at my near full-load Platinum tester’s $94,920 price tag it’s a bargain compared to either of those ultra-premium models, while it’s a great deal more impressive inside than a Mercedes-Benz G-Class that also sells for much more. The Escalade is not without fault, my complaints including cheap plastic doorsills, the low-rent Tahoe-sourced hard shell stuff also used for the lower B-pillars, all of the C-pillars plus the rear side panels in their entirety, all shortcuts Cadillac shouldn’t be taking anymore, but overall the Escalade not only deserves to play in this rarified luxury SUV league, but truly warrants its impressive sales numbers. Escalade pricing starts at $73,965 plus freight and dealer fees, whereas those who need even more interior space can opt for the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV.
If I were looking to pull an Airstream this summer or required something to dip my Chaparral 270 Signature into local waters, the Escalade Platinum would be high on my list.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press