Test Drive: The Cadillac Escalade

© 2014 Richard Prince / General Motors

The new luxury SUV presents a royal experience.

Given the market pressures and governmental regulations requiring better fuel economy, auto manufacturers—even those making full-size SUVs—are engaging all manner of efforts to increase the efficiency of their vehicles. Ford has switched from a big V-8 engine to a smaller and more frugal twin-turbocharged V-6 in the newly revamped Lincoln Navigator. The Chrysler/FIAT group has added a miserly diesel option to its Jeep Grand Cherokee. And luxurious Land Rover has moved to an intensive use of aluminum in its top-of-the-line Range Rovers, claiming a savings of up to 800 pounds over outgoing models. (Lighter things are easier to motivate.)

With the demise of Hummer, the Cadillac Escalade may now stand as the apex of American profligacy—Cadillac itself claims that the vehicle has 100-percent brand recognition within the large luxury SUV segment. But though the all-new 2015 Escalade arrives as a longer, heavier, more powerful model—the extended wheelbase, four-wheel-drive ESV version is nearly 19 feet long and handily crests the three-ton mark—it uses fuel-management tricks like direct injection and cylinder deactivation to eke out greater than 10 percent increases in highway fuel economy and slightly less than 10 percent increases in city fuel economy over the outgoing version. And it does this more quietly, more quickly and with far more refinement and features than its predecessor.

The Royal SUV Treatment

Let them have cake and eat it, too. In fact, flip down the Escalade’s new optional power-folding, Kona leather, lie-flat second and third row seats and you’d probably have room for an entire cake factory. And a wheat field. And a flour mill. (The Escalade’s interior dimensions should be measured in acres.) But oddly enough, even environmentalists like this reviewer find its grandiosity and dominance compelling. It is a fiefdom on wheels, and you’re the king.

As in all the best palaces, the royal suite is opulently appointed. There is an abundance of rich grained real wood, layers of hand-stitched leather and glossy metal accent trim in the cabin. The fascia and tailgate are encrusted with gem-like LED lamps. And sculpted platinum wheels stand as shiny sentinels at each corner, available in 20-inch and 22-inch sizes.

Like in a proper kingdom, the perimeter is a wall: The front, rear and sides of the new Escalade are slabbed and flattened like giant granite blocks, and the body steps in at the shoulder, the hood and the roof, like a turret’s crenellation. The vehicle can be equipped with its own battlement of protective radars, cameras and ultrasonic sensors that allow it—quite of its own accord—to avoid collisions.

These optional systems include front and rear automatic braking, which alerts drivers to an impending crash from bow or stern and will even apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t; lane-departure warning that keeps drivers from coloring outside the yellow lines; side blind-zone alert that will protect against accidentally wandering into an unseen spot where another car is already positioned; and adaptive cruise control that can hold a set speed and brake and accelerate based on the proximity of any vehicles ahead. On the off chance that there is an impact, a category-first center airbag will inflate between the two front-seat occupants, diminishing the possibility that they will knock into each other following the crash (the likeliest cause of fatality in a side-impact collision).

Music to Our Ears

As with any dwelling befitting a monarch, the Escalade’s most treasured feature is its ability to limit the meddling interruptions by one’s subjects. The vehicle is quiet, bordering on silent. An intensive use of high-strength steel and a far more rigid structure limits flex and rattles. Bales of sound-deadening material insulate passengers from the intrusion of any but the most desirably rumbling engine noise. Triple seals line the doors and laminated windows, limiting the rushing sound of wind. And an active noise-cancellation system from Bose helps counter any remaining undesirable frequencies.

The rest of the Bose setup is something of a weak link, providing clear sound but not rich sound—though perhaps that was intentional to prevent the onset of the “Booming Escalade” syndrome that plagues so many of these vehicles on the street. It’s nothing a few dozen aftermarket amps and speakers can’t cure.

The Escalade will start at about $72,000 when it appears in dealerships this month. That’s a princely sum, but hardly a king’s ransom—especially when the appointments are this upscale. There’s nothing else on the road quite like it, and regardless of whether or not you think that’s a good thing, if your needs or status require one, it is both the only and best possible option. cadillac.com.