Cadillac has bridged the gap on its European rivals to such an extent now that it isn’t a left field choice anymore. I’ve had the recent pleasure to wheel both the ATS and the CTS-V and came away both times very impressed indeed, and not just because of the tyre-shredding performance of the latter. No, the overall feeling is of a brand that has rejuvenated itself with a clutch of solid models and nowhere is this transformation more evident than with the 2017 Escalade.
Earlier generations might have been ridiculed for their poor build quality and lack of passenger room, however, this one — which was redesigned in 2015 — has improved so much that it might just be one of the go-to models in the premium SUV segment. It has a lot going for it, from its bold exterior, ability to seat eight adults, and some very useful technology, but it isn’t perfect. Our ESV tester (that’s the long-wheelbase model) rides a bit like a pick-up truck; it shudders every time you roll over a pothole or hit a speed bump too fast, and it doesn’t feel as composed as some of its rivals, despite it featuring Cadillac’s renowned Magnetic Ride Control system (with Tour and Sport modes). This comes as standard on the ESV and although it tries its best to automatically adjust to sudden changes in the road, it flounders; it has some body roll to contend with. This isn’t really an issue since you’ll not be pushing it hard in the corners, unlike me, but what is disappointing is the aforementioned vibrations that come through via the chassis. That’s surprising when it has shear-style body mounts that are designed to reduce body shake. It really feels like you’re wheeling a Sierra or Silverado — not the sort of sensation you want from your luxury SUV that goes up against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLS 550, Lexus LX 570 and Range Rover, all of which offer a better ride.
Incidentally, Sport mode doesn’t seem to do much at all to enhance the ride when engaged: throttle response is the same, the transmission doesn’t appear to be in any more of a hurry to swap the cogs than it is when you are in Tour mode, and the steering feel is still vague. Not the sort of vehicle you’d want to try and set hot laps at the track with then, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any muscle.
Under the chunky bonnet resides a massive 6.2-litre V8 that churns out a healthy 420 horses...
Under the chunky bonnet resides a massive 6.2-litre V8 that churns out a healthy 420 horses and 623Nm of torque. Sure, it feels like most of those are used up just to get the 2,649kg Escalade moving, but once it hits its stride, it proves to be a very luxurious cruiser. The V8 boasts fuel-saving technologies including direct injection, variable valve timing and Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation technology that shuts down four of the cylinders when you’re coasting, and when you need more power and prod the throttle with your toe, the transition from four to eight cylinders is hardly detectable. The only way you know that the system is working is when you glance at the digital 12.3in instrument cluster and notice the little “V4” light turn off. It comes back on when you decelerate or are in traffic and it sure aids fuel economy, which stands at a claimed 16.1 litres per 100km on the highway.
The engine and eight-speed automatic are both buttery smooth and with a push of a button you can transform the Caddie into a proper off-roader. It has four user-selectable modes for the 4WD system; 2WD locks the powertrain into rear-wheel drive, Auto is a sort of on-demand all-wheel drive setting, and then there are two modes that lock the system into 4WD with either high- or low-gear ratios. But, truth be told, you might not want to take this one off the beaten track, not just because it is so big and heavy, but also because it is so lavish that getting it dirty just wouldn’t feel right — still, it’s good to know if push came to shove it has the chops to perform.
When it comes to sheer size, even the biggest from Germany and Japan would appear to fall short; for a fair comparison you’d need another American in the mix, and that’d be the Navigator. I’d also say that Mercedes, BMW and Audi don’t have anything that can rival the Cadillac in terms of styling. This thing is audacious — from the bold front end to the streamlined rear quarters, you really can’t miss it. Or maybe that’s because of, er, its size... New colours for 2017 include Dark Adriatic Blue Metallic and Bronze Dune Metallic, it gets blingy 22in aluminium wheels and packs some new tech and safety systems including a rear camera mirror and automatic parking assist. The former really comes in handy because manoeuvring the ESV — which has a 355mm longer wheelbase than the regular Escalade and is 508mm longer overall — isn’t the easiest of tasks, especially if you happen to be in town or a busy mall car park. But the stretched dimensions pay dividends in the cabin; second- and third-row passengers can stretch out and really relax.
The Cadillac CUE infotainment system, with Apple Car Play integration, uses an 8.0in centre screen with capacitive touch technology. Some may recall my complaints about the CTS-V were related to the CUE system and I have to have another moan this time around. My biggest problem with it is that you have to try extra hard to touch the right areas on the gloss black surface in order to turn up the volume or adjust the AC and this proves rather difficult when the SUV is in motion. To try remedy this, the system uses proximity sensors to activate common options and controls as your hand approaches, but still no joy. Perhaps it’ll finally be faultless in the next update. No complaints about the clarity of the Bose Centerpoint Audio System; with 16 speakers, you are provided with a concert-like sound. Second row passengers get a Blu-Ray DVD rear entertainment system that is built into the roof, which would have caused a problem if you had a ‘traditional’ rear-view mirror, but with the new rear camera mirror — which utilises a wide-angle camera mounted on the rear of the vehicle and then streams the video on the mirror — you don’t suffer any obstructions that could be caused by passengers, headrests or, indeed, the rear-seat DVD infotainment screen.
On the safety front, it packs automatic braking, automatic parking assist, a surround-vision system to provide a 360-degree bird’s-eye view, not to mention lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, side blind zone alert, and it’s the only model in the segment to offer a front-centre airbag. That’s impressive, but what will have already raised your eyebrows is the high level of craftsmanship in the cabin, the real wood and suede trim and the ambient lighting. It’s all very elegant and gives off a feeling of quality. What more could you want from your family-friendly SUV? Massaging seats did you say? It has them too — and they’re wrapped in semi-aniline leather.
So, if you want to ride in style, luxury, and stand out from the crowd too, you know what to do.