2016 Cadillac Escalade Road Test & Review

People look to three-row SUVs for a variety of reasons, and there’s no shame in wanting more than just “utility” from your SUV. It’s like slipping on a full-length mink coat to stay warm in the dead of winter; although you may have a moral dilemma doing so, it feels undeniably amazing.

That stated, the 2016 Cadillac Escalade is pure indulgence. From its bold exterior styling to its burly standard V8 engine, this luxury SUV does not skimp on creature comforts or capabilities. Read on to get the full details on this brawny, blingy ride.

Models and Pricing

The 2016 Cadillac Escalade comes in four different trims—the base Escalade, starting at $73,395; the Luxury, starting at $80,995; the Premium Luxury, starting at $85,495, and the top-tier Platinum, starting at $94,795.

There is also larger and longer model dubbed the Escalade ESV, which is available in the same four trims as the standard Escalade. The difference in size between the two is like that of the Escalades’ Chevy cousins, the Tahoe and Suburban. Every Escalade comes standard with a 6.2-liter V8 engine, an 8-speed automatic transmission, and your choice of 2- or 4-wheel drive.

Curb appeal

An Escalade on the road does not go unnoticed. Whether it’s parked in your driveway or in the valet line, the Escalde, with that enormous chrome grille, turns heads every time. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, either; with none of the sensuous curves and low-slung profiles most SUVs have tried to incorporate into their designs, the Escalade plays up its big boxy exterior beautifully. The bold rear has tall taillights that run all all the way up to the roofline and command attention.

The base Escalade is plenty sophisticated, but the top-tier Platinum model we tested was as “bling” as it gets; the 22-inch wheels, illuminated door handles, chrome-lined power retractable assist step, and two large Cadillac badges on the grille and tailgate make it full-blown paparazzi bait. The Escalade is many things, but understated it is not.

Interior opulence

We knew the Escalade Platinum would have the best of today’s convenience and comfort features, but the spacious cabin was even more luxurious than we’d anticipated. For starters, a 16-speaker Bose surround sound system comes standard, along with climate controlled front seats, heated second row seats and a heated steering wheel. Our Platinum trim test vehicle was equipped with even more features, elevating the ultra posh ride. Our favorites included the massaging front seats, a head-up display and a cooler box in the center console.

Even though buttery Nappa leather and a sueded headliner add premium touches, Escalade Platinum cabin still manages to feel cozy, comfortable, and appropriate for families and adventure seekers. There’s nothing stuffy about the interior, and that’s what made driving the Cadillac Escalade all the more enjoyable.

Technologically speaking

The Escalade is big on tech, at any price. On its own, the standard Cadillac CUE infotainment system brings a ton of functionality to this luxurious SUV. CUE integrates everuything from weather forecasts to managing safety settings to various other in-car apps and entertainment systems to provide a connected experience for both driver and passenger. Enhanced by 4G LTE hot spot connectivity (plan for additional expense from OnStar for monthly data charges), the Escalade can either serve as the mobile office you need while sitting alongside the soccer field, or the movie theater you want on long road trips. There are USB ports in both the front and second row to keep devices charged, and even a standard 110-volt electrical outlet.

The CUE system has been criticized for its slow response to user inputs, but Escalades now come standard with Apple CarPlay compatibility. This enables bypassing many of the more frustrating characteristics of CUE just by plugging in your smartphone. We’ve found this compatibility invaluable in the cars we’ve tested recently, and we love the familiarity of the phone’s operating system being available in the car. It’s most beneficial when we’ve been able to use our phones’ navigation apps that do a better job of planning routes according to real traffic conditions.

Beyond the bling

Aside from the conveniences and luxury the Escalade offers, this Cadillac SUV is wonderful to drive. The power from the V8 engine is delivered smoothly and quickly, ensuring confidence on the road in both the city and on the highway. Gearheads will rejoice in the Escalade’s best-in-class 420 horsepower, but as you might expect, it hurts fuel efficiency. The Escalade’s EPA estimates are 17 MPG city/22 MPG highway, but during our week test drive, we came in closer to 16 MPG combined.

Another perk to the Escalade is the standard tow package and 8300-lb. towing capability, which makes this Cadillac a competent companion for your favorite toys. If you prefer the slopes and prioritize a 4WD option instead, each trim level is avaialble with either AWD or 4WD.

The Escalade’s size can be intimidating at first, but we found the rear camera and 360-degree camera display essential in keeping the super-sized SUV (and our nerves) in check. Complementing the “surround vision” feature, front and rear Park Assist also come standard, which were a great help when maneuvering the Escalade in tight spaces.

A Safe Haven

The safety systems found in the Platinum Escalade we tested were equally as impressive as the luxury features. However, one of the best safety features comes standard on all GM products: OnStar provides peace of mind with its Automatic Crash Response, Crisis Assist, and emergency services when needed. The Safety Alert Seat, also found at higher trim levels across various GM products, will alert the driver to trouble on the road by vibrations in the driver’s seat. We prefer the vibrating seat signal to the loud beeps and buzzes that other cars use to alert the driver to particular hazards.

Other safety options we appreciated during our week with the Escalade were the rear cross-traffic and side blind-zone alerts, which again proved to be invaluable when driving such a large vehicle.

Cargo area capacity

The Escalade is one of the three-row vehicles that doesn’t sacrifice all of its cargo space for the third row. When the rearmost seat is in use, you retain 15.2 cu. ft. of cargo space, and when the third row is folded down, space is increased drastically to 51.6 cu. ft.

If you plan to travel with both people and gear frequently, look to the ESV—you’ll have more than double the space available behind the third row (39.3 cu. ft.) and a staggering 76.7 cu. ft. of available room when the third row is folded down. Simply put, the Escalade ESV’s cargo area is cavernous.

Family Friendliness

The Escalade is great family vehicle option, but there are two main caveats. The sheer height of the vehicle can cause trouble with ingress and egress if you have a strong-willed toddler or an elderly family member joining you on the drive. It’s quite a step-up into the Escalade—as a 5-foot-4 mom of one, I always needed to use the inside handle to hoist myself into the vehicle, while my kiddo relied heavily on the retractable assist step.

Also, if you have growing teenagers that you are counting on to fit into the third row, it might be a surprise to find that the third row of the standard Escalade is laughably small. It’ll work for a 15-minute carpool run, but if you’re looking to shuttle teens and adults in the third row often, consider the larger ESV model. The ESV offers almost a foot more additional of legroom in the third row than the regular Escalade (34.5 inches vs. 24.8).

If the Cadillac Escalade passes the two tests above, you’ll be pleased to call it your next family shuttle. The center console cooler box comes in handy for storing after-school snacks and a dual display rear entertainment system is available if you pass on the hot-spot connectivity and go analog with DVDs.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of reasons to love the Cadillac Escalade, which holds its own when compared to competitors in the segment. We were surprised by the Escalade’s ride and handling qualities; they shattered the boaty preconceptions normally associated with American marques. The Escalade even had many of the same features we’ve seen in Mercedes-Benz’s GLS-Class and commands just as much attention on the road, if not more, than the Mercedes does.

At this price point, the purchase is often emotional. There are plenty of SUVs on the market that are as capable as the Escalade, or even more so. But the Escalade invokes a feeling when you’re behind the wheel, and it’s a strong one that can transcend across many types of buyers. If you have the means for a luxury SUV, you won’t find many ticks in the “cons” column if you go with the Cadillac Escalade.