Way back in late 1997, Lincoln introduced the Navigator, a ritzy, restyled version of the Ford Expedition. The Navigator’s introduction seemed to catch General Motors off guard, though not as much as its huge sales figures. In response, GM initiated what was essentially a crash program to create a full-size SUV for Cadillac. The result was the 1999 Escalade, which was little more than a GMT400-chassis GMC Yukon Denali with a different grille insert and wheel center caps. Hardly anything to write home about, but it did its job: Preventing Lincoln from pulling too far ahead in the luxury SUV race.
Jump ahead to late 2013, and the Escalade – now in its third generation – has long since usurped the title of luxury SUV heavyweight cham-peen of America from the Navigator (though, in the Navi’s defense, Dearborn has barely touched it since it pushed the first of the current gen three models out the door almost seven years ago). And if the newly announced fourth-gen ‘Sclade seen here is any indication, Cadillac has exactly zero interest in relinquishing that crown.
The 2015 Escalade (set to hit dealers next spring) will be available in two familiar flavors: The regular Escalade with a 116” wheelbase (based on the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon), and the 130” wheelbase Escalade ESV (based on the Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL). The Escalade EXT pickup, like the Chevy Avalanche from which it was derived, is no more. As before, the basic body shells are shared with their more proletarian cousins (which are also all-new for ’15), but the nose features a mammoth grille with the Cadillac crest front-and-center, as well as LED headlights that wrap onto the top edges of the fenders much like they do on the brand’s passenger cars. In back, the clear-lens taillights extend upward into the D-pillars in a decidedly Volvo-like (or CTS Wagon-like) fashion before stopping at a quite beefy spoiler. Standard trim level Escalades are fitted with 20” wheels, while the uplevel Luxury and Premium models roll on 22” rims and rubber. The exterior appearance is far more evolutionary than revolutionary, but is immediately recognizable as that of an Escalade.
Climb aboard this tiffany truck and you’re greeted with accoutrements that are as lavish and stylish as any current Cadillac car. Hand-stitched leather and suede are draped over the dashboard (where Cadillac’s controversial CUE touchscreen multimedia system lives), door panels, steering wheel and elsewhere, sharing real estate with real wood and polished metal. Heated and cooled front bucket seats are standard, with a choice of second-row buckets or a split bench (both with bun-warmers for the outboard positions) and a power folding split third-row bench occupying the aft cabin. Maximum seating capacity for both regular and ESV flavors is eight (seven with the Row 2 buckets).
But while the new Escalade is all poshness and luxury topside, it’s all business underneath. Specifically, it’s high-tech, high-performance business underneath. The robust, fully-boxed ladder frame is isolated from ol’ terra firma’s lumpiness by way of coil springs and GM’s acclaimed Magnetic Ride Control dampers at each corner. Power comes from a new 6.2L V8 that’s more than a little similar to the same-size LT1 in the new Corvette Stingray. Like that engine, the new Escalade’s powerhouse utilizes direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. Peak outputs are 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft of torque, and responsibility for distribution of that power falls to a 6-speed automatic transmission, a choice of rear- or four-wheel-drive, and a standard rear limited-slip differential.
Cadillac hasn’t discussed pricing for the new Escalades yet, but we’re guessing the MSRPs will be in the same ballpark as those of luxo-utes like the Lexus LX570, Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz GL- and G-classes. Some will argue that the Escalade lacks the refinement and polish of those furrin’ jobs, but it’s worth mentioning that those same furrin’ jobs generally lack the interior space and capability (e.g. a 4+ ton towing capacity) of the Escalade. Besides, when was the last time you heard rap lyrics that mentioned the Infiniti QX56 (now known as the QX80)? Precisely.