by CHRISTOPHER WYNN
photographs by BEN GARRETT
hair stylist SHANE MONDEN
makeup artist ASHLEY ROBINSON
Sex. Money. Testosterone. I am standing in front of a glossy black 2015 Cadillac Escalade and I am feeling things a man should not feel about a family hauler that seats seven — especially one beloved by the blond, ponytailed moms of affluent suburbia. But look at it. Bejeweled LED headlights that angle up its face like winking cat eyes. Twenty-two-inch wheels that shout “Look over here!” (while threatening to roll over you for staring). And that chiseled-and-cut chromed grille, stamped dead-center with a massive Cadillac badge, ready to brand you like an animal if you get in its way. Was it Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction who warned Michael Douglas’ adulterer: “I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!” This hulking SUV will not be ignored, either — and certainly not by me as I climb up into its hushed, cavernous interior. The tobacco-brown leather seats coddle, and they vibrate. Kinky. I feel a tingling in my wallet. This is 50 shades of Cadillac and I am ready to submit.
Overheated first impressions aside, it is worth noting how important the new Escalade is to Cadillac. The bling-y SUV is not only a huge profit-maker for parent company General Motors but it is largely credited with kick-starting Cadillac’s comeback to cool 15 years ago, thanks in part to an unlikely boost from the rap-music community, which loves these things and writes about them. Last fall, when I toured the GM Assembly Plant in Arlington, where the Escalade and its humbler siblings — the Chevrolet Tahoe, the Chevrolet Suburban, the GMC Yukon — are built, the plant’s communications manager went into minor panic mode when our photographer caught a glimpse of the new truck before its public reveal. There is a lot riding on those gargantuan rims. GM dropped an estimated half-billion dollars to expand and renovate the Arlington plant to build its big, next-generation 2015 SUVs and, based on reports at press time, the investment is paying off. Sales of the Tahoe and Suburban have doubled. The Yukon has shot up 141 percent over last year. Surely, GM hopes it is the Escalade’s turn. But can this tech-laden, fourth-generation ’Slade win over new — and, importantly for GM, younger — luxury buyers without alienating its more seasoned fan base? I can tell you this: Compromise has never looked better. I say compromise because, while the 2015 model rides on a new platform and is completely redesigned, inside and out, it is still instantly recognizable as an Escalade. That is not a bad thing. The old model was handsome. The new iteration is more sculpted, modern and squared-off. A female friend thought my test Escalade was a tad boxy, but every male friend that looked at it loved its aggressive lines and beefy grille. The rear end is relatively demure for a vehicle this bossy, but it benefits from new vertical LED taillamps that stretch bumper-to-roof and recall classic Cadillac design cues.
Inside is where the changes really pay off. That squarer exterior means increased rear headroom. The second-row captain’s seats recline, terribly handy for watching Blu-ray movies on the flatscreen monitor, which flips down from the ceiling. While there is more space now to maneuver into the third row — the power-operated seats fold flat into the cargo floor, if you wish — legroom back there remains cramped for anyone other than toddlers, unless you opt for the stretched ESV model. The whole cabin is awash in cut-and-sewn leather, sueded microfiber, satiny metal accents and open-pore wood trim. My tester was the standard-wheelbase, top-of-the-line Premium version and was loaded with tech features. I pressed the start button and the vehicle’s center touchscreen came alive with animated swirls, welcoming me to CUE, Cadillac’s infotainment system. I had a love-hate relationship with this so-called Cadillac User Experience. I loved that the 8-inch display recognized gestures (hover your hand over the screen to wake it up) and offered a mind-boggling amount of data. I hated that all of that data was buried inside complicated menus that made it a challenge even to change the music while driving. (So, mostly, I didn’t. And why bother when one of the first songs aired on my preset satellite station was Notorious B.I.G.’s ’90s hit, “Big Poppa,” which somehow felt right for this brash Caddy. “Throw your hands in the air-uh/If you’s a true play-uh.”) Old-schoolers will be glad to see a center stack of buttons —in this case, touch-sensitive illuminated icons — for basic features such as radio volume and climate control. Unfortunately, these buttons were numb-feeling and frustratingly slow to respond. More successful was the digital instrument cluster behind the wheel, which replaces mechanical analog gauges and can be personalized and reconfigured four ways. The boldest icon displayed? The fuel gauge, rendered as a quaint, vintage service-station pump. That pump drains a bit slower than in the previous Escalade: The two-wheel-drive, entry-level model gets an EPA-rated 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. Four-wheel-drive models are rated at 14 in the city and the same 21 on the highway. Credit the fuel-management system, which deactivates engine cylinders when not needed, such as coasting or going downhill. An icon shows when you’re in 8-cylinder mode or 4-cylinder mode and I never detected the difference. In fact, I found the Escalade surprisingly nimble and well-mannered for a nearly 6,000-pound object. Around construction-laden Uptown, it tamed bumps with its magnetic ride-control system, which constantly scans the road and makes tiny suspension adjustments. On the downside, the Escalade’s ride was stiffer than I expected, even in Tour mode, and there was an occasional jitter from the rear seats. I probably only noticed the latter because the cabin was utterly quiet. The vehicle has a new inlaid door design for reducing wind noise and drag, and active noise cancellation for the thumping Bose audio system. If you need to focus on errands during the apocalypse, this is your SUV.
I decided to take this hoss out of the city to see how it would handle on a real road trip. I ended up about 90 minutes southwest of Dallas at the compact Burger Bar in old downtown Cleburne. (My parked 17-foot-long truck was comically longer than the bijou burger shack, opened in 1949 and famed for its single grill and four counter stools. Bring the ESV version and you’re parking almost 19 feet of Cadillac.) The heavy Escalade was a grand and comfortable highway cruiser. Power is plentiful and comes from a 6.2-liter V-8, taken from the same new engine family as the one that propels the Chevrolet Corvette, but with obviously less head- snapping results. You can track your speed — and the surrounding speed limit — on a digital display that projects onto the windshield. The Cadillac provides other feedback while driving, too. Drift out of your lane and a computer buzzes your seat, on the left side or right, depending on your offense, to alert you. (I got a lot of those. Turns out, it’s hard to keep a vehicle this size perfectly placed between the lines.) Of course, all these bells and whistles and cubic feet come at a price. The regular-wheelbase Escalade comes in three flavors, with prices to match the gewgaws: Standard, from about $72,000; Luxury, from about $77,000; and Premium, from about $81,000. A long-wheelbase Premium ’Slade with four-wheel drive will set you back around $87,000. Click all the boxes and you will spend almost $93,000. At these prices, competitors include the Mercedes-Benz GL450, the Infiniti QX80 and the snooty Range Rover flagship, none of which wear the Escalade’s heritage as a Texan favorite or its ballsy attitude. As one of my passengers noted: “It seems big for the sake of being big.”
To which I, shamelessly seduced by three tons of shapely steel and vibrating leather, replied: “And your point?”
I CLIMB UP INTO THE ESCALADE’S HUSHED, CAVERNOUS INTERIOR. THE TOBACCO-BROWN
LEATHER SEATS CODDLE, AND THEY VIBRATE. KINKY. I FEEL A TINGLING IN MY WALLET.
THIS IS 50 SHADES OF CADILLAC AND I AM READY TO SUBMIT.
photographs by BEN GARRETT/photographer’s assistant THANIN VIRIYAKI
makeup artist ASHLEY ROBINSON/Kim Dawson Agency
hair stylist SHANE MONDEN/Wallflower Management
production assistant COURTNEY SPALTEN