The Cadillac Escalade, the favorite full-size premium SUV of Texans, got a complete makeover for 2015, entering its fourth generation with more luxury, versatility and fuel-efficiency.General Motors builds the Escalade in its Arlington plant along with its siblings, the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon. Since their arrival in the spring as early 2015 models, the big sport utilities have been driving GM’s sales gains, which have been setting records lately.Although the Escalade already was one of my favorite vehicles (I confess to having had one in the family for a while), the redesigned version moves the brand up a notch (along with the price).The Escalade comes in two lengths, just like the Chevy and GMC versions – regular and extended. The ESV is the longer one, and is the same size as the Suburban and the Yukon XL. The ESV is 20 inches longer than the regular model, with a wheelbase that’s 14 inches longer. That gives it 60 percent more cargo space behind the third row of seats.Gone from the lineup for 2015 are the EXT pickup version, as well as the Escalade Hybrid.For 2015, prices begin at $71,685 (plus $995 freight), which is up from a starting price of $63,745 for last year’s base two-wheel-drive model. As with the previous models, the new Escalade is available with either rear- or four-wheel drive.The good news is that at the top end, the ESV Premium four-wheel-drive, at $85,795, is just $125 more than the same model last year.Our test vehicle for the week was the regular-length Luxury 4WD model (base price $78,295 plus freight). It had no options, so the total with freight was $79,290. GM says the new Escalade features a “quieter cabin, smoother performance and more-efficient powertrain,” and after a week in the driver’s seat, I certainly can attest to the quietness. Even at interstate highway speeds, the interior of our test vehicle was so quiet that we could carry on a conversation between front and rear passengers in a normal tone of voice.That’s made possible by a stronger body structure, new acoustic insulation, and Bose active noise cancellation.The exterior restyling wasn’t radical. In spite of numerous changes, the new model is clearly recognizable as an Escalade, although it’s slightly boxier than before, especially at the rear. It’s still big and bold, with seating for up to eight people.GM says there are more changes inside than out, and there were many I noticed. Our vehicle had quite comfortable dual captain’s chairs in the middle row, with a center pass-through to allow access to the third row. This arrangement cuts passenger capacity down to seven, but makes the middle row much more comfortable.The exterior features modern LED lighting, including high-beams, with four vertically stacked crystal lenses, and low beams with five crystal lenses. There also are vertical LED taillights, with the Cadillac wreath-and-crest insignia that lights up. LED-illuminated door handles are included on the high-end model.Under the hood of all models is a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine rated at 420 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of torque, up from the previous 403 horsepower and 417 foot-pounds. It’s connected to a six-speed automatic transmission with Tap Shift control for manual shifting. EPA fuel-economy estimates are 15 mpg city.21 highway with rear drive, and 14/21 with four-wheel drive. To help boost fuel economy, the engine has technologies such as direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation during highway cruising, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system.Other components include a coil-over-shock front suspension, five-link/coil-spring rear suspension, a wider rear track, electric power steering, and a new 9.5-inch rear axle with standard automatic-locking rear differential. Twenty-inch wheels are standard, but 22-inch wheels are available.Our tester, with a Dark Granite Metallic exterior color and Jet Black leather interior, came with the 22-inch painted wheels. A new four-wheel antilock disc-brake system features GM’s Duralife brake rotors, which are designed to last twice as long as conventional rotors.Included on our Luxury model was Cadillac’s third-generation magnetic ride control damping system, designed to provide precise control of body motion while limiting roll in curves and turns.Inside, there are new premium features such as cut-and-sewn and wrapped leather upholstery and trim, with wood trim options. Up front, the seats are heated and cooled; in the second row, they’re heated.For modern connectivity, the Escalade features Cadillac’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system, with voice recognition and touch controls. Our vehicle had the navigation system with an eight-inch color display, along with GM’s OnStar system.Other standard amenities on our tester included a locking rear differential, trailering package, power-adjustable pedals, heated steering wheel, keyless entry and pushbutton start, heated and cooled front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, power tilt/slide sunroof, a hands-free power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, and front and rear parking assist,A standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster had four selectable themes, and there was a head-up display that projected the vehicle’s speed and other information on the bottom of the windshield.To keep the backseat passengers occupied, the Escalade can be equipped with a Blu-Ray DVD rear entertainment system, which comes with a nine-inch, roof-mounted screen on the regular-length model, and two nine-inch screens on the ESV version. (The system was not included on our test vehicle).We had dual USB ports and a 12-volt power outlet in front, where there is a small open cubby perfect for portable devices. There were two more USB ports, an auxiliary input and another 12-volt outlet inside the center console, which also doubled as an armrest for the driver and front passenger.The center console also had dual cupholders. Middle-row passengers had a cupholder and bottle holder in each door, while third-row passengers had two cupholders in the tops of the wheel arches.There were seatback pockets on the front seats, accessible to the middle row, and there were also air conditioning controls, a 115-volt AC outlet, and a 12-volt outlet for the rear passengers.Power? There was plenty of that from the big V-8 engine, although we never had the vehicle fully loaded, and did not try pulling a trailer. Acceleration was smooth, as was shifting of the automatic gearbox. Safety features included front and rear automatic braking, which uses radar and ultrasonic sensors to help avoid low-speed collisions; and the segment’s only Front Seat Center-Mounted air bag. Available are such features as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and GM’s Safety Alert Seat, which vibrates under the driver to warn about potential crash threats. A backup-camera system was included on our tester.Included on Luxury and Premium models are the Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Alert systems.Also available are Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Collision Preparation and Automatic Safety Belt Tightening.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.