The Road Traveled: Cadillac Escalade

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

While not its top seller, the Escalade is still a hugely important part of Cadillac’s lineup. Adore it or abhor it, this high-brow hauler has brought in a lot of money for the company over the years and helped raise its profile among wealthy clientele.

Last year, the brand’s overall sales topped 182,500 units (retail and fleet). Their deliveries increased a whopping 22 percent compared to 2012. Of that total figure 22,514 Escalades (including ESV and EXT variants) were sold, which means it accounts for about 12 percent of Cadillac’s sales, but probably a much greater slice of its overall profits.

With traditionally bold styling and enough performance to match its looks, the luxury utility has done well over the years. With an all-new model about to be unleashed, it’s worth exploring the heritage of this luxury truck.

But this story needs a little context before we take a trip down memory lane, specifically a tip of the hat to Lincoln’s Navigator; for the luxury market was lost until this cartographically inclined utility vehicle guided the world to profits and prestige.

Released for the 1998 model year this F-150-based SUV proved there was a market for full-size, luxury SUVs, and a big one at that. It may sound like a fairy tale but this truck was released at a time when Ford’s domestic luxury division was actually capable of innovation; that’s a long-forgotten memory these days.

Essentially a gussied-up Ford Expedition, the Navigator was a major bullion-bovine for the company. Its unexpected success left competitors scrambling, notably Cadillac. The result was their hastily introduced Escalade, which bowed in ’99.

Essentially a rebadged version of the GMC Yukon Denali, the first-generation ‘Sclade was a touch homely and altogether too similar to its less prestigious siblings, especially the workaday Chevy Tahoe. Still, the truck’s venerable 5.7-liter small block V8 delivered 255 ponies, giving it a 25 hp lead on the ‘98 Navigator (though the Lincoln’s 5.4-liter SOHC V8 would be revised to deliver 260 hp in 1999; additionally it was replaced by a 300-hp DOHC engine of the same displacement later in the year). The Escalade’s engine was saddled to a four-speed automatic transmission.

No, that’s not a typo; following the introduction of its lackluster first-generation Escalade, Cadillac actually skipped a model year. The would-be 2001 vintage was not offered, a move the saddened absolutely no one.

But following its hiatus, the company came back swinging. Riding atop the corporation’s brand-new GMT800 pickup architecture the Escalade was much more modern and capable. The luxury SUV featured bold new styling and chiseled surfaces that really meshed with the rest of the brand’s “art and science” design theme.

Beyond the updated looks a fresh lineup of engines hit the stately Navigator where it hurt: under the hood. A 5.3-liter V8 as well as an optional 6.0-liter unit powered these trucks. Output ranged from 285 hp on the low end for the small engine to 345 ponies for the big bruiser. Again, a four-speed automatic transmission was the sole gearbox.

The third generation is where things get interesting. The Escalade has finally matured, earning more grown-up styling and a sophisticated interior in the process. Can vehicles go through puberty? Apparently they can.

Arguably this is the first iteration of the Escalade that feels truly luxurious, with tasteful design and quality materials. As for performance a new 6.2-liter Vortec V8 was standard across the lineup, delivering 403 hp. Breaking with tradition it was saddled to an advanced six-speed automatic transmission that should have boosted both performance and fuel economy.

A hybrid model was also available for the first time, bowing as a 2009 model. It featured a smaller 6.0-liter two-by-four under the hood and more electronics than a Google server farm. The result was significantly improved economy; they returned up to 23 mpg highway, though they were discontinued in 2013.

To keep improving the breed, an all-new Escalade has been prepared for the 2015 model year. This luxury SUV has been totally redesigned from rockers to roof rails, just like GM’s other pickup trucks and body-on-frame utility vehicles.

The ‘15 Escalade offers a host of advanced new safety features including front AND rear automatic braking designed to prevent dangerous low-speed collisions. The brand’s third-generation magnetic ride control system is also on the menu (it’s standard on Tour and Sport models).

An EcoTec3 6.2-liter V8 engine is nestled in the compartment immediately behind the massive wreath and crest adorning the Escalade’s prow. Brandishing direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation and more advanced technology this powerplant delivers an advertised 420 horses with 460 lb-ft of torque. A familiar six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered.

The all-new Escalade should also feature a high-quality cabin with cut-and-sewn materials and real-wood trimmings. The overall interior design should be much more premium than past iterations.

We’ll be evaluating this brand-new luxury utility vehicle in the coming days. Look for a full review and video of the 2015 Cadillac Escalade on AutoGuide very soon.

GALLERY: 2015 Cadillac Escalade

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Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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