Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

Road test: 2017 Cadillac Escalade

It comes with a suitably premium ambience – as should be the case in an almost-Dh400,000 vehicle.

The Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum. Satish Kumar / The National
The Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum. Satish Kumar / The National

The Escalade has presence. How could it not, with that massive chrome-laden grille stretched across its expansive face? Without a shadow of doubt, it’s the largest passenger vehicle I’ve ever tested (the only thing bigger that comes to mind is a Mercedes Actros truck), stretching 5.7 metres from stem to stern, and more than 2 metres across the bows. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say the bootlid and grille reside in two separate postcodes.

But sheer size has been Cadillac’s hallmark for many decades. Remember the 1966 Eldorado, with its sea of sheet metal and razor-sharp fins? Well, the Escalade is in many ways the modern-day counterpart to that.

The ballistic CTS-V saloon may well be the fastest vehicle in Cad­illac’s line-up, but the Escalade is the flag bearer, embodying all the brand’s traditional core values. Apart from its gargantuan dim­ensions, the hulking SUV is also crammed with all the mod cons that GM could throw at it.

If you can imagine driving down the road in your living room – complete with its leather lounge suite and home entertainment system – then you can pretty much visualise what the Escalade is like. Clamber up into its lofty innards – automatically deploying side steps make this easier – and you’ll find yourself ensconced in a cabin that’s surprisingly well-executed.

Past Escalades may have been packed with features galore, but they were always cheapened somewhat by their unimaginatively designed, poorly made cockpits and plethora of "GM parts bin" switchgear. This time around, a lot more effort has clearly gone into the process, with an attractive blend of high-quality leather and woodgrain surfaces, making for a suitably premium ambience – as should be the case in almost-Dh400,000 vehicle.

The only elements I dislike are the clunky column-shift auto and annoyingly fiddly air-conditioning/infotainment-system controls. No shortage of bells and whistles, though, because the range-topping Platinum we’re testing comes with an excellent 16-speaker Bose sound system, a pair of nine-inch Blu-ray DVD screens in the front seat backs and lots more. There’s also a barrage of safety-enhancing driver aids (including a park-assist feature that can parallel/perpendicular-park the vehicle on its own) and multiple airbags.

Feature-laden, leather-lined and vastly spacious it may be, but there’s no getting away from the Caddy’s humble origins once you drive a few kilometres down the road. Where nearly all rivals are underpinned by lighter and more sophisticated unibody platforms, the Escalade shares its truck-like body-on-frame architecture with the likes of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon.

This, plus its hefty 2.7-tonne girth, means it neither rides nor handles with the finesse of its premium German/British/Japanese rivals – and this is despite the fact it’s equipped with Cadillac’s clever magnetorheological dampers. The Escalade falls well short of a Range Rover’s refinement levels, and it isn’t even in the same universe as BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne in terms of agility.

In terms of pure merit, the Escalade is still well off the pace, but this won’t matter to many of its potential buyers. They will be sufficiently swayed by its formidable visual presence, acres of cabin space and dizzying array of mod cons. Who am I to say they’re wrong?

Updated: June 30, 2017 05:11 PM

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