Run Europe’s Best Off the Road in the 2018 Cadillac Escalade: Review

Dinosaurs no longer rule the Earth and, as a result, the 2018 Cadillac Escalade has had to evolve.

Whereas truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs were once the pinnacle of the full-size SUV segment, the algal bloom of utility vehicles has spread across the industry and produced big haulers that drive smaller, leaving remnants like the Escalade and its few remaining competitors — the Lincoln Navigator, the Lexus LX 570, and the Infiniti QX80 — as the sole survivors of a bygone era.

That said, natural selection dictates that the strong survive, which can only mean that the Cadillac Escalade is good enough (or profitable enough) to survive the onslaught of more refined SUV designs. Here’s how Caddy’s biggest, most boisterous bruiser has avoided being trapped in amber.

Strong Bones, Modern Sinew

Focusing on the Cadillac Escalade’s borrowed pickup platform loses sight of the fact that GM has arguably advanced the science of full-frame suspension design farther than any of its rivals. Specifically, the Escalade’s standard Magnetic Ride Control shocks, which can automatically adjust to road conditions more quickly than you can read this sentence, allows the chassis to swap from soft to stiff and back again at the touch of a button (or pulse of a sensor).

The end result is a remarkably plush ride that befits the Cadillac’s throwback image as a rec room on wheels. Even Montreal’s prodigious speed bump situation did little to unsettle the Escalade as it relentlessly strode towards its next target — the valet station of a Michelin-starred restaurant, a parking space miraculously large enough to contain its bulk, a gas station — like some kind of unstoppable chrome-trimmed Terminator.

While potholes and subcompacts largely disappear under the Escalade’s 22’s, what the magic of magnets can’t fully dial-out is the Cadillac’s ponderous weight. Hustle the SUV at higher speeds and you don’t notice it quite as much, but around town the Jumbo size and weight inform every steering input as you elephant-toe around the automotive mice infesting the road around you. It’s not enough to deter one from purchasing the Escalade, but it is a notable artifact of its design not experienced in its European rivals.

Tow, If You Want To

Of course, that’s assuming you’re cross-shopping the Cadillac Escalade against similarly priced luxury crossover fare like the Mercedes-Benz GLS and the Audi Q7 to begin with. It’s not a straight shot from the domestic to the import showroom because the Escalade out-muscles each of those rides when it comes time to go to work. With a towing capacity of 8,300 lbs — 800 lbs more than you can haul with Mercedes’ three-row option, and 600 more than the Audi — plus the predictable power delivery of its 6.2-liter, torque-happy V8 engine, the Cadillac stands somewhat apart for those seeking a plush, yet still task-focused rig.

The eight-cylinder’s 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque are sufficiently authoritative with the pedal down, and optional all-wheel drive (standard in Canada) keeps the truck sure-footed even in the wintry mix of snow and ice it had to deal with during its time in my care. A new 10-speed automatic transmission debuts for the 2018 Escalade and it was so transparent in operation I had no idea last year’s excellent eight-speed had fled the scene until I double-checked the build sheet.

Avail yourself of the power-folding third row found in the Escalade, and you’ll see the truck put more distance between itself and the Q7 when it comes to cargo capacity, boasting 94.2 cubic feet of storage versus just over 70 from the German offering. The GLS is essentially a match for the standard-wheelbase Escalade like the one in this review, but should you wish to activate the nuclear option, there’s the even-larger Escalade ESV, which brings 120.9 cubes into the picture (along with significantly more legroom for third-row passengers). Either model still requires you to clear the Cadillac’s rather high load floor, however, a side effect of the previously mentioned in-floor seat storage.

Roaming Palace

Truth be told, outside of boat owners and equestrian enthusiasts, few will be hitching their huge SUVs up to shoulder more than the occasional U-Haul trailer load, which means that the 2018 Cadillac Escalade needs to pull its weight in more than just the literal sense. Specifically, the cabin of the Platinum model I drove has to match the decadent, and well-executed outlays of not just the Germans, but also its Japanese and Detroit-based competitors.

Materials found throughout the Escalade’s cabin, at least in Platinum trim, are on par with what you would expect from a near-six-figure automobile from any luxury brand. For the most part, the rest of the cabin’s atmosphere is also a strong match for its imported in-country market-mates, although the Infiniti QX80’s interior wow-factor outshines the Escalade when it comes to details.

All of the features you’d expect to find are present and accounted for as well, including surround sound audio, a power liftgate, standard leather upholstery throughout the vehicle, massaging (and heated, and cooled) seats, rear seat entertainment, and of course Cadillac’s full suite of active safety gear. This includes an automated parking system that I was too intimidated to use, but which may alleviate the reverse-anxiety some drivers have when faced with such a large vehicle. I did employ the adaptive cruise control in heavy traffic and found it a nice break from stop-and-go tedium.

The Verdict: 2018 Cadillac Escalade Review

The 2018 Cadillac Escalade is far from an anachronism and it would be a mistake to think that there’s no longer any place on the luxury landscape for the iconic silhouette of the brand’s undisputed flagship. Comfortable, useful, and quick for its size, the Escalade represents an attitude shift from cross-ocean offerings while still delivering much brighter badge recognition than the Navigator.

In fact, the Escalade’s biggest challenger comes not from without, but within: the GMC Yukon Denali is very nearly as plush, and mechanically identical, for much less money. Having two top-tier luxury SUVs facing off in the same the stable might seem like something of an issue for General Motors, but as problems go, it’s hard to think of a better one to have.

this review first appeared on AutoGuide

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