In the world of full-size luxury SUVs, where it’s assumed that bigger is better, this year’s upgrade to the Cadillac Escalade makes perfect sense.
Cadillac has stuffed a whopping 10 forward gears into the Escalade’s automatic transmission for 2018, something that helps it in two key areas.
One is gas mileage, admittedly a tertiary concern of Escalade shoppers. The government-rated highway economy improves from 22 all the way to 23 mpg on rear-wheel-drive models.
Much more noticeable, though, is the way it separates the latest Escalade from its truck-like ancestors. Shifts are not only smoother and more precise than before, making it accelerate more like a car, but they’re also quicker.
I was pleasantly surprised at how this new transmission seems to instantly find the right gear and hold it, something a lot of nine- and 10-speeds struggle to do.
Stomp the gas from a standstill, and it’s 6.2-liter V8 engine rumbles its way to 60 mph in less than six seconds, Cadillac claims.
Other than its fresh transmission, the Escalade offers the same gigantic, over-the-top luxury experience as before.
By design, it overwhelms the senses. Its massive 22-inch wheels, angular body panels, bold LED lighting and acres of soft, perforated leather combine to define lavish American luxury for families.
This is one of the all-time great vehicles for road trips, especially in its elongated ESV form that’s the size of a Chevrolet Suburban but outfitted more extravagantly. Three rows of roomy seats and every imaginable entertainment amenity make it feel like a private jet for the interstate highway system, a roadgoing Gulfstream.
My Platinum-trim tester came with dual DVD screens in the headrests, a 16-speaker Bose sound system with active noise cancellation to silence the cabin, an 8-inch touchscreen on the center stack, a 12-inch customizable digital gauge cluster, 18-way adjustable massaging front seats, and even a refrigerated drink cooler in the center console.
All those high-end upgrades resulted in an equally high-end price. My tester carried a sticker over $100,000, or around $25
grand more than the entry model.
For that kind of money, you’re justified in being picky. And my picky complaint about the current generation Escalade remains firmly in place: its ride isn’t as soft as I’d like.
Even with the optional magnetic ride control, I wish it were a bit more supple and compliant, whereas the current suspension seems tuned more for sportiness and quick response — something that makes sense in the CTS but is an odd choice in this type of vehicle.
Pricing starts at $74,695 for the base Escalade and $77,695 for the longer Escalade ESV.