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First drive: 2015 Cadillac Escalade

The 2015 Escalade feels like a luxury SUV, but even more than that, it feels like a truly American one.

It took a knockout, throw-down verbal argument for me to realize how I really feel about the 2015 Cadillac Escalade.

Admittedly, I’ve sat on this review for a while, mulling over how to best describe Cadillac’s completely redesigned flagship SUV. But tonight, it clicked.

There I was, sitting at dinner with a table filled with automotive journalists, when someone asked if anyone had driven the new Escalade. “I have,” I started, but the guy next to me beat me to it.

The Escalade is made of the things that turn you into a gangster, a patriot, and a badass.

“It’s terrible. Man, it’s awful. Why do things like that even exist anymore?”

This guy hated the new Caddy. He hated that it wasn’t as capable off-road as other 4x4s in the price range, like the Toyota Land Cruiser. He hated it because it didn’t have the same kind of sophistication and class you’d find in a Range Rover. He hated it because it costs more than the Infiniti QX80. And above all else, he felt the fact that he lived in Texas gave him insight into what real patriots want in an all-American SUV today.

“Hold on a second there,” I said as I finally found a break in his falling arrows. “I think you’re missing the point here. People LOVE the Escalade. I LOVE the Escalade. It’s a status symbol, and the new one is really freaking nice. Did you even listen to the exhaust?”

I’m flustered. He’s laughing.

That’s when I found out that he hadn’t actually driven the new truck, but there were a few qualities about the Escalade that I really, really like.

Killer redesign

Inside and out, the 2015 Escalade looks and feels better than it ever has before. I’m not sure that I ever fell out of love with the previous Escalade, especially in Platinum guise.

There was just something about its big, boxy exterior and optional LED headlamps that looked expensive to me, even next to newer luxury SUVs like the Land Rover Range Rover.

From the outside, the truck gains an oversized grille and modernized, vertically stacked LED headlamps and tail lamps. Thanks to its sheer size and updated styling, the Escalade looks like the kind of thing Darth Vader might use as his daily; it’s big, striking, and wonderfully evil. I especially dig it gray, where it looks like an escape pod from the Death Star or one of Michael Bay’s Decepticons, while black will almost certainly become go-to celebrity Uber.

There’s also a new Cadillac crest coming to the Escalade – one that drops the wreath for a more contemporary shield – but we won’t see that until later in the year.

The Escalade’s interior takes an enormous leap in the right direction, and it finally feels worthy of its luxury car designation. Every single surface has improved, from the cut and sewn leathers on the dash, door panels and all three rows of seats, to the available open-pore wood trims and attractive integration of the CUE infotainment system to the center stack.

Put simply, the Escalade no longer feels like an old, outdated Silverado inside. Instead, it borrows its interior from the Cadillac ATS, CTS, and XTS sedans, resulting in a plush, high-quality, high-tech interior that looks and feels great. The only thing that still gets me is the column-mounted shifter, but you can’t win ‘em all.

American muscle

Cadillac uses GM’s 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8, which produces 420 horsepower and 460-lb-ft of torque in the Escalade. Those numbers went in one ear and out the other when I first heard them, but stomping on the gas grabbed my attention. The Escalade can go from a standstill to 60 mph in just under 6.0 seconds, which is quick even for most sedans.

Even better is the sound the exhaust makes when the engine comes to life. While the Escalade may offer the trappings of a luxury SUV, the roar of the engine and growl from the exhaust reminds you that you’re in something big, muscular and totally American.

2015 Cadillac Escalade

It’s the kind of sound you’d expect to hear from a Camaro – likely because it also uses a 6.2-liter GM V8 – and I was left with the urge to punch the gas and punch it again, just to feel the Escalade roar, spin its tires, and lunge forward.

My seatmate at dinner was right about one thing, though. Despite the availability of short- and long-wheelbases and rear- and four-wheel-drive systems, the Escalade isn’t really made to go rock crawling or play in truly rugged terrains.

Part of me feels a pang of disappointment there, but the rest of me is reminded of why these big luxury SUVs hit the roads back in the late ‘90s in the first place.

2015 Cadillac Escalade

With its three rows and truck-based chassis, the Escalade is meant to haul multiple passengers around in style and comfort, as well as tow a boat when you really just need a trip to the lake.

It does both of those things better now than ever, thanks to its supremely comfortable interior and 8,100-lb towing capacity. And since I’m not the type to chase mud tracks all that often, there’s a pretty strong chance that an extra-rugged SUV like a Land Rover would just be overkill for me anyway.

I’d rather have the acceleration and style points offered with the Cadillac.

More than a feeling

The quality that truly separates the 2015 Cadillac Escalade from the rest of the pack is its image.

You end up feeling like the lovechild of the coolest professional baller/rapper in the game, and the most quintessentially American girl in the country. And let’s face it; That’s not a bad feeling. The Escalade is made of the things that turn you into a gangster, a patriot, and a badass.

It’s big, striking, and wonderfully evil.

The Escalade has been an icon for success since it debuted, and the newest model is without question the most refined, most attractive iteration of the SUV yet. Maybe it’s a mix of the raucous exhaust, assumed price point, and head-turning design, or maybe it’s simply the influence of hip-hop videos on pop culture today, but there’s no denying the Escalade’s presence, and that makes arriving in one all the sweeter. Truth be told, there are a handful of shortcomings to be found in this big, traditional SUV.

Rated at 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, the fuel economy borders on cringe-worthy, and those who plan to spend more time in the dirt than on the road might want to look elsewhere. However, the 2015 Escalade has more redeeming qualities than misses, and I’m convinced that it’ll remain the best-selling luxury SUV in the country.

The best part is that it’ll finally deserve that title, thanks to its killer looks, awesome interior, and unflappable reputation.

Highs

  • Handsome design
  • High-quality, modern interior
  • Top Dog status among American SUVs

Lows

  • Fuel economy rating of 15/21 MPG
  • Column shifter