Can Cadillac’s 2015 Escalade finally challenge the long-reigning Range Rover?

Cadillac Escalade has been the best-selling, full-size luxury SUV in America for years, despite being far less luxurious or capable than the comparably priced Range Rover.

The Range Rover wears the greatest automotive interior known to man with real wood, real leather, and more vehicle control knobs than you might know what to do with. The Escalade, on the other hand, had an interior full of gray plastic accented with more plastic made to look like wood.

Underneath, the story was much the same. The Range Rover boasts mechanicals and electronics that make it one of the most capable trucks of all-time. The Escalade, by comparison, was about as off-road capable as a hippo on rollerblades.

On the exterior, the Range Rover radiated self-assured dignity. The Escalade looked like someone bedazzled a velvet 1970s tuxedo. It seemed garish and desperate.

That seems to have all changed for 2015, as Cadillac has unveiled a new Escalade that appears to finally embody Cadillac’s near-decades-old claims of fastidious luxury. Does it finally compete? We decided to put the two cosmically heavy cars side by side for a no-holds-barred comparison.

Exterior design

As I said before, the third-gen Escalade was a pretty sorry sight. What visual distinction the first- and second-gen Escalade shared from its Chevrolet and GMC cousins was all but nullified.

Not so for 2015.

Now the Escalade has gravitas up the yin-yang. The Cadillac vertical headlights seem to work best on the new Escalade – better than on the 2014 CTS, I think. I love how those tall lights blend into a sharp shoulder line that runs the length of the truck.

Designers worked diligently, Cadillac claims, in reducing panel gaps and alignment. And from what I can tell, it has worked. The Escalade finally looks to have a fit and finish comparable to that of the Range Rover. You’ll also notice, upon further inspection, that the Escalade’s doors no longer run into the roof. Instead the tuck nicely under the roof line. This not only makes it a bit more polished looking but also much quieter in the cabin.

The Range Rover has for a long time been the global standard of 4×4 luxury. While the Escalade has retained its boxy look, Land Rover designers have smoothed out the once brick-like Rangie. It still has a distinctive and immediately recognizable design, but doesn’t carry over the sharp edges of the previous Range Rovers.

Although I have greatly preferred the looks of every generation of Range Rover to the previous Escalades, for 2015, I have to give the crown to Caddy. The Range Rover just looks a bit alien. But the Escalade just looks like a calm authority. I love it.

Interior design, comfort, amenities

The Range Rover – for the last several generations – has been the pinnacle of automotive interior design. Everything was perfectly placed, well built, and even more sensuous to the touch than it appeared. The 2014 is no different – it’s just better.

The 2014 Range Rover interior looks like it’s from the future, the very luxurious future. It’s what, I imagine, Steve Jobs would have wanted all automotive interiors to look like. It’s clean, crisp, and just appears to have been very well thought-out indeed.

The 2015 Escalade comes closer to this than any previous Caddy of any kind before it. In fact, I’d say General Motors designers stole a few tricks from Range Rover. The shape of the center stack is remarkably similar to that of the Rangie. Yes, the rest of the Caddy dash is a bit swoopier, but you can see the resemblance.

The Escalade boasts a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster with four different themes, which is pretty darn neat. The Range Rover, on the other hand, has five exterior cameras mounted in the bodywork that can be streamed live on the infotainment screen during off-roading, so that you don’t hit any obstacles with your $84,000 4×4.

Cadillac has improved interior quietness and luxury alike. It finally boasts real wood on the interior and a higher-quality leather. The whole interior has been constructed with what GM calls “cut-and-sewn and wrapped.” Although I’ve not laid my hands on it, the build quality of the Escalade looks exquisite. As for passenger room, the Escalade can seat eight and the Range Rover can only seat five.

For my final verdict, I am going to have to go with quality over quantity on the interior. The Range Rover wins – but the Escalade is damn close. And, for that, it deserves much credit.

Powertrain

The 2014 Range Rover is powered by either a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 making 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, or a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 that makes 505 hp and 461 lb-ft. These powerplants will push the Rangie to 62 mph in 7.3 and 5.3 seconds, respectively.

The 2015 Escalade will be offered with only one engine: a 6.2-liter V8 that pushes out 420 hp and 460 lb-ft. of torque. Cadillac has given neither a 0-60 time nor fuel economy estimates for the 2015. Based upon the 2013 Escalade, which will jog to 60 in around 6.8 seconds, we can only assume the more powerful 2015 will be a bit quicker, probably closer to 6.0 seconds.

Without knowing for sure, we’ll have to give this one to the Range Rover.

It is worth mentioning both a Range Rover Hybrid and an Escalade Hybrid could be coming Stateside soon. While these might not improve 0-60 much, they will improve fuel efficiency. I mean, if you care about that in your $90,000 luxury truck.

Off-road capability

Oh nelly. This is going to be a doozy. The Range Rover, as I’ve said before, is the gold standard by which all off-road vehicles – luxury or otherwise – are judged. The Rangie started life off in 1971 as a luxury off-roader and that legacy has continued through to today.

Now, though, the Rangie relies on computers and other high-tech bits to traverse the terrain in addition to heavy axles, differentials, and transfer cases.

It’s also built on a monocoque aluminum chassis. What’s that? It’s essentially an aluminum unibody on top of an aluminum ladder frame. This makes it light and stiff. Where simple mechanics leave off, Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 picks up.

Terrain Response 2 is a traction control system with five settings: General; Grass/Gravel/Snow; Mud/Ruts; Sand; and Rock Crawl. For a simple explanation, I think Land Rover says it best: “Each setting optimizes driveability and traction by adapting the responses of the car’s engine, transmission, center differential and chassis systems to match the demands of the terrain.”

Essentially, the Rangie can go anywhere.

What about the Caddy? Well, it, too, has a ladder frame. The Escalade’s, though, is steel instead of aluminum. Additionally, the Escalade is offered in either two- or four-wheel drive and comes with automatically locking rear differential.

The Escalade, then, will do fine on some dirt roads. But that’s about it.

Clearly, the Range Rover wins.

Price

The Range Rover starts at $83,545 for the HSE model, but above that, the Autobiography model starts at $135,995.

The 2013 Escalade Starts at $64,740 and can reach up to $81,515 for the Platinum model before optional extras are tacked on.

We don’t yet know what the 2015 will cost, but I suspect it’ll be more than a tick higher than the third-gen, as the materials and attention to detail are much improved.

Where do I call this one, though? It’s tough. The Escalade is cheaper but you get fewer things – off-road equipment, for instance. As much as it pains me, I’m giving this one to the Escalade.

Cool factor

I’m ending my comparison on something that it completely objective.

Cool factor, though, is important when you’re plunking down this kind of dough. Well you’ll probably lease, but you get the point.

I love the look of the new Escalade inside and out. It’s very, very handsome and it has real, undeniable presence. The Range Rover, though, still seems more comfortable. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying so hard. The Escalade seems very proud of its much-needed makeover. The Range Rover, by comparison, has been right since 1971. It didn’t need a re-working.

Take away my feelings and you’re left with the facts: The Range Rover has more power, it has an iconic British luxury 4×4 heritage, and it’s has an interior that puts all other automakers to shame. I don’t care if essentially no Range Rover owners take their trucks off-road. They can. And that matters.

Ultimately, if given a check for $83,000, I’d hand it to my local Land Rover dealer every day of the week. I admit; the 2015 Escalade would certainly give me pause. But the Rangie; it’s the king.

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