Until Bentley turns their 4x4 concept into reality, the Cadillac Escalade and Mercedes G63 are the two flashiest SUVs you can have. The Mercedes might be up a price bracket, but the Caddy is a superior luxury experience in just about every way... and fewer people throw rotten tomatoes at it.
While the American-market G-Class is an attention-whoring identity crisis on wheels, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade could actually be called an honest vehicle. And better than that; it's damn well-made.
The idea of a G63 is exciting, irreverent, and by that measure alone it's downright awesome. But the ramrod driving position that's perfect for peering through the tank-like windshield to navigate a trail is entirely awful on the highway or in city traffic. The G63 is fast. And good off-road... with big asterisks to both statements, and you end up with a vehicle that kind of sucks at everything it has the technology to be so good at.
On the other hand the Escalade is quick enough, works fine in the worst weather, and best of all is supremely comfortable. And while driving a tarted-up Tahoe doesn't exactly make you a "man of the people," you get a lot less horn honks and middle fingers than you do in the aggressively flamboyant G63.
The G63 can blow a hole into the space-time continuum if you slam the throttle off a light. But you'll never do this, because it's highly illegal and terrifying to everyone in a five-mile radius. The off-road geometry makes it terribly unsettling at high speed. The aggressive sport tires and massive rims get you stuck on wet grass, and the shiny-chrome side-exit exhaust can is marred as soon as you get near the SUV's breakover angle limit.
Escalade won't suck your eyeballs out the back of your skull when you want to make it dance, but an enthusiastic surge is just a stab of the throttle away. And at highway speeds, the low-and-long Cadillac makes for a much more comfortable (read: stable) cruising experience.
While that same shape and configuration preclude the Escalade from doing anything serious off-road and the G is just a tire-change from munching mud pits, both SUVs run perfectly well in bad weather. That's the biggest traction-challenge either will ever need to see anyway.
Both vehicles get adaptive cruise control, navigation, and a sunroof (though the Caddy's the only one with glass). The $90,000 Escalade I drove also had a heads-up display, extra side-peeking headlights that popped on in low-speed corners, automatic dimming high-beams, automatic rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot warnings hooked up to a vibrating seat, and retractable steps that my passengers (honestly) went nuts over. The $140,000 G63 I lived in for a week didn't have any of that jazz... just 500 horses too furious to let out of the barn.
As mentioned in previous rants, it doesn't matter how much suede Mercedes stitches into the G63. The SUV still forces you to sit like a solider, and it's about as roomy as a Power Wheels car in back. The front seats of the Escalade are like the leather-equivalent of an inner tube in a clean lake on a hot day. Just... lovely.
The Mercedes G63 is a price-bracket above the Escalade, but they come relatively close to overlapping. The top-tier Caddy has a somewhat terrifying MSRP of $90,000 while a "basic" AMG G-Class is around $110,000. Even that makes the Escalade a relative bargain, but when you tip the scales to the other extreme (cheapest Caddy verses biggest Benz) the American iron costs about half as much.
Everyone can form their own opinion on which vehicle looks better, but I can confirm one thing from field testing: the G-Wagen attracts sneers, middle-fingers, and eye-rolls from everyone who really notices it. If the Escalade inspired similar emotions, nobody I met was passionate enough to let me know with a rude gesture.
The way I see it, the Escalade is comfier with more gadgets, for less money, and still lets everybody know you're rich without being unbearably obnoxious about it. As a chariot of comfort from which to advertise your wealth, the Caddy seems like the way to go.
Images by the author and David Villarreal Fernández/Flickr