Still think of washed-up rap stars and vapid housewives with mafia connections when you see a 2015 Cadillac Escalade? So did I. Then I drove the thing and holy crap– it’s comfortable, high-tech, and smooth as hot butter on a bowling lane.

(Disclosure: GM wanted me to try out their new Escalade so bad they lent me one for a week. They even pretended not to be mad when I left it in a valet line and got a plane to San Salvador with the keys in my pocket. Again, really sorry about that, fellas.)

Cadillac’s on a real reinvention kick right now. With Germanic alphanumeric names and a performance lineup that’s hotter than ever, the company wants to get as far from your preconceived notions of their “old” brand identity as a 6.2 V8 will get ‘em.

Put another way; you can bet Cadillac President Johan De Nysschen would personally pull the gold-wreathed Cadillac crest off every haggard garbagebarge doing ten-under in the fast lane with its left blinker on if only he could.

Yet the Escalade hangs on. Why?

In typically vague corporate-speak Cadillac simply says “Doing some new things does not mean giving up other things.” Fair enough. What about the future the nameplate? “It’s going to be a strong part of Cadillac for a long time to come. We won’t turn it into something that it’s not.”

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Translation: people recognize it, ask for it, and pay a lot for it. So we’re not getting rid of it.

But does a redesigned dinosaur hold back the whole brand’s charge toward a modern, alphanumeric future? Not when it’s this awesome.

Exterior

Hard to stretch the word “elegant” or its synonyms around something designed exclusively with straight lines and right angles. However, the Escalade’s 2015 redesign has done an excellent job of porting the modernized idea of Cadillac onto GM’s SUV platform.

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By virtue of its sheer size the Escalade has significant presence, and that gleaming grille is altogether impossible to ignore. But the lines are clean, the design is organized, and there’s no mistaking this machine for anything else.

Interior

Start with the architecture and attitude of a truck– laid-back, riding high.

A tight-stitched leather captain’s chair envelops you like a baby bird in a baseball glove as you plow pavement with the Escalade’s beak. A fully-digital and customizable display will tell you how fast you’re going, where you’re going, how much fuel you’re using (a lot), and the rest.

Build quality is outstanding, and the materials? Rich and wonderful as a classy superhero’s lounge room; leagues better than whatever they use to make the prefab condos that old Escalades seem to always be parked in front of.

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Everywhere you look in this cockpit is warm wood and soft suede. A liquid-black center stack is full of silver protrusions; not exactly buttons, they’re more like guides to where you poke the panel itself like a giant iPad. Small vibrations of haptic feedback let you know you’re doing... something.

It takes a little getting used to, but it sure is pretty. Bringing us to...

Toys And Technology

You can put the navigation map display inside the central and circular speedometer. I’m sold; whatever else the Escalade can do... no car-tech toy is going to top the simple brilliance of that.

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There aren’t many other gimmicks for you to fiddle with and forget about and have your kids eventually break; a nice rear entertainment setup is optional as are retractable side-steps which my shorter passengers really appreciated.

I will say the sunroof is disappointingly tiny. Cadillac reportedly says no panoramic this time because the truck’s too heavy already. Maybe that’ll change with the next redesign, when the SUV... goes aluminum?

Performance

Hit the gas hard and you’re instantly riding an endless, linear power curve to highway cruising speeds. If you drive roughly within the limits of the law, the 6.2 V8’s 420 horse and 460 lb-ft of torque will feel like an Olympic-sized pool of power. If you want to chase GL AMGs you’re about two-seconds too slow to 60, but that kind of thrust is only going to get your coffee spilled anyway.

Transmission and Transfer Case

Yep, it’s got a column shifter.

Some of you think that’s archaic. You’re not wrong, but it works brilliantly in the context of a luxury SUV, even if it betrays the idea of a “newer/better/faster” Cadillac just a little.

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The chicken wing poking out from behind the steering wheel is easy to grab and never ends up in gear when you’re trying to put it in park. It’s out of the way when you’re driving and doesn’t mess with the interior aesthetic. Long live the damn thing.

As for the eight-speed gearbox’s actual operation, I hardly noticed it was there and that’s pretty much the point. Car & Driver says it’s “essentially the same [as the eight-speed auto] in the Corvette.” So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

Ride and Handling

The new Escalade sits on a little something called Magnetic Ride Control suspension. That means the shocks are literally filled with particles suspended in fluid that react to a magnetic field softening and stiffening to conditions. Sounds futuristic as fuck, or as brochure says– “like a gymnast balancing on a beam, it gives Escalade a ride of almost supernatural grace.”

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In this case, the execution almost lives up to the hype. I don’t know if I’d call it “ghostly” grace but go ahead and use those 22” rims as your own personal pothole steamroller... between the Escalade’s suspension and seats, only a bump big enough to tear off the oil pan is going to make it to your ass.

Fuel Economy

EPA says a 2015 Escalade can make 17 MPG in combined driving, with 15 in the city and an impressive 21 on the highway. We wound up with around 15 after 400 miles of mostly gentle mixed driving. That sounds like an expensive feeding schedule, but look at a Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic or BMW 750i xDrive; both EPA rated at 19 MPG average. And those cars cost more, hold two less passengers, and can’t tow the boat.

But of course most Escalades are not used to pull anything other than a driver and passenger. You’re going to buy this because you like the way it looks, you like the way it rides, and you really don’t give a damn about how much it costs to run.

Hauling, Towing, Cargo Management

An Escalade has the same interior capacities as a Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon, while the Escalade ESV is of course the equivalent of a Suburban or Yukon XL. Either way, I promise there’s enough space. No, really. I promise you don’t need one of those blorby cargo boxes too.

Really? You’re putting one on anyway?

Actually, if you’re going to fill six seats and bring their weekend accessories you will need extra space because the slot between the third row and tailgate is not particularly generous. The sacrifice was made to give “way-back” passengers a little legroom.

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I’d call it a logical compromise- most people will have the rear seat folded down when they take their 2.3 kids to grandma’s and keep the third row in reserve for local runs.

Towing max is 8,300 pounds. Two fueled 800cc jet skis on a trailer generally come in under 2,000 pounds. An 18’ Bayliner speed boat and trailer is under 2,500 pounds. The only issue with hanging these off the ass of your Escalade is you might forget they’re back there when you cut across three lanes of highway to make your exit.

Even the nicest thing in the Airstream camper trailer catalog; a 28’ Land Yacht (about $150,000) comes in at 8,200 pounds fully loaded. You’re good to go, my friend!

Off-Roading And Boondocks Shenanigans

Poor ground clearance and road tires mean you’re not going to venture further off-road than your neighbor’s mulch moat (you can clobber a cluster of daylilies like nobody’s business). But 420 horsepower means you can break the back loose easily in 2WD with traction control off and a hard hand on the steering wheel.

Value

Quick and dirty; is the 2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium really $90,000 worth of vehicle?

Is anything?

That’s not rhetorical– if you say “yes,” then yes... this SUV is as nice a place to be as other vehicles in that absurd price bracket. If you’re frugal, buy a used one. If you think “a Tahoe with leather is just as good,” you’re either deluding yourself on purpose or your automotive tastebuds are fried.

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To break it down; Escalade starts at $70,000something. The “Premium” trim is $84,070 and adds (deep breath!) Automatic Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Safety Belt Tightening, Illuminated exterior door handles, Blu-Ray, BlueTooth, Blue Chip, and if you got the one we drove, a couple blue Gummy Sharks stuck between the seat and the center console.

Just kidding, all Escalades have BlueTooth but this one does get a 9” rear-screen hooked up to a Blu-Ray player and wireless headphones to keep your kids quiet.

Another $2,000 gets you that exquisite Kona Brown interior, the retractable side-steps are $1,700, and by the time we were done paying for White Diamond Tricoat paint and 22” wheels we were leaving the Cadillac store $90,355 lighter.

This means we’ve arrived at the part of the review where I wonder why anybody buys new luxury cars.

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Lucky for you stubborn folk who refuse to let other people take the brunt of depreciation, we’ll also take a look at this price in the context of the market:

So $90,000 gets you the most gloriously over-equipped and decorated Escalade there is. We’ve established it’s a supremely luxurious option for conveyance with plenty of cargo capacity and good towing.

A Lincoln Navigator costs a lot less, too bad about that face. At Mercedes, $90,000 wouldn’t quite get you into a “base” S550 sedan but it could grab BMW’s AWD 750i. A full-sized Range Rover starts at $84,000 and options up frighteningly fast. The Escalade only holds its own against these competitors if you’re looking for the unique experience it provides; ultra-fancy luxury squeezed into a remarkably very well behaved on-road truck.

Plus, the sub-brand Cadillac has worked so hard to cultivate as a standalone status symbol.

Verdict

The 2015 Cadillac Escalade delivers the extreme luxury and big personality it promises. It costs a crapload of money, so it’s an effective indicator of its drivers wealth until the next body style comes out. What more could you possibly want out of this thing?

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GM has an interesting property on their hands with Escalade. They don’t want to rebuild something that ain’t broke, but they don’t want one product acting as a cultural boat anchor for the rest of their brand. After spending a few hundred miles with the redesigned SUV, it feels like a really smooth adaptation of “new Cadillac” onto the only part of “old Cadillac” that was working for the last decade.

Images by the author


Andrew P. Collins is Jalopnik’s off-road and adventure guy. Shoot him an email at andrew@jalopnik.com or hit him up on Twitter @andr3wcollins to talk trucks.