If, when reading the title of this post, you thought I was talking about a new release by famous British 70’s rockers Slade then you are going to be sorely disappointed. Instead it’s the second post of the day about a once popular American status symbol now hoping for a come back on a global scale…this time though it’s the latest Cadillac Escalade I’ll be talking about as opposed to Paris Hilton, although I’m sure they two are linked somewhat.
A new Escalade has been expected for some time now, especially after the release of the other GM full-size SUV’s last month coupled with the fact that the previous ‘slade is now looking pretty damn outdated in Cadillac’s current shiny new line up. Long a model which continues to achieve considerable sales despite a negative reputation and various factors which made it uncompetitive, Cadillac’s largest model is an important model for the brand and to a degree acts as it’s flagship in the absence of a full-size luxury saloon or coupe.
Originally launched way back in 1999 as a competitor to the surprising success of Lincoln’s Navigator, the car was at first just a few Cadillac badges thrown onto a late model GMC Yukon and it is this reputation which has dogged it since this first generation. The second car was launched a mere 2 years later on an updated platform complete with it’s own distinctive grille and image; it was this car that really defined the Escalade as the wagon of choice for American celebrities and athletes, as well as well heeled soccer mums and drug dealers. Despite an interior largely similar to the (much cheaper) Chevrolet Tahoe and an appetite for fuel only matched by supercars, the Escalade was a wild success and hence spawned ESV (extra long) and EXT (pick up) versions which merely added to the car’s street cred and aggressive image. A third generation Escalade was launched in 2006 and for a while it seemed as though the car’s road to success was unstoppable; a much more refined styling, interior and driving experience meant that the Escalade was finally a car which had the right to command the prices Cadillac demanded (in my opinion at least)…I mean yes it was similar to it’s Chevrolet/GMC siblings but the Caddy versions had upgraded interiors and more powerful engines.
Times have been tough in the SUV market though, with the economic recession draining the funds of many people who would once have bought an Escalade, with others put off by rising fuel prices and competitors offering more car like crossovers for a similar price. A hybrid Escalade helped in one respect but then it also commanded an extra £15k over base models with not enough difference in fuel economy to make the pay back time realistic for any buyer. Still the car has sold quite decently as I said, with competitors such as the Infiniti QX and Lincoln Navigator getting uglier and older respectively. Sales may be nearly 1/3 of what they were in 2004 but the huge margins on this car mean that even a post bankruptcy GM could not afford to ignore the Escalade or indeed it’s siblings.
So what has the 2014 update brought to the market? Well on the face of it not much; I mean yes the average observer will be able to notice some of the differences this new model brings (probably the massive amount of LED lighting) but overall the car keeps a very similar look to both it’s predecessor and the other new GM SUV’s. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as the design still looks modern and distinctive, and it is a look which has gained the company plenty of fans (and critics) , plus nobody is going to mistake this vehicle for anything other than a.) A Cadillac or b.) An Escalade. That kind of recognition has taken Porsche decades to cultivate with their 911, so to accomplish it in just 10 years or so is quite impressive.
Inside it’s all change though, and for the better. Never having sat in any generation of Escalade I can’t really compare it to any predecessors, but in photos at least the new interior looks significantly easier to use, more luxurious to the touch and with more technology than ever before. Admittedly this a comment that can be applied to any new car launch but in the Escalade it finally means that critics of build quality and material choices might finally be silenced once and for all, especially as it looks so similar to the largely positively received ATS and CTS. Some traditional truck touches have been kept (like the column gear shifter) but thankfully the solid axle rear suspension has finally gone, meaning that the extra seats in the boot actually fold into the floor like on any modern car, as opposed to sitting there taking up space or having to be removed. If I had been in the market for this sort of car then that is the one black mark against the previous generation of Escalade, and the only reason I can envisage somebody choosing a Lincoln Navigator over one.
Nobody has driven the new Escalade yet but it’s a fair bet to say that it will drive a lot better than the previous generation, but still not up to the standard of car based crossovers. Most people won’t really care that it doesn’t handle like a sports car, but they might care about what’s under the ‘hood’. The engine and transmission are a carryover 6.2 V8 and 6 speed automatic, but it’s what might come that is most intriguing; firstly there is the almost certain inclusion of GM/Ford’s new 8 speed automatic gearbox which will likely eek a few more mpg from the thirsty engine, and secondly despite the cancellation of the hybrid version there might be a few interesting engine options to appear at some point in this generation. Cadillac’s twin turbo V6 could be a very interesting addition under the bonnet of the car, and who knows maybe even a diesel might migrate there?
OK so admittedly a diesel Escalade is an unrealistic if mouth watering proposition, but given the recent launch of a V6 diesel in the Ram 1500 pick up and Jeep Grand Cherokee it seems that American manufacturers are starting to wise up to the massive benefits of diesels in such vehicles. Chrysler is at an advantage admittedly because of their links with Fiat (who have diesel engines at their disposal), but if they take off then the demand may make Ford and GM take a closer look at diesel. Another factor is the upcoming relaunch of Cadillac in Europe; I mean yes this is the third such relaunch in the last decade but GM’s cars get better each time they attempt to bring them back, and with the new ATS they have a car which apparently beats the latest 3 Series in terms of handling! It has been confirmed that the Escalade will reach LHD markets in Europe next year, but to make any sort of impact they would need a diesel option. I doubt very much we will get a RHD version despite the UK being the potentially biggest market for such a vehicle, but it’s a nice thought nonetheless.
The Escalade remains one of those cars which will always have a place in my dream garage, and maybe if I lived on the other side of the Atlantic then it would be in my shortlist. But for the time being I will have to admire from afar what is one of the very best luxury SUV’s on the market.