I had huge expectations for the next generation Escalade and was hoping GM would swing for the fences, but they fell short and missed the mark in some major areas.
Escalade. Currently, the only car in the Cadillac lineup with a real name, a solid legacy and arguably their bread and butter model. No other model in its lineup has the cult following of the Escalade and no nameplate within the brand has lived this long. With this being the case, making sure the Escalade carries on its legacy and stature within the car buying world is imperative for the brand to stay alive and kicking. Before I get into where Cadillac missed the mark, I do want to say that GM and Cadillac have made huge strides from where they were before the auto bailout to now. It shows in some of the decisions the company is making, and the strategic direction the company wants to take. I'm not sure if I agree with all the decisions, but nonetheless the improvements are there, and I continue to hope Cadillac graduates from its sub-lux status into a full luxury brand. Okay, let’s move onto the good parts about the new Escalade.
A huge part of the upgrades that Cadillac wants seems to be tech related. Recent acquisitions such as Cruise has helped GM and Cadillac become the only brand with a truly hands-free autonomous driving feature. Something even Tesla can’t claim yet. With the Escalade acquiring Cruise, along with a host of other driver assistance-based features, it easily puts it ahead of the pack in terms of technology and the quest for driverless cars. The new screen technology and the implementation is one to ogle at. A wide 38” OLED curved display is an amazing design and tech element that really increases the visual appeal of the interior of the car. This screen design (pulled from the Escala concept) is brilliant and stunning to view in person. Almost each inch of the curved display is screen and the touch sensitivity is as good as touching an iPad or any other mobile device. The screen UI is very well laid out and if you don’t feel like touching the screen, there are controls near the gear shifter to help you navigate the screens. Also, there are multiple cameras around the vehicle with many angles to cycle through making the mammoth easy to park in tighter spaces. This was something I saw on their pickup trucks , which I thought was very cool.
Space was an issue with Escalades of yore, but that problem has been solved. As with its siblings the Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon, the Escalade has adopted a rear independent suspension unit expanding the rear area by a lot. The 3rd row passengers have way more room than ever before, as well as the 2nd row occupants. Sliding seats in the second row are available to make anyone feel comfortable within the cabin. Cargo room has jumped with both the short wheelbase model and the long wheelbase model (called the “ESV”) by 5” and 10”, respectively. All this extra space sets its sights straight at the Lincoln Navigator, which held the title of most rear cargo and 3rd row leg space in a full-size SUV for almost a year or so. Now that crown goes to the full-size SUV from GM. Was this a deliberate move? Yes, but it was necessary to stay competitive in the space. Space was something buyers have been asking GM for years now and I am glad GM was able to deliver on this front and do a really good job at it. By removing that clunky, almost idiotic, live rear axle and replacing it, they were able to fix two birds with one stone. The ride became a whole lot better, as they were able to add in air suspension, and the space in the back opened up. Win-win for everyone.
So, the tech is solid and the changes in the space/cargo room are solid. As I mentioned, huge improvements over the previous version but as the title of this post says, this car was still a huge let down for me. Here’s where I get into the bad parts.
Design. Point blank GM dropped the freaking ball on this one, hard. As in forgot to pay attention to it. Someone needs to get fired over this, this is harsh to say but I really mean it. There were such high expectation for this car from the entire car world and GM didn’t do it any justice. Seriously, look at the outside of the car; from the profile and the back, you are hard pressed to find any real differences to the outgoing model. All they did was add a crease here, remove a crease there and voila they told us it was an all-new Escalade. What was the design studio thinking? When you look at it from the front, it just looks bleh. Not ugly-bleh, but an “okayyyyyy is that it?” kind of bleh. So what exactly did they do here? It looks as if they literally took the front of the XT6 (which people from within GM will be quick to admit was a last-minute car), and simply made it a little bigger, or I should say, they bulged it out to fit the frame of the Escalade. The front lights are stupid, they look basically identical to the Suburban’s and the grille looks like a carry-over from last year’s model. The blacked-out diamond patterned grille looks better, but those rectangular lights are the dumbest ones I’ve seen.
I think they should have gone for a sleeker look, or here's a radical idea, literally take it straight out of the Escala concept and put them on the Escalade. Yes, I know there are restrictions and limitations on how high the lights can be, the output/power and how to meet US regulations, but I’m sure they can figure that out. If Tesla could manage to get 26” touch screens in their cars, I'm sure GM can figure out how to keep headlights within regulation. Another item that bothers me, is the chrome “C” pillar; it's nice as it has a Cadillac crest on it, but it just doesn’t work. Lastly, I feel like the wheels are way too plain jane. They need to be more substantial and dare I say, bigger. This is a full-size SUV that sits high and has large proportions, it would not be insane to see stock 23” wheels on this car. Audi already does this with their RSQ8! Yeah, really! Truth be told, if you simply rebadged the exterior as a Chevy, that would be better. It honestly looks like this exterior would work well as the design for the Tahoe or Suburban. To me, the exterior is just not special enough to be called an Escalade.
Moving inside, there’s a lot that was not done properly either. First things first, putting more speakers in a car doesn’t make it luxurious, especially if using an audio brand that no one has heard of. Yes, I know AKG makes some good stuff, but I don’t believe AKG is an upmarket brand at all. For God’s sake, Ford uses Bang and Olufsen, a high-end brand, in their Expedition, which doesn’t even directly compete with the Escalade. What happened to Lexicon, NAIM, Bowers and Wilkins, Harman Kardon, or even Burmester? Were they not even in the running? Honestly, I would’ve been more than happy to see the Panaray Bose system from the CT6 installed in the Escalade. The interior look and feel is also subpar. Yes, the screens are nice, and their design is very good, but that’s where the buck stops.
For starters, the switch gear for the screen controls, which includes some buttons, a volume knob, and a main controller for main screen functions, looks extremely cheesy and seem to be a blatant copy from BMW and Mercedes. The buttons all around the cabin feel plasticky, look cheap and the metals look fake. The gear shifter is boring looking and sticks out like a sore thumb. This would have been a great place to install a button-based gear selector unit. IMHO, this was a missed opportunity. The seats look like carry-overs from last year, but the detailing the perforation to little Cadillac logos are a nice touch. However, I would like to see better bolstering and some neat patterning here: think diamond stitching from BMW and others. The steering wheel is idiotic and looks boring as well. It simply looks cheap with plastic feeling buttons and you get a hint that it’s been picked straight from the Chevy parts bin. Fit and finish has always been a GM letdown and it seems this will continue to be the case. I feel as if more luxurious materials, like an alcantara and/or a rich soft leather paired with solid metals and open pore wood, along with a less clunky cabin would definitely change my mind about the Escalade, but here we are. Classic Cadillac doing classic Cadillac things… just trying to catch up and stay relevant.
Ultimately however, if you don’t feel good looking at your car or sitting in your car, you don’t look good and unfortunately that’s that the case for me. The car is way too clunky on the inside, the design overall (minus the screens) is not competing at the levels the other car brands are at, reliability will probably be poor but only time will tell, and the exterior looks like the old car which really wanted a different face, so it underwent some frightening cosmetic surgery. I really felt that Cadillac would do a great job and while they hit the nail on some items, they always seem to let me down in other aspects and that’s the root of the problem with GM. They seem to focus way too much on consumer data and analytics to see what their current buyers want, and I feel like they stopped thinking with their heart. Any so-called advancements GM makes for their cars are simply answers to what other have already done.
For example, Ford made class leading third row space in their full-size SUVs, so GM answered. Mercedes and BMW had AMG and M performance models respectively, so GM answered with V. Other brands created their own driver's assistance features, so GM started putting it in their cars. Now I know, sometimes this is required to stay relevant and competitive, but why can't GM, for once, innovate a segment or shake something up in the auto industry. GM always plays it too safe and doesn’t really like to explore and go outside their comfort zone unless someone else has already done it. Again, not everyone will agree with me and that's fine, but I’ve seen this time and time again from GM, yet somehow, I still want to believe they will change. For now, though, I think I'm going to hop over to a Lincoln Dealer and get me a Navigator Black Label.