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Cadillac Escalade: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide

The Cadillac Escalade is more than a car, it’s a part of popular culture. What do you need to know before you buy an Escalade? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything right here in the Ultimate Buyer’s Guide.

Contrary to what some remember, the Escalade was not GM’s first “luxury SUV.” That honor goes to the GMC Yukon, from which the original Escalade was derived.

Generation one Escalades launched in 1999 were Yukons with a wreath in the grille instead of the letters “GMC.” In 2002, the Escalade was escalated with a little more power and a few more nice luxury bits. The 6.2 V8 joined the features list with the third bodystyle in 2007, and today we’ve got the razor-sharp ultraplush Suburban-derived masterpiece wearing the emblem.

Throughout its life the Escalade has had an interesting history of association. It started out as an all-American aspirational symbol, was quickly appropriated as a nouveau riche mainstay in music videos, then ended up in the hands of mobster henchmen in daytime TV specials, and has finally come full circle to be something respectable again.

The current and fourth generation Escalade has matured while hanging on to a healthy dose of ostentatiousness. It’s not for everybody, but damn if it isn’t a fine ride.

What It’s Like To Drive

The interior is mostly covered in great materials, with the odd cheapish kickplate here and there. Leather seats are father’s-office comfortable, dash wood feels soft and genuine, human-machine interface pushes hard on modern but remains relatively intuitive.

Oh, are we actually moving now? I didn’t notice.

The Escalade’s V8 has plenty of juice for aggressive merging or making a point at the end of an argument, but the real star of the driving experience is the Magnetic Ride Control suspension.

What’s basically happening there is; there are little metal flake-particles floating around in the suspension’s fluid. Through the magic of magnetism, the car optimizes rigidity for comfort and control as the road surface changes and you hit bumps.

It’s nothing like a long-travel shock soaking up a desert jump. Think of it as a museum curator carefully setting your wheels down into a display, except at 1,000 times a second.

The result is miraculously minimal body roll for a vehicle with this kind of profile and a profoundly smooth ride down the road.

What’s New About The 2016 Cadillac Escalade

Cadillac cranked up the “baller” on their Escalade with an all-new model in 2015. The new ‘lade got new exterior styling, a gorgeous new interior, and a fresh, more powerful and more efficient 6.2-liter V8.

Early 2015 models came with a six-speed automatic transmission, but the eight-speed auto became standard later. The new fourth generation Escalade got wider, longer and a bit heavier than the outgoing model. It also got a revised suspension, electric power steering, new brakes, a new four-wheel drive system, fold-flat second and third rows, and new driver-assist features.

This year’s 2016 model adds Lane Keep Assist and more CUE infotainment features like Apple CarPlay.

Powertrain Breakdown

Cadillac gives you one engine option and one transmission option. You get a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque bolted to a Hydra-Matic 8L90 eight-speed automatic transmission on the column. Yes, it’s a column shifter, and yes, that’s awesome.

That powertrain combination gets the 6,000 pound beast up to 60 MPH in under six seconds. It’s a sumo-wrestler that can sprint.

EngineMax Horsepower (hp)Max Torque (lb-ft)
6.2L V8420 @ 5600 rpm460 @ 4100 rpm
Fuel Economy Breakdown

If you’re looking to buy an Escalade, you almost certainly don’t give a crap about fuel economy. I mean, maybe you do, but it’s not exactly at the top of your priority list.

Well, hopefully it’s not, because the Escalade chugs fuel like a freight train, scoring a measly 17 MPG combined. It’s not surprising, given the Escalade’s tremendous girth and high-displacement naturally-aspirated engine, but it’s still pretty poor.

_6.2L V8
8-Speed Auto15/22/17 (2WD)15/21/17 (4WD)

Trim Level Breakdown

Like much of the competition, the Escalade comes in two body styles: standard and long wheelbase. The $3,000-dearer long wheelbase version, called the ESV, is 20 inches longer than the base Escalade, coming in at a full 224 inches— about the same length as a 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. It’s a big boy.

Both body styles come in either two or four-wheel drive and can be optioned as Standard, Luxury, Premium or Platinum trims.

Steering for all Escalades is electric and suspension is a coil-over-shock independent design up front and a five-link solid axle in the back with Magnetic Ride Control adjustable damping all the way around. Brakes are vented discs on all four corners with 13 inchers in the front and 13.6-inch rotors in the rear.

  • Standard: Starts at $72,970. Notable standard features: 6.2-liter V8, eight-speed automatic transmission, leather seating surfaces, 12-way power front seats, power folding third row seat, heated and cooled front seating, heated second row seating, Magnetic Ride Control with Sport mode, LED headlamps with LED signature lamps, 20-inch alloy wheels, Surround Vision 360 degree above-car view, front and rear park assist, hands-free programmable power liftgate, CUE infotainment system with eight-inch touchscreen and Navigation, 16-speaker Bose Surround Sound audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 12” instrument cluster, power tilt/telescoping steering column with memory, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, wireless charging. Notable options: ESV Long Wheelbase ($3,000); Four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case ($2,600); Rear seat DVD entertainment system ($2,095); 22-inch wheels ($2,995); Interior Protection Package: all-weather floor mats, cargo mat ($250).
  • Luxury: Starts at $79,645. Notable standard features over Standard: 22-inch painted alloy wheels, Driver Awareness Package (automatic headlamps with auto high beam control, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, Safety Alert Seat), Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Change Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, second row power release fold-and-tumble seats, power tilt-sliding sunroof, configurable head-up display, Theft Deterrent Package (self-powered horn, interior movement sensor, vehicle inclination sensors, door lock shields, glass breakage sensors in rear quarter glass and liftgate window). Notable options: ESV Long Wheelbase ($3,000); different 22-inch wheels ($1,995); otherwise similar options to Standard trim.
  • Premium: Starts at $84,145. Notable standard features over Luxury: Driver Assist Package (Front and Rear automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic safety belt tightening), Illuminated exterior door handles, LED cornering lamps, rear seat entertainment system (9-inch overhead screen, remote control and infrared headphones). Notable options: ESV Long Wheelbase ($3,000); Four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case ($2,600); Interior Protection Package ($250).
  • Platinum: Starts at $91,950. Notable standard features over Premium: Leather wrapped instrument panel, leather wrapped console, leather wrapped doors, suede headliner and pillar trim, 18-way massaging power adjustable front seats, Napa semi-Aniline leather seating surfaces for front two rows, Mulan leather seat for third row, center console cooler, unique chrome grille, unique 22-inch alluminum wheels, unique door sills. Notable options: ESV Long Wheelbase ($3,000); Four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case ($2,600); Power-retractable assist steps ($1,750); Interior Protection Package ($250).
Which One We’d Buy

The $72,970 (plus $995 destination fee) “base” model has all the important stuff; the 6.2 V8, cool digital gauges, and Magnetic Ride Control suspension. The $90,000 Platinum version has significantly nicer seats and surfaces inside, but twenty grand is a lot to pay for the privilege.

Sadly, the Escalade EXT pickup truck got axed a few years back, so there’s no longer a hay-hauling blinged-out Escalade truck available. It’s a shame, but regardless, we think you pretty much get the most for your money in the short-bodied (Tahoe-length) 4WD version of the standard car.

[Build Your Own Cadillac Escalade]

Important Facts At A Glance:

MSRP: $72,970-$93,345 Top Speed: 120 MPH (estimated)

Acceleration: ~6.0s to 60

MPG: 15 city / 22 hwy / 17 combined [2WD]

Engines: 6.2L V8

Max Horsepower/Torque: 420 hp/460 lb-ft

Curb Weight: 5,594- 6,040 IIHS Safety Rating: Not Tested

Transmissions: 8-Speed Automatic

Drivetrain Layout: Front Engine, RWD/4WD

Photo credit: Cadillac

2013 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Launched in August 2008 as a 2009 model, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid sport-utility vehicle is unquestionably the world’s blingiest hybrid. General Motor’s characteristic hybrid-logo-with-green-leaf is rendered in large, garish chrome letters on a fender vent the size of your fist – which sits at chest level to a standard-issue human being.

Let’s be clear: the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is nearly 17 feet long, weighs more than three tons and gets an EPA fuel economy rating in the low 20 miles per gallon. That’s not what most people think of when they hear “hybrid.” But, the big Caddy’s 20 mpg city is the same city mileage as a Toyota Venza crossover with all-wheel drive powered by a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an automatic transmission. On the highway the Venza does go farther on a gallon (two additional miles), but the Escalade Hybrid still manages to push its enormous exterior through the air at the rate of 23 mpg.

For 2013, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid’s exterior and interior is a rerun of the 2012 model with no significant changes and returns with either rear- or four-wheel drive. Prices also carryover from 2012. The standard model has a sticker price of $73,850 for two-wheel drive and $76,400 for four-wheel drive. Stepping up to the Premium Edition, RWD is priced at $83,295 and 4WD at $85,845.

Hybrid Powertrain

It’s no surprise that the Escalade Hybrid shares the same hybrid system found in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC’s Yukon hybrid SUVs since all are built on the same platform and feature the same drivetrain. The hybrid hardware combines a modified 6.0-liter 332 horsepower V8 gasoline engine, a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and an electrically variable transmission (EVT). The transmission is made up of two 60-kilowatt (80 horsepower) electric motors, three planetary gearsets and four fixed gears that use the same space as GM’s six-speed automatic transmission. Essentially the EVT has two drive modes – hence the name “two-mode hybrid.”

The magic of the two-mode hybrid system is that the hybrid system itself generates the electric power used to propel the vehicle. When the regenerative brakes are applied or the vehicle is coasting, the electric motors within the hybrid system produce electricity that is stored in the battery pack. This stored energy is then used to move the vehicle, and the cycle repeats itself continually to increase fuel economy.

During low-speed, low-impact driving, the powertrain works just like other hybrids; it stops the V8 engine whenever possible so that it may draw power from one or both of the electric motors. With a deft foot on the go pedal, the big SUV can travel under electric power for around two miles at up to 35 mph.

The second mode is mostly for highway driving, at which time one or both electric motors can run concurrently along with the gas engine in order to provide a power boost. The two-mode transmission attempts to keep the engine running at the optimum rpm for low fuel consumption. Essentially, it manages a balancing act between the V8 engine and the electric motors. It is also responsible for making the transitions between the two modes practically seamless.

The two mode isn’t the Escalade’s only fuel saver. The V8 engine employs cylinder deactivation technology (known at GM as active fuel management). Four of the V8’s cylinders can take a rest and the engine can operate in an economical V4 mode from around 40 mph up to near 70 mph. Master this technique along with the characteristics of the two-mode, and the 26-gallon fuel tank will let you cruise for more than 500 miles on unleaded gasoline.

Not as dramatic in saving fuel as cylinder deactivation, an electrically driven, 42-volt variable-assist power steering system provides up to a 0.5-mpg fuel economy improvement compared to the common belt-driven hydraulic systems. Hey, 0.5-mpg here, 0.5-mpg there, it all adds up.

Exterior And Interior

Like its Tahoe and Yukon hybrid cousins, the Escalade’s styling dates back to 2007, but it has aged far better. Up front, the multi-faceted chrome grille, inspired by the Cadillac Sixteen show car of 2003, is so overwhelming that the huge headlights are barely noticed. Covered with chrome trim and rolling on 22-inch chromed aluminum-alloy wheels, the Escalade Hybrid still looks fresh and commands the same attention and esteem it did when introduced.

Unlike the Tahoe Hybrid on which it’s based, the Escalade takes no extreme measures to reduce weight and increase mileage. The front air dam is subtly different, but there are no other aerodynamic changes or mass reductions. It even has the standard Escalade roof rack. There is a slight difference between the base standard hybrid model and the Premium Edition. The Premium has a unique front fascia along with upper and lower grilles and a multi-spoke wheel design.

Inside the Escalade Hybrid mimics its gasoline sibling, which means seven or eight people can ride in leather-wrapped comfort. Second-row passengers get nearly as much luxury as those up front. Heated leather captain’s chairs are standard, though leather, heated three-person bench is a no-cost option. Not only are the second-row seats comfortable, they also feature individual audio and climate controls.

The driver and front-seat passenger ride high, but the dash is positioned low, furnishing an expansive view out of the large windshield. A distinct instrument panel is a defining attribute of the interior. It includes gauges with white needles and blue light inlays with continuously lit, white-LED backlighting.

There are some hybrid-specific features. The instrument cluster adds an additional gauge that monitors the efficiency of the vehicle, and the instrument panel has some hybrid graphics. Also, the standard navigation system screen can display a graphic diagram of the hybrid system and its operation.

Basically, the Hybrid version of this big SUV is a complete option package that incorporates a raft of options offered on lesser Escalades. In addition to those included 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels, standard are remote starter, heated and cooled front seats – all rows are leather – Bluetooth, USB/iPod port and an AM/FM/XM/CD Bose audio system with MP3 capability. Phew. Other standard features include a backup camera, power liftgate, and a blind-spot detection system in each side mirror.

All of which is to say, this is a large dollop of luxury laid on what is, in the end, a very large station wagon built on a pickup truck frame. But wait, there’s more.

The Platinum Edition adds LED headlights, upgraded leather with French stitching, heated and cooled cupholders and dual front headrest DVD screens with rear entertainment system featuring a total of three LCD screens. About the Platinum Edition, Motor Trend said, “The wood inlay worthy of a Louis XIV armoire and French-stitched leather everywhere make this the best-finished cabin in an SUV as far as I’m concerned.”

For its size, the rear cargo area behind the third row is, well, puny, 16.9 cubic feet – enough room for a small grocery run, but not much more. For additional space, the third-row seatbacks can be folded, but this doesn’t yield a flat surface. The next step is tumbling the seats forward like the second-row seats. This is a pain-in-the-rear arrangement compared to competitors with a flat-fold third row.

On The Road

If you have never driven a large SUV, it takes some time to become acclimated to its size and driving dynamics. Fortunately, sight lines are excellent and the blind-spot detection system and backup camera are welcome features. As for parking the big rig, it’s best to park head in unless you are very adept at parallel parking.

For those familiar with a big SUV, the Escalade Hybrid driving experience is rather ordinary. Ordinary meaning that with a body-on-frame construction, independent front suspension and solid rear axle, the ride is slightly truck like. But only slightly. You will know when a big pothole is encountered, but it’s not a harsh event. Cadillac has smoothed the ride with a touring suspension that incorporates GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, which reads the road up to 1,000 times a second.

The Escalade Hybrid feels planted during cornering and stable when cruising at 70 mph on the highway. Forbes reported, “Escalade Hybrid is remarkably composed around curves and on rough surfaces, and is a positive locomotive on a long road trip.” NADA Guides remarked, “With a firm grip on the wheel and an eye for the next curve ahead, the Escalade performed far better than I expected.”

The Detroit News reviewer reported, “The ride literally glides along the highway. The 6-liter engine and electric motor produce absolutely silky smooth acceleration.” And about the steering, he says, “The electric rack-in-pinion steering feels exact without feeling overbearing. The Escalade is surprisingly easy to maneuver, and the advantage of the electric motor operating the steering system means it can tighten up at higher speeds and loosen up when silently cruising around parking lots.”

Regenerative braking systems are often dissed because of their quirky feel. But Automobile Magazine said, “Countless hours of seat time went toward blending the EVT’s regenerative braking with the Escalade’s physical braking system, and the transitions between the two are indistinguishable.”

Is The Green Tech Worth The Greenbacks?

Because Cadillac equips the Escalade Hybrid with a long list of standard features, an apples-to-apples comparison to the various gas-powered Escalade models is difficult. The closest is the base Hybrid versus the Luxury trim edition, priced at $67,395 for rear drive, $69,945 for 4WD, a $6,455 premium for the Hybrid. But comparisons should also include fuel mileage. The gas engine Escalade’s EPA ratings are 14/18/16 combined for RWD, 13/18/15 for 4WD. The Hybrid’s numbers are 20/23/21 combined for both rear- and four-wheel drive.

If you want most of the luxury amenities, eight passenger seating, the towing capacity, but none of the bling, the 2013 GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid could be a better choice. Priced starting at $60,635 this GMC hybrid is more than $13,000 less than the Escalade and has the same EPA fuel economy ratings. If you want a luxury badge and are willing to give up some interior room, test drive Audi’s Q7 TDI. It’s a diesel powered seven-seat crossover with a starting price of $52.000, including all-wheel drive. That’s $24,400 less than the base 4WD Escalade and has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17/25/20 combined.

As for cost of ownership, the 2013 Escalade Hybrid is too new to calculate. However, Vincentric, an automotive analysis firm, just released its 2012 Hybrid Analysis and since there is no price increase for the 2013 Escalade, this report is a good guideline. Comparing the gasoline Escalade to the Escalade Hybrid, Vincentric shows that the hybrid model would save $4,986 in gasoline costs over five years.

The Cadillac Escalade is certainly no Prius, but then it was never meant to be. If you need a really big seven- or eight-seat vehicle – and are flush enough to bankroll the taste of luxury, this $70,000-plus hybrid SUV may be your cup of tea.

What’s Next For The Escalade Hybrid?

General Motors had planned all-new models of its full-size sport utilities, including the Escalade, for the 2013 model year, but put off production as it worked its way through bankruptcy. Now, according to gminsidenews.com, the automaker is leaning towards canceling almost all of the hybrid variants of the new SUVs and trucks that are scheduled to debut as 2014 models at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in January or 2013 Chicago Auto Show in February.

The Escalade Hybrid may escape the chopping block. If so, it will continue to be built upon GM’s full-size truck platform, including a live rear axle for towing, and will not switch to a crossover design. Fuel economy gains will come from weight reduction, a smaller displacement V8 engine, upgrading the battery to a lithium-ion pack, revised electric motors and possibly, an all-new four-mode electrically variable transmission.

Prices are manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.


1 Full Cadillac CUE® functionality requires compatible Bluetooth® and smartphone. Some devices require USB connectivity. Voice recognition is available in the following languages: English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Polish, Danish, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish and Russian.

2 All OnStar services and Wi-Fi services will cease to be available on 31st December 2020. No trial or paid subscriptions or services, including emergency response services, will be available after that date. Some functions are not available in all countries abroad, or at the time of purchase. OnStar® services are provided by and require an account with OnStar® Europe Ltd. OnStar® services require activation and are subject to mobile network coverage and availability. Wi-Fi services are provided by and require an additional account with the nominated mobile network operator. The Wi-Fi trial has a time limit and capped data allowance. Charges apply thereafter. The OnStar® subscription packages could be different from the services included in the free trial package. Contact your Cadillac Partner or our Customer Care for details on availability, network coverage, specification, the length of the free trial period and charges. Terms and conditions apply.

3 Vehicle user interfaces are products of Apple and Google and their terms and privacy statements apply. Requires compatible smartphone and data plan rates apply. Android AutoTM requires a smartphone running Android Lollipop 5.0 OS or above; Apple CarPlayTM requires an iPhone 5 or later. Full lists of supported apps are available at Apple.com/ios/carplay and Android.com/auto. Please note that availability of apps may vary by market.

*Fuel consumption data and CO2 emission data are determined according to Regulation (EC) No. 715/2007 (NEDC), taking into consideration the vehicle mass in running order, as specified by the regulation.

Escalade 6.2L V8

Fuel consumption in mpg (combined): 22.4

CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 287

Energy Efficiency Category: M

Additional equipment may lead to slightly higher results than the stated fuel consumption and CO2 figures. The figures for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions do not relate to a specific vehicle and are not part of an offer. They are provided only for the purpose of comparison between different vehicle types.

Optional equipment may increase this value. Rated power output: For petrol engines, Cadillac recommends using Super unleaded 95 RON. Fuel qualities unleaded with RON 95 and above as well as a maximum ethanol volume of 10 per cent (E10) are permissible. Information on power and consumption relates to operation with RON-98 fuel.

Images shown include product details referring to the US or Canadian configuration and differ from the European products. Please visit your nearest retail partner or the car configurator to see the available product offering for your market.

Please note that not all trims, colors or options might be available in your market. Please check with your nearest Cadillac Partner for availability.

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