Cadillac Defies Car Trends With Blinged-Out 2015 Escalade

Cadillac Escalade Interior - H 2014
Courtesy of Cadillac

Cadillac Escalade Interior - H 2014

The new model features extra power, gadgets and a price tag $8,000 higher than the Mercedes GL.

This story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

At the just-concluded 2014 New York International Auto Show, executives from Mercedes-Benz and other exalted brands declared that the post-recession luxury car category was mellowing from ostentation to indulgences that murmur -- instead of scream -- "status." They spoke about quilted leather seats and LED mood lighting and new entry-level models, like Audi's A3 and the Mercedes CLA, with diminutive $30,000 price points, as the newer norm. "Right now, self-reward is completely socially acceptable," says Michael Bartsch, vice president of Infinity's North American operations. But, he adds, "Bling is not."

If the fourth-generation 2015 Escalade, arriving in showrooms this month, is any indication, Cadillac never got that memo.

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There is nothing remotely self-effacing about the rebooted Escalade, which is even more imposing than its predecessor and wears an enormous Cadillac crest like a coat of arms on its jutting prow as if to say, "So?" Then again, you don't expect restraint from an SUV that launched a thousand hip-hop videos, was the first Caddy in decades to pass muster with Hollywood's status ayatollahs (who had long forsaken Detroit iron as hopelessly unchic) and is named after a ramparts-breaching tactic of siege warfare. (Mark Wahlberg and Seal are among the Hollywood types partial to the Escalade.)

At the auto show, Caddy's brute of a ute bobbed like a yacht at anchor within honking distance of svelte creations from BMW, Mercedes and the rest of the foreign cabal that had been eating Cadillac's luxury lunch until the Escalade arrived in 1999 and started turning things around. The Escalade transformed Cadillac from a fading anachronism into a player. But lately sales have slowed -- down 17 percent this year through March. Caddy's designers were not about to tone down the marque's flagship when it came time to raise the game for the latest iteration.

The 2015 Escalade's stem-to-stern reboot actually adds a few flourishes to the 'lade's large-living bona fides -- the facia wears striking stacked LED headlights, a 6.2 litre V8 adds 20 hp over the existing power plant, and both the standard and extended-wheelbase models are an inch longer and wider. Fuel economy on such an immense machine is almost a misnomer, but Cadillac's engineering elves managed a slightly improved 14 mpg city/20 highway partly through technology that shuts down half the engine's cylinders when they aren't needed.

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But what separates the 2015 Escalade most from its predecessors -- and makes it a plausible competitor to dominant Hollywood luxury SUVs like the Mercedes GL -- is a reworked interior with tech-driven amenities that wouldn't seem out of place in, well, a Mercedes.

The cabin echoes the bespoke look introduced on Cadillac's well-received ELR plug-in hybrid sedan: hand-stitched leather covering the dash and (heated) steering wheel, hidden accent lighting and trim expressed in open-pore woods like elm cluster. Tech accoutrements include five USB ports and a Blu-ray player with a 9-inch screen for back-row occupants; safety gimcracks include heads-up collision avoidance warnings and automatic braking in emergencies. Triple-sealed doors, double-thick acoustic glass and active noise cancellation make for an unusually quiet ride for an SUV.

Cadillac is swinging for the fences with the 2015 Escalade -- the $71,695 base price actually exceeds that of the Mercedes GL by $8,000. That's quite a vote of confidence -- and causal evidence that Cadillac intends to continue to storm the luxury SUV ramparts, using bling instead of bullets.