The Cadillac Escalade (Base MSRP: $63,170 to $82,495), the godfather of bling styling, is either loved or loathed for that gaudy reputation. Style arguments aside, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade is a capable large SUV that shares its key components with the positively reviewed 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe ((Base MSRP: $38,530 to $55,850)) and 2012 GMC Yukon (Base MSRP: $39,860 to $57,780), which essentially offer the same amount of room and general capability -- good towing capacity and seating for up to eight passengers -- at substantially lower prices. The Escalade's biggest problem is that competing models from other luxury marques are excellent, offering better driving dynamics and more luxurious accommodations in many cases. Reviewers repeatedly point out that the Tahoe and Yukon drive about as well and cost far less, as does the similarly upscale 2012 Lincoln Navigator (Base MSRP: $57,775 to $62,840).
Among large luxury SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade displays admirable towing capability that's on par with the similar GMC Yukon Denali. Its potent 6.2-liter V8 (the same one used in the Denali) makes 403 horsepower and 417 pound feet of torque. Like the similarly equipped GMC Yukon Denali, that power allows for a maximum towing capacity of 8,300 pounds for the two-wheel drive versions and 8,100 pounds for the all-wheel-drive models. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the Escalade will deliver 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway/16 mpg combined, numbers that are in keeping with the class on a whole, but that will also be felt at the pump. A Car and Driver long-term review says the Escalade "tows like a dream, but be prepared for an eye-crossing gas bill."
Truck Trend says that for the Escalade "on smooth roads, the ride is perfectly fine, but once the pavement gets ugly, things get bumpy and shaky, partially a consequence of the live-axle rear suspension." Other reviewers have a similar experience. Many critics also complain about the lack of steering feel and say the brakes could stand to be stronger.
Reviewers generally find the interior to be nice enough, though some expect more from a vehicle with a window sticker that easily climbs beyond $80,000 in its top spec. Edmunds.com says the interior "looks and feels more luxurious than what you'd find in a Tahoe or Yukon," and goes on to point out that "the gauges and controls are well placed and intuitive in their operation, and there are plenty of luxurious features to keep you and your passengers comfortable or entertained." This includes available features like magnetic ride control, a heated steering wheel, real wood trim, dual front headrest DVD screens and high-quality leather. Many of these options don't come cheaply though, as the top Escalade trim level starts at around $80,000.
As with all of the GM vehicles that share this platform, one of the biggest flaws reviewers point out is that the third row lacks both space and layout flexibility. TheTruthAboutCars.com describes the third-row comfort as "simply ridiculous," due to the fact that "the third-row seat cushion is pretty much right on the floor." Beyond that, the third-row seat can't be folded flat into the floor as it can in other large SUVs, meaning that to reach maximum cargo capacity, one must physically remove the rearmost seats entirely, which is no easy task. Reviewers say the 2012 Lincoln Navigator provides more comfortable third-row seating, and the power folding mechanism that stows them flush into the cargo floor makes for a more convenient interior layout.
As with its Chevy and GMC siblings, the Cadillac Escalade delivers great cargo capacity. The standard Cadillac Escalade can hold a maximum of 108.9 cubic feet of cargo with all the seats folded and about 60 cubic feet with the third row of seats removed and second row carrying passengers. The Escalade also is available in an extended wheelbase version, the Escalade ESV (it's the Cadillac version of the Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL), and the extra length goes entirely toward increasing cargo capacity; the ESV has a maximum cargo capacity of 137 cubic feet. An AutoWeek.com editor says he could "store all of my possessions inside the cavernous interior with space to spare." Only the extended-wheelbase 2012 Lincoln Navigator L provides a similar amount of cargo space among big luxury SUVs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested the 2012 Cadillac Escalade, and it fares well. The Escalade gets a perfect 5-star out of 5 rating for both front and side impact protection, while rollover resistance is given a 3-star rating. The overall safety score is 4 stars out of 5. Antilock brakes, front airbags, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control and GM's OnStar telematics system are all standard. Other features like rear park assist and tire-pressure monitoring are standard as well.
Based on data from the Highway Loss Data Institute, the Cadillac Escalade was the most stolen car in 2011. To address this, Cadillac has added extra security features for the 2012 model year, including an encrypted ignition lock and key, a shock sensor for detecting smashed windows, wheel locks and a steering-column lock system.
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade has a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, longer than the warranty offered for its Chevrolet and GMC siblings.
Overall, reviewers express mixed opinions about the 2012 Cadillac Escalade. Several consider its truck-based approach outdated when compared directly against equally luxurious yet better-driving competitors such as the 2012 Infiniti QX56 (Base MSRP: $59,200 to $62,300) or 2012 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class ((Base MSRP: $61,570 to $85,300)). Cadillac also offers an Escalade Hybrid, which is covered in our separate report on Hybrid SUVs and Crossovers.
Edmunds.com editors say the Escalade has the same endearing qualities of the similar Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, such as a strong V8, compliant ride and big towing capacity. Mostly though, choosing the Escalade amounts to a styling choice as its bold, in-your-face looks will be the deciding factor.
Review: 2012 Cadillac Escalade SUV, Editors of Edmunds.com, Nov. 4, 2011
2. Truck Trend
This recent first-drive review of the 2011 Escalade ESV Platinum AWD offers a straightforward and honest impression of how the Escalade stacks up against alternatives in 2011. The review highlights the "fundamental antiquities" of the Escalade, like the third-row seats that don't fold flat and the lack of a telescoping steering column. The ride is categorized as "bumpy and shaky" on less than perfect roads. The 2011 model is nearly identical to the 2012 model.
Review: First Drive: 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum AWD, Kirill Ougarov, Jan. 26, 2011
Editors of ConsumerReports.org have sampled a Cadillac Escalade and provide their impressions on everything from the interior experience to the how it performs on the road. ConsumerReports.org also has useful information like predicted reliability and owner satisfaction data. Access to ConsumerReports.org articles and data requires a subscription.
Review: Cadillac Escalade, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated
ConsumerGuide.com provides a review of the various aspects of the 2012 Cadillac Escalade but doesn't go into much detail in the brief write-up. Ultimately, editors of ConsumerGuide.com name the Escalade a Recommended choice, one step lower than their highest Best Buy recommendation.
Review: 2012 Cadillac Escalade: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com, Not Dated
FuelEconomy.gov provides official fuel-efficiency ratings for all new vehicles. The 2012 Cadillac Escalade has lackluster fuel-economy ratings due to its thirsty (but powerful) V8. It gets a 16 mpg combined mpg rating with two-wheel drive and 15 mpg combined with four-wheel drive.
Review: 2012 Sport Utility Vehicles, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, Not Dated
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested the 2012 Cadillac Escalade. It gets the same 4-star overall rating as the similar Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
This write-up offers an interesting set of varying perspectives, ultimately contributing to mixed feelings. One editor considers the Escalade to be "everything a large SUV should be," while another exclaims that he "feels ridiculous driving around alone in the Escalade" because of its brash styling and size.
Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum, an AutoWeek Drivers Log Car Review, Editors of AutoWeek.com, Aug. 30, 2011
TheTruthAboutCars.com is known for its engaging and opinionated reviews. The reviewer turns a critical eye toward some functional shortcomings (like the third row that doesn't fold flat), but he admits that the luxury SUV class isn't really about functionality. The conclusion drawn is that the Escalade is not a sensible car by any measure but that it delivers as an aspirational luxury experience.
Review: Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade, Michael Karesh, March 4, 2011
This review on Cars.com, reproduced from MotherProof.com, reviews the Escalade from a family-utility perspective, offering a different viewpoint than most reviews. Reviewer Sara Lacey says the SUV lacks some family-friendly features, and the garage door wouldn't close with the "ginormous" SUV inside.
Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade, Sara Lacey, Nov. 14, 2011
10. Edmunds Inside Line
This article from Edmunds Inside Line delivers some harrowing news to prospective Escalade buyers: 2011 data from the Highway Loss Data Institute shows that the Cadillac Escalade is the most stolen car in the U.S. General Motors said in a statement that it is trying to add more theft-deterrent features to address this.
Review: Cadillac Escalade Is Favorite Pick for Car Thieves, Anita Lienert, Aug. 26, 2011
11. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds Inside Line reports on changes to the 2012 Cadillac Escalade that address security concerns. Data from 2011 indicated that the Cadillac Escalade was the most stolen vehicle in the U.S.
Review: 2012 Cadillac Escalade Gets Beefed-Up Security Features to Stymie Thieves, Anita Lienert, Jan. 2, 2012
WindingRoad.com pits the Cadillac Escalade against the Infiniti QX56 and smaller Land Rover LR4. The Land Rover LR4 comes out on top as the most balanced SUV if maximum cargo space isn't a necessity. Editors note a "frustrating amount of vehicle shudder in the primary ride," indicative of the Escalade's truck-based roots.
Review: Comparison Test: Land Rover LR4 vs. Cadillac Escalade vs. Infiniti QX56, Editors of WindingRoad.com, May 24, 2011
13. Car and Driver
Though this long-term test is from 2007, the Escalade hasn't changed significantly since then. The biggest complaint is that the SUV has less room for passengers and cargo than is expected from such a large vehicle. Third-row seats that don't fold flat are a significant drawback as well. Observed fuel economy is poor.
Review: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD, Patricia Eldridge Maki, Nov. 2007