The idea of a big, full-size SUV as daily transportation is as 1990s as MTV playing music videos. Yet here we are, behind the wheel of a luxury version of the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe, also known as the 2013 Cadillac Escalade. You may wonder why Cadillac--in this age of hybrids, eco-friendly driving, and fuel-efficient everything--still makes this huge behemoth of a transport, but the answer is really quite simple.
The vehicle you see on this page costs $75,000, give or take. For that, you essentially get a Chevy Tahoe with Cadillac badges, nicer headlights, softer leather, and a bigger profit margin for each one General Motors sells. That's not just us being snarky, either: Mechanically, there's very little daylight between the Tahoe and its upscale cousin, and the added Cadillac frosting doesn't add a lot to the company's costs. Visually, they're even less distinct: we challenge anybody outside of GM's design department to distinguish the two silhouettes.
But small differences matter, and a lot of small differences can add up to a significantly different vehicle from behind the wheel. It left us wondering: is this Cadillac really $25,000 better than a similarly equipped Chevrolet?
Model and PriceWe drove a 2013 Cadillac Escalade Premium with all-wheel drive, a model that slots right below the all-out Platinum, preferred by professional athletes and those who just want to live like one. The total outlay was a cool $75,220, including a $995 destination charge. That sum gets you a soft-touch dash, leather seats, a navigation system with surround sound, heated steering wheel, and a ton of other luxury add ons that are, for the most part, available as options on the lower-end Chevy Tahoe. It also comes with a 6.2-liter V-8 engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission, which is not available on the Tahoe (but is on the similar GMC Yukon Denali).
Safety and Key FeaturesThe 2013 Cadillac Escalade gets four stars from the federal NHTSA crash tests, partly because of its low-ish three-star rollover rating; no surprise there. The IIHS doesn't have crash test data on the big beast, however, the mechanically similar Chevrolet Silverado pickup--on which the Escalade is based--gets a Good rating only for frontal offset tests; it's Acceptable in side and rear, and Marginal in rollover. Still, there are front, side, and curtain airbags in the big Caddy. Stability control is standard, and the blind spot alert and rear view camera are undoubtedly helpful in navigating this big SUV in traffic and in parking lots.
Family Friendliness and UtilityConsidering that the Escalade is essentially a big, empty, wheeled box, you'd think there'd be lots of room inside. You'd be right, up to a point; on paper there's room for seven passengers, and nearly 17 cu.-ft. of cargo space behind the third row. Open a door, and running boards motor down to assist kids and adults alike into the high-riding SUV, once inside, there's a ton of head room. But the Premium package substitutes the second row bench for two captain's chairs, cutting down on passenger capacity. The cargo space is limited to a narrow and mostly useless slot behind the third row; fold one of the seats forward--they have to be removed entirely to maximize space--and you eliminate at least two seating positions, since they're split 50/50, rather than a more family friendly 60/40. If you carry five passengers and need to haul anything bigger behind the second row, you'll have to leave someone curbside. It's absurd, really, for something this big to be so compromised. On the other hand, the rear seat DVD system was pretty nice, and the surround sound audio was excellent.
Comfort and QualityThe driver has enormous amounts of head and legroom, and there's nearly a foot of space between the front passengers. However, it also feels cozy and smaller than competitors like the Lincoln Navigator and Toyota Sequoia; this is relative, of course, since there's no word but "roomy" to describe any of these vehicles. What's surprising is how dated the Escalade feels. There's no pushbutton ignition, for example. The soft-touch surfaces are better than hard plastic, but not a huge improvement. The switches, buttons, knobs, and even the gauges are all more or less directly out of less expensive versions of the same vehicle. Basically, despite the premium pricetag, there's just not a lot inside to justify it.
How it DrivesThe one free and clear advantage the 2013 Cadillac Escalade has over the Chevy Tahoe and most GMC Yukon models is its engine. While the Chevy and GMCs make do with a 5.3-liter V-8, the Escalade has a 6.2-liter version that puts out 403 horsepower. It's not an overwhelming amount of grunt, but it's enough that you never feel as if you need more, and it's connected to a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts quickly and smoothly. You feel the chassis wiggle a little over harsh bumps, reminding you that this is, fundamentally, a truck that you're driving...and reminding you why SUVs like this have been almost entirely replaced by more solid-feeling car-based crossovers. Despite its trucky roots though, the Escalade is surprisingly agile for its size, with quick steering and a feeling that's notably less bulky than its competitors. Despite its age and relative lack of modern sophistication, the Escalade remains one of the better driving full-size SUVs out there. Of course, that also applies to the Tahoe.
SummaryLet us just give this dead horse one last lash: The 2013 Cadillac Escalade is simply too expensive for what you get. Although there are some pros to it--the around-town drivability chief among them--the reality is that this aging vehicle is simply out of touch with modern times. There's no active cruise control available; no pushbutton start; no one-touch entry...the list of things it lacks compared to approaches the comical, especially when you compare it to vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, against which the Escalade competes. There's a new Escalade coming soon, one based on the new GM full-sized trucks. Hopefully, in addition to modern refinement, it will bring with it the features, technology, and modern capability a vehicle costing this much deserves.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $75,220
EPA City: 13 mpg
EPA Highway: 18 mpg
EPA Combined: 15 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 390 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average