Last week, we hopped a plane to South Carolina to test out the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, the latest version of the luxury SUV that was a star in the early 2000s.
In recent years, changing tastes and stricter fuel economy standards have pushed the industry away from the big and boxy toward sleeker, smaller crossover vehicles.
We drove pre-production versions of the Premium Escalade and Premium Escalade ESV (extended wheelbase), worth roughly $US86,000 and $US89,000, respectively.
Both are powerful, surprisingly efficient, luxurious, and full of thoughtful touches.
And Cadillac isn’t worried about the declining popularity of huge SUVs. While no longer the height of style, the segment is “still healthy and it’s still important,” communications manager David Caldwell said. There are still wealthy drivers out there who have a taste for luxury and lots of stuff to carry.
Based on what we saw down South, a lot of them will be bringing home a new Escalade in the next year.
Disclosure: Cadillac paid for travel and accommodations for our trip to South Carolina to test the Escalade.
The Escalade is important for Cadillac. The extended wheelbase version of the SUV brings in the brand's youngest, wealthiest, and best educated buyers (on average 51 years old, with a $US320,000 income).
We're not fans of the super tall tail lights -- lit up at night, they look like floating parentheses.
The Escalade still sports the outgoing Cadillac logo. The updated crest will be used on new cars starting later this year.
The SUV is surprisingly fuel efficient, getting up to 21 mpg on the highway. That's 17% better than the outgoing model, and a good deal better than the competition from Mercedes and Lexus.
And is partly thanks to the 6.2-liter V8 engine, which uses cylinder deactivation to reduce fuel consumption when extra power is unnecessary.
The new Escalade also offers 4-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive. The 4WD system applies power to every wheel only when necessary, saving fuel.
When it is working hard, the engine can send the Escalade from 0 to 60 mph in under six seconds -- impressive for a 6,000-pound car.
But even at highway speeds, it's remarkably quiet. Cadillac used redesigned mirrors, thicker carpet, an acoustic cover on the fuel pump, triple-sealed doors, and acoustic laminate glass to keep noise out of the cabin.
The downside of that silence is you feel disconnected from the road. Driving the Escalade is pleasant, but it's not exciting.
The Escalade's interior is as luxurious as its price tag suggests. Cadillac says it used the Platinum version of the outgoing model as the starting point for the 2015 generation.
We've never been fans of the CUE infotainment system, but Cadillac says it keeps making improvements. We didn't test it much on the drive, so can't pass judgement.
The Escalade is the first car in its segment with an airbag that opens between the front two seats. In side impact crashes, the driver and passenger can knock into each other, a major cause of injuries.
Each door has shelves built in, and there are tons of places throughout the car to store things. The more, the better.
The tailgate can be opened by waving your foot near the back of the car, and there are buttons to fold down the second and third row seats.
(image url='http://static.businessinsider.com/image/5343009cecad04df374063d9/cadillac%20escalade%20seat%20gif.gif' alt='Cadillac Escalade Seat Folding GIF' link='lightbox' size='secondary' align='right' clear='true')
The market for full-size, premium SUVs has shrunk, but the Escalade will surely do well with what's left. It's stylish, pretty efficient, really comfortable, and smartly designed.
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