Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Cadillac Escalade ESV Road Trip

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Our family of four came to know our borrowed 2017 Cadillac Escalade more intimately than we ever thought possible in a week of road-tripping all around Vancouver this summer. Like how we could sleep in it. Not just nap, but actually overnight sleep. In a pinch.

Despite the Escalade’s boxy and bombastic exterior appeal, there are subtle shapes and curves inside that speak to a refined artfulness we came to appreciate over our extended drive time.

This was no ill-conceived exercise in glamping. Thanks to a cancelled Air Canada red-eye flight, and their inability to offer us or a planeload of out-of-town travellers and children overnight options besides pillows for the airport floor, we unexpectedly discovered that the four leather captain’s seats in our Escalade made for not-quite-flat but upscale overnight sleeping quarters.

And certainly a more comfortable option than lying atop commercial high-traffic carpeting or tucking in at empty seats in the airport waiting area at 3am, as plenty of other families did before the rescheduled 10am flight back home (roughly 11 hours after our originally planned flight time). Luckily for us, instead of returning the Escalade to the usual OEM office or dealer, we had handed in our keys to a valet right near the Vancouver Airport’s entrance.

Bleary-eyed after multi-hour delays and lineups – now 3:30am – I searched out that valet to find he had yet to transport the keys and the mega-sized luxury SUV back to Cadillac. Mercifully understanding, he handed us back the keys for a few hours, and we returned all our suitcases and luggage to the vast cargo hold we had removed them from hours earlier. We looked upon the interior as a familiar sanctuary, but in a whole new light, now to be inadvertently repurposed. We still had seven seats to choose from, for what we hoped would be at least a few solid hours of shut-eye.

Parked right by the entrance to YVR.

But why start with that ill-fated ending to what was overall an amazing road trip – made so in no small part by the Escalade’s myriad comforts and conveniences along the way?

First impressions: Hello, big boy

The plan called for eight days of travelling, starting in downtown Vancouver, hopping the ferry to explore in and around quaint-but-bustling Victoria, and then back to the heart of Vancouver before heading up the breathtaking (and heavily patrolled) Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish and then Whistler.

We knew we’d have plenty of luggage and gear, but even after loading our not-very-efficiently-packed bags, we were amazed at the remaining cargo room, even with the third row seats up.

Not only is the Cadillac Escalade the largest and most luxurious SUV the brand offers, this particular one was the extended ESV version, which adds an extra 518 mm of overall length (about 20 inches) over an already sizeable Escalade, with roughly 14 of those extra inches added to the wheelbase to help create more people-space as well. The end result is that the Escalade ESV can swallow 1,113 litres of cargo, or roughly two-and-a-half times what a standard full-size Escalade can carry while keeping all three rows up.

So even with only two kids onboard – a lanky 13-year-old that liked to stretch out his legs, and a nine-year-old that liked to stretch his brother’s patience – that third row came in handy, since we still had the flexibility to put one or both in the third row. And there wouldn’t be any complaining on this trip about not having a monitor available for DVD-watching or video games either, as not only do the front seatbacks offer individual screens, but there is also a fold-down screen from the roof for the benefit of third-row riders.

Interestingly, the Escalade ESV may be the priciest luxury SUV GM sells – the ESV starting at $88,385 – but it’s not the longest: the GMC Yukon XL Denali, which shares the Escalade’s platform and its V8 engine, is a few millimetres longer. It’s not enough to differentiate interior body dimensions or cargo room at all, but if you’re looking for maximum size per dollar, the GMC does offer more – though by the time you’re looking at the top GMC Denali version that offers the same engine as the Cadillac, the price gap to the extended Cadillac ESV has shrunk to roughly $6,000.

Coddling luxury and showpiece technology abound, but you’ll pay for it

That doesn’t sound like an exorbitant premium for the Cadillac wreath versus the GMC badge, and it’s not, in this snack bracket. But keep in mind the Cadillac Escalade ESV’s price only goes up from there, with our top-line Platinum model topping out at $113,680.

For that money, you could hardly ask for more advanced convenience and luxury features, all of them standard on this Platinum model. Open the door to the ’Slade, and you’re greeted by power-folding running boards that give you a helpful step up into the cabin if you want one, handy for the kids or less mobile folks, but largely stay out of the way if you don’t. Once you plant yourself in the driver’s seat and hit the Start button, a head-up display awakens to welcome you, and then provides stereo updates, directions, and speed without your having to look around.

There’s lots of cooling up front: cooled seats come standard, while the Platinum also features a large cooling box in the centre console. Seats are heated for all four seats in the first two rows, plus the steering wheel.

A 16-speaker Bose Centerpoint sound system is standard, as is very strong 4G LTE Wi-Fi (very appreciated by the kids), while there’s a tray to wirelessly charge your cellphone. The fully digital gauges can be adjusted to suit your whims, as can the pedals, which come closer or further to suit drivers or co-drivers of all kinds of sizes, via buttons prominently displayed on the centre console.

Despite the Escalade’s boxy and bombastic exterior appeal, there are subtle shapes and curves inside that speak to a refined artfulness we came to appreciate over our extended drive time. From the sweeping integration of the understated matte wood accents from dash to doors, to the substantial curvature and thick chrome plating of the door handles, touchpoints and even inconspicuous details have been lavished with attention and fine materials.

We didn’t pack the Escalade nearly enough to block our rear view out, but if you do, the rear-view mirror can be switched to show the image feed from an exterior camera in high resolution. Plus, multiple cameras allow the Escalade driver to position it carefully, not only with the usual back-up camera, but also a simulated bird’s-eye view, offering the best of both views simultaneously.

This came in very handy to avoid parking lot scrapes with something so big, including in the busy parking lot that led up to the majestic Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge in Squamish. It’s perhaps not quite as famous as Vancouver’s Capilano Suspension Bridge, featured recently in the Amazing Race Canada reality show, but its less frenetic and more spacious set-up allowed for easier photo capturing and contemplation, while overlooking curvy roads and the fjord thousands of feet below, and alpine forest thousands more feet up into the mountains above.

Style and presence over buttoned-down driving manners

Our longest drives were on Vancouver Island, and to and from the 90-minute ferry ride that eventually led us to Victoria. Even with the more wide-open spaces and verdant greenery on the island, the Escalade ESV still feels imposingly large on the road, its Magnetic Ride Control’s emphasis obvious from the name – it’s not called Magnetic Handling Control. Even Cadillac’s highly regarded and advanced magnetorheological suspension system can’t totally hide the large body movements that come when the road turns slightly curvy, with some body roll as well as pitching back and forth still noticeable until you learn to smooth out your inputs to smooth out the ride for you and your passengers.

Being smooth on the throttle is made tougher by the Escalade’s powerful 6.2L V8, which pumps out 420 hp and a worthy 460 lb-ft of torque, and can quickly jump the Escalade out into traffic or passing manoeuvres. It’s not as silky silent as some other powertrains, but there’s a refined huskiness to it that suits its personality.

Not so personable is the way the Escalade ESV drinks up fuel. Officially, it averages 14.1 L/100 km, but in our highway-heavy week with it, we averaged 16.1 overall. And with its large 117 litre tank, be prepared for some sticker shock, as it took me just over $150 of pricey North Van fuel to fill it, just after the low fuel light appeared – and that was regular, which is what this bad boy takes.

Nobody buys a Cadillac Escalade hoping for great fuel-efficiency, granted, especially not this longer ESV version, which tows up to 8,100 pounds, or slightly less than the 8,300 pound limit of its lighter, standard wheelbase models. From a buyer’s perspective, its many safety features likely hold more weight, with novelties such as the segment’s only front-seat centre airbag, safety alert seats that warn you when something’s close (by buzzing you on the corresponding side of the seat), and front and rear automatic braking standard on the Platinum.

There’s also an automatic parking assist feature available, and if any vehicle needs it, it’s this one.

Safety is important in this class, sure, but there’s also a distinct cool factor to the Escalade, its brash looks set off by a Galvano chrome grille, LED lighting and huge 22-inch wheels and tires. This Escalade ESV’s only option was its Crystal White Tricoat paint, and in a fortuitous brush with a similarly new but black Cadillac Escalade ESV in a parking lot near Brandywine Falls, just south of Whistler, the white did seem to shine slightly more lustrously than the traditional Escalade black.

In the end, our overnight airport misadventure only served to heighten our appreciation for the spaciousness and comfort of the Cadillac Escalade. There’s surely no better way to get to know a vehicle intimately than spend an entire night with it, and that’s exactly what we did.

Engine Displacement 6.2L
Engine Cylinders V8
Peak Horsepower 420 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Peak Torque 460 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
Fuel Economy 16.1/11.7/14.1 L/100km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 1,113 L/2,173 L/3,424 L behind third/second/first row
Model Tested 2017 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum
Base Price $110,680
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,000
Price as Tested $113,680
Optional Equipment
$900 – Crystal White Tricoat $900