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2018 Cadillac Escalade: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2018

The 2018 Cadillac Escalade is bound to impress with its bold, expressive styling that's been the hallmark for this popular nameplate. It also has a well-equipped interior, a strong V8 engine and a trick magnetically controlled suspension that delivers considerably better ride and handling than its other GM full-size SUV siblings.

However, we have to say that the Escalade is for the most part a lot of sizzle and not enough steak. Despite its enormous size, the third-row seat is barely habitable in the regular-wheelbase model, and the extremely high load height in both the regular and extended-length Escalade ESV makes it difficult to lift just about anything into the cargo area. Good luck to the poor dog who tries to leap aboard. Then there's the subpar fuel economy, the so-so interior and the relatively ponderous handling, regardless of that trick suspension.

Plus, all of these problems are exacerbated this year due to the arrival of the all-new Lincoln Navigator. Not only does it easily top the Escalade in terms of performance, fuel economy, passenger space and cargo room, but it now boasts a stunning interior and exterior styling that seems to be resonating with car shoppers. There's also a number of comparably priced, high-lux competitors from Europe that are superior in many ways.

So although the Escalade will perhaps always have its charms, we'd argue that's not really enough anymore. Cross-shopping is definitely in order.

What's New for 2018?

The Escalade gains a new standard 10-speed transmission for 2018.

What We Like

Brawny styling; muscular V8; strong towing capacity; abundant standard feature content

What We Don't

Barely usable third-row seat in regular model; extremely high load height; thirsty engine; relatively cumbersome driving experience; interior no match for those of some similarly priced competitors

How Much?

$74,700-$96,800

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Escalade is offered with only one engine, a 6.2-liter V8 making 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a standard 10-speed automatic and it returns 14 miles per gallon in the city, 23 mpg on the highway and 17 mpg in combined driving with rear-wheel drive. Those numbers are the same with optional 4-wheel drive, apart from a 21 mpg hwy estimate.

There are no fuel economy estimates for the Escalade ESV due to its extra weight and heavy-duty truck classification -- but they would be worse.

Standard Features & Options

The Escalade comes in two body styles, a regular-length model simply called the Escalade and a long-wheelbase version dubbed the Escalade ESV. Both are available in four trim levels: base, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Platinum.

The Escalade base trim ($74,700 regular; $77,700 ESV) comes standard with 20-inch wheels, a magnetically controlled adaptive suspension, LED headlights, automatic wipers, power-folding mirrors, a hands-free power lift gate, side-assist steps, keyless start, parking sensors, a surround-view parking camera, a self-parking system, tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated and cooled power front seats with driver-memory settings and power-adjustable pedals, heated second-row seats, a power-folding third-row seat, the 8-in CUE tech interface, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar with 4G LTE Wi-Fi, five USB ports and a 16-speaker Bose audio system.

The Luxury trim ($80,300 regular; $83,300 ESV) adds 22-in wheels, adaptive headlights, a sunroof, power-adjustable second-row seats, Cadillac's rear camera mirror and a variety of accident-avoidance technologies (forward-collision, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning systems as well as automatic braking and lane-keeping assist).

The Premium Luxury ($84,700 regular; $87,700 ESV) gains adaptive cruise control, an enhanced automatic braking system and a single-screen rear-seat entertainment system.

The Platinum ($93,800 regular; $96,800 ESV) adds power-retractable side steps, special styling elements inside and out, upgraded leather upholstery, more-adjustable front seats with massage functionality and a dual-screen rear entertainment system.

Safety

The 2018 Cadillac Escalade comes with a long list of standard safety features, including dual-front airbags, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, traction control, stability control, front and rear parking sensors, a self-parking system and a surround-view parking camera. Available safety features include forward-collision warning, blind spot montoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning systems, as well as automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, a collision-preparation system and the Safety Alert Seat, which vibrates in response to these various safety systems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Escalade a 4-star overall crash score, along with 4-star frontal, 5-star side and 3-star rollover scores. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not crash-tested either Escalade model.

Behind the Wheel

The Escalade may have changed a lot over the years, but the basic concept remains: big power, a muscular sound and a driving position that looks down on virtually every other vehicle on the road.

If that's what you're looking for, the Escalade will get the job done. The interior is a vast improvement over that of prior models, which themselves were vast improvements over their predecessors. We're impressed with how much tech and feature content is included, but the Escalade still can't touch similarly priced rivals such as the Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class for overall quality. The new Lincoln Navigator also, perhaps arguably, puts it to shame on the style front.

Its American rival also greatly outpaces the Escalade's interior space, especially in the third row. Despite this huge Cadillac's size, space back there is actually an issue, as the regular-wheelbase model's aft-most seat is basically mounted to the floor with occupants' knees shoved toward the roof and scarce room between it and row number two. That high floor also reduces cargo capacity and raises the load height uncomfortably. This is the result of the Escalade's old-school truck rear suspension, something the Lincoln Navigator has moved on from. Even the longer Escalade ESV can't match the Lincoln's third-row comfort, though its cargo capacity is comparable.

On the road, the Escalade drives much as you'd expect: like a big, bulky truck. Now, at least, Cadillac's impressive Magnetic Ride Control suspension system irons out some of the uncouth body motions and jiggling of GM's other full-size SUVs. The ride is subsequently much better. The Escalade may be quick thanks to its 420-hp V8, but it still can't match the Navigator's turbocharged V6 that pumps out 30 extra horses and 50 more lb-ft of torque.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Lincoln Navigator -- Objectively, the new Navigator is just a superior full-size SUV compared to the Escalade. Performance, fuel economy and interior space are all considerably greater. Subjectively, its high-fashion interior blows away most competitors. It's worth the attention it's getting.

 2018 GMC Yukon Denali -- GMC's range-topping Yukon Denali is nearly mechanically identical to the Escalade. It also uses many of the same chrome accents and bold styling cues. If you can't find an Escalade at the price you want, consider visiting your local GMC dealer to find out if they'll give you a good deal on a Yukon Denali.

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class -- The GLS can't match the Escalade's towing capability or extended-length version, but it boasts superior driving manners, more third-row space and better interior trappings, plus a price tag that isn't actually that different from the big Cadillac's.

Used Land Rover Range Rover -- A new Range Rover's starting price of around $86,000 may be comparable to the Escalade's, but it comes with considerably less standard equipment. As such, used models are worth a look if you're interested in another luxury SUV offering a king-of-the-road driving experience.

Autotrader's Advice

Keep it simple. The base-model Escalade is so incredibly well equipped that all the upper trim levels seem a bit superfluous. Their elevated price tags also put them uncomfortably close to vehicles like the Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, which in turn start to make the Escalade seem like the antiquated truck behemoth it is.

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New 2018 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Luxury
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New 2018 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium Luxury
New 2018 Cadillac Escalade
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Cadillac Escalade: New Car Review - Autotrader