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2015 Cadillac Escalade: Real World Review

Every summer for about five summers in a row, I sat in the back seat of a Bahama Yellow 1970 Plymouth Satellite wagon as we traveled from Los Angeles to Sacramento looking for the right house and an area with good schools. Yes, it got really hot in that car with black vinyl seats and no air-conditioning. However, we made up for it with Beer Nuts, ice-cold Dr. Pepper and homemade sandwiches.

Modern Road Tripping

All these road trip memories came flooding back last month as I took my family on a very similar road trip, retracing a familiar stretch of Interstate 5 between Long Beach, California and Sacramento, California. Two big differences: I now have a family of my own. and no ’72 Plymouth wagon. This time around we took a 2015 Cadillac Escalade.

I’m fairly sure that Plymouth wagon was the nicest car my parents could afford at the time. Even by the standards of the day, the car didn’t offer much in the way of comfort. The Cadillac Escalade is the exact opposite: even by the today’s standards, it’s excessively "nice."

Lots of Tech

The 2015 Escalade is both luxurious and useful. It’s easy to think of luxury cars as fragile and impractical, but this one feels like it was designed with families in mind. A rear-seat DVD player is nothing new, but the Escalade adds in-car Wi-Fi. I’m not a big fan of sitting kids in front of a TV just to keep them quiet, but on a 7-hour trip, my wife and I were thrilled to hear laughter and "Did you see that?" from the back seat rather than the too frequent bickering and "Stop it!" At the same time, the adults up front can listen to Pandora or any other audio source. Our trip had a lot of SXM satellite radio in the form of First Wave, The Spectrum and Lithium. Getting that DVD system to work — headphones and all — is remarkably easy. We never had to open the manual.

I’ve seen many complaints about Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system. The complaints seem to be unfounded — mostly. I’m not sure if CUE just works for my general needs or if it’s that I hate complaining so much I just want it to work well. Either way, the idea of having a single list that incorporates favorite songs, artists, addresses, radio stations, phone numbers and points of interest is next-level tech for sure. The one thing that needs work is the touchscreen. Sometimes I had a hard time figuring out where to touch a virtual button to get it to work the first time every time.

One specific piece of tech that really stands out is related to the navigation system. As a turn approaches, the display in the instrument panel shows the direction of the turn and your current speed, even if you don’t have the digital speedometer selected. That reminder of how fast you’re going into an approaching turn is very helpful.

Packed with Features

As a kid, the family road trips eventually resulted in a move to a small town in Western Placer county, nearly in the middle of California’s Gold Rush region. That kind of sounds cool now, but as a kid having just moved from Los Angeles, it looked like a bunch of nothing dotted with the occasional state-run gold mine exhibit.

This stood in stark contrast to endless entertainment I recall in Southern California, including Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Japanese Village and Deer Park and Los Alamitos Bay. Granted, these were more like stay-cations, but there were so many cool attractions near our home that we rarely ventured far.

Fittingly, the recently re-done 2015 Cadillac Escalade is a lot like an area fit for a staycation — there’s no shortage of attractions and you feel a lot less frazzled when you finally get home.

We drove the Premium version, which is one notch below the top-of-the-line Platinum version. Even without options, the Escalade Premium includes leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, OnStar with 4G LTE Wi-Fi, the previously mentioned CUE system, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, cross-traffic alert and power-folding third-row seats. And that’s really just scratching the surface.

At one point during the trip, we needed to use the third-row seats — the power folding feature is nice, but we also like the practicality of the adequate storage space behind the third row. It was enough for several large grocery bags.

Power and Good Looks

In 1970, that Plymouth wagon had a 318 cu. in. V8 that was good for 230 horsepower at the time. The Escalade has a 6.0-liter V8 — about 366 cu. in. — and makes 420 hp. It’s not that all that power is really needed, unless you’re towing something. The Escalade really excels at effortless acceleration. A gentle squeeze of the accelerator and passing is no problem, even heading up the fairly steep Grapevine is drama-free in the Escalade.

The appearance of a car is usually something that varies so much from person to person, it’s nearly impossible to get a consensus. However, there’s something to be said for the presence of a luxury car. It’s not about one-upping the next guy, that’s sad. It’s more about style and design being a hallmark of a luxury vehicle. Think of it as a sort of "fitting in" for rich folks.

Making our way through Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, the new, more futuristic look of the 2015 Escalade fit right in. In fact, we saw several other Escalades in the area. This signals a shift in the Escalade’s image, moving away from MTV Cribs poster car to legitimate luxury item for wealthy families.

And you will need a bit of cash to work your way into a new Cadillac Escalade: starting price is about $73,000. As tested, our Premium model was about $86,000 with just one option — power retractable running boards to make getting in and out a little easier.

With price always come questions like "Is it worth it?" When you consider the price of a Range Rover with similar equipment is easily $100,000, and that this is a luxury purchase, the question of worth seems a little irrelevant. Still, the Escalade blends functional and luxury in a way few others manage. You might assume a Range Rover or Porsche SUV is simply more luxurious, but this new Escalade shows that’s no longer a safe assumption.

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