Luxury vehicles like the 2017 Cadillac Escalade need to tackle three key components to become truly luxurious: space, choice and ease of use. In fact, I think anything with a luxury label needs these key components to truly be luxurious. Hotels, airline seats, home furnishings, houses. Well, OK, maybe not clothing.
HGTV has a show called “Tiny Luxury.” Sorry, HGTV, there’s no such thing. Those two words negate each other. It’s kind of like creating a book titled “The Low-Price Guide to Classic Ferraris” or an iTunes album called “Buck Cherry’s Greatest Hits.” Sorry, dude. No such thing.
Luxury hotels get this — some of my favorites include the Le Roch Hotel and Spa in Paris, El Encanto in Santa Barbara, Bernardus Lodge in Carmel and the Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa. Each has its own take on luxury. The Le Roch is in the heart of Paris’ 1st Arrondissement and has big windows and a generous amount of space even with the basic rooms — but the overall size of the hotel isnt overwhelming. The Carneros Resort and Spa offers individual cottages with private back yards — and even within that formula, you can choose different levels. They’ll even sell you a cottage if you want to permanently live in the peaceful surroundings of vineyards and San Pablo Bay breezes.
In fact, there’s something about Napa that perfectly complements the Escalade. It’s like both are romanticized versions of their true selves. The Escalade is a big truck-based SUV, and Napa is essentially a farming community with a fancy facade.
Yet the Escalade is about much more than just a facade, as it really delivers on the luxury theme, with both space and choices. There are nine exterior paint choices and three interior color choices as well as four trim choices, each more luxurious than the other. In addition, the Escalade offers a choice of 2- or 4-wheel drive and normal or extended lengths (extended gives a lot of additional cargo space behind the third-row seat). Notice a theme here?
On a recent trip to Napa, I drove the standard-size Escalade with 4-wheel drive. I opted for the Premium Luxury level, which is one step down from the top-of-the-line Platinum. Notable features on the Premium Luxury level include LED cornering lights, LED daytime running lights, a rear-seat entertainment system and adaptive cruise control, which I used every single day during the week and a half I spent with the SUV. Ease of use? Yes.
Since Cadillac loaned me the car, I didn’t get to pick the color, but the Adriatic Blue they picked is one I would buy personally. I see a lot of high-end SUVs and sedans done in black — I just don’t get that. When I see an Escalade or Lincoln Navigator or Mercedes-Benz S-Class in black, I think “Oh, someone is getting a ride to the airport.” Nothing sets off a good luxury car like the right color. Thankfully, the Escalade has 9 exterior color choices.
It’s also why you see some more affordable cars with just a few color choices. For example, the new Toyota C-HR is a cool-looking little crossover SUV. It has just one interior color: black. The Escalade has three. I prefer lighter colors, like cream or even a tasteful beige. Cadillac sent me a car with the interior choice of “Kona Brown with Jet Black Accents.” It’s good-looking for sure, and many people commented. When you get compliments from valets and people on the street in Napa, that’s quite impressive. The level of expected luxury in that part of the country seems to go up 10 steps as soon as you exit the interstate.
Thankfully, the 2017 Cadillac Escalade isn’t an empty promise. It looks good, but it performs, too. The 6.2-liter V8 engine has a deep powerful sound and even deeper reserves of power — 420 horsepower, to be exact. Thankfully, the sound is never overbearing or annoying.
For me, good technology makes my life easier. I think that’s a key attribute inherent in a luxury experience, too. I get that some people want to program intricate EQ settings into their home and car stereo or take pleasure in layer after layer of in-car tech menus, but I’m not one of them.
Compelling technology elegantly executed is far more interesting than intricate details. In the Escalade, the look of the screen and buttons is perfect for the class of car. The way it functions is good, too. Some buttons or virtual touchscreen points are too close together, but the ability to build a “Favorites” list that includes destinations, songs, radio stations and phone contacts is brilliant. Cadillac’s CUE interface may not be perfect, but I believe luxury automakers will be copying the basic idea in the near future. A Bose Surround Sound audio system is included even on the lowest-priced Escalade (about $75,000).
Add to this a rear-seat entertainment system that plays Blu-ray discs and can even Chromecast from your device to the drop-down video screen. But the real luxury of all this isn’t the capability, it’s the ease of use. On the road between San Luis Obispo and Long Beach, CA, my kids watched movies and videos and never once had to ask for help. Luxury = easy.
The natural comparison to the Escalade is the Lincoln Navigator. Until the new Navigator arrives, the Cadillac is better by far. After that, the Land Rover Range Rover is a logical competitor. Drive them both, because they’re about equal in terms of luxury and driving experience. The Escalade comes off as a little more American, and the Range Rover feels more European.