A few weeks ago Cadillac asked if I would like to attend the IMSA race at Laguna Seca as a guest of theirs. They offered me my choice of loaner car for the weekend, and I had already intended to go to the race anyway, so I agreed without hesitation. I chose the venerable Escalade as my weekend steed, being that it shares the same V8 (okay, a sorta similar one) as the DPi-V.R prototypes racing in the IMSA Prototype category they were there to promote. I also received Cadillac hospitality, food, and lodging for the weekend, in the interest of full disclosure. I picked up the truck, and my Canadian photographer friend, Keiron Berndt (who shot all of these glorious photos) at the SFO airport on Thursday evening and headed south to the track.
First, let’s discuss the race as it went down, then dig into the nitty-gritty of the road-going Cadillac. Running in the Prototype class, Cadillac has fairly well dominated the entire IMSA season. The Wayne Taylor team won the first five rounds of the championship in a row, the Mustang Sampling Cadillac won the 6th round, and the Whelen Engineering car the 7th. Thanks to Balance of Performance, the Cadillacs were slowly reigned in throughout the season, and they finally lost a race at the Road America 8th round. Laguna Seca being the 9th round, Cadillac and the Taylor brothers were once again on the pole position and looking really good. Dane Cameron in the Whelen Engineering car held the lead of the race for Cadillac until the penultimate lap when Renger Van Der Zande forced a mega pass up the inside at the famed Corkscrew. It was an unbelievable finish that will go down in history. Despite losing this race, Cadillac easily won the championship just a few weeks later at Petit Le Mans.
The race was awesome, but Cadillac didn’t win, so we won’t dwell too much on that. Let’s dig into the Escalade. Following race day, Keiron and I found a nice place to shoot the Caddy in the dying sunlight, and I’m definitely happy with how they came out. The kid is still a youngster, and I predict this guy is headed places, because he’s talented, ambitious, and willing to learn from anyone who will teach him. I’m happy to have worked with him on this event, because he’s killer.
Though the truck has been around since 2015 relatively unchanged, I’d not been in the GMT K2XX version of the ‘sclade yet, and it was an interesting experience. Having grown up in the midwest, I’m quite familiar with GM’s full-size body-on-frame SUVs. I’m not such a proponent of SUVs in general, but I understand why they exist, and at least these giant truck frame beasts are seriously capable haulers, unlike their CUV little siblings. I’ve been in a few of the GMT900 chassis trucks, and this one definitely felt bigger and comfier and quieter. The interior of this truck was about as nice as any luxury automobile I’ve ever driven, with excellent touch points and relatively intuitive switchgear. The one fault I found in the interior is the glove box. Instead of simply having the glove box open like a glove box normally would, Cadillac opted to put an electronically controlled servo in there with an opener button mounted high on the center console to the right of the infotainment screen. It took us far too long to find the button than it should have. Of course, once you know where it is you’ll never forget, but it seemed like a change for the sake of change, and it rubbed me the wrong way.
The driving dynamics are about what you’d expect for a truck that weighs nearly three tons (seriously, it’s over 5500 pounds). Even with the magnetic ride shocks optioned, the truck is floaty and crashy at the same time, and doesn’t exactly respond to steering inputs in a sports-car-like fashion. That said, it’s better than you’d expect it to be. We used this truck as a moving photography platform for a Porsche Cayman GT4 on highway 1, and while we constantly had to tell the Cayman driver to slow down, we managed to keep a reasonably steady 40 mile per hour pace through some seriously twisty sections of the road down by Big Sur. It wouldn’t be my first choice for such a task, but it worked in a pinch. The 420-horsepower, 460 lb-ft 6.2-liter V8 certainly didn’t hurt things, as acceleration was a titch quicker than ‘jaunty’. The drive down the coast from SFO to MRLS was smooth and comfortable, and the seats make for a sublime ass shelf, but floating this barge through the Highway 101 traffic felt like trying to dock an Oasis-class ship at your local yacht club. I’m used to small cars, and this was a rude awakening. People drive these every day?
This version of CUE was a bit better than prior iterations, but the onboard navigation was less than intuitive. I’ve yet to find a single factory-option navigation that was as good as even Apple Maps (and that’s saying something!), so I’m glad that many manufacturers have simply defaulted to CarPlay or Android Auto integration. Waze owns all, just use that.
This truck was optioned out as a “Premium Luxury” model with four-wheel drive. Cadillac added Adriatic Blue paint ($595), Power-Retractable Assist Steps ($1750), and Kona Brown leather interior ($2000). Add in the Radiant Package ($2,695), which includes chrome 22″ wheels, a “Galvano” silver mesh front grille, and a chrome exhaust tip, and you’ve got an ostentatious, yet somehow strangely attractive, full-sized SUV with a slap-me-in-the-face price of $94,130. There is a Platinum Package above this one which essentially includes the options that this truck had plus some extra leather which is even more expensive. Considering that this truck adds nearly twenty thousand dollars on top of the base model with two-wheel drive, and almost doubles the starting price of the Chevrolet Tahoe on which it is based, reality sets in quickly.
Aside from its largeness, exorbitant price, and the strangely placed glove box button, this satellite radio fin made me irrationally upset. Instead of being centered and mounted rearward, this piece was offset and mounted basically directly above the steering wheel. The human eye is trained to find beauty in symmetry, and this just plain felt wrong.
The Cadillac Escalade is the automotive equivalent of a power move. It’s brash and in your face, over the top luxury for the sake of. You really want people to know you’ve arrived when you pull up in this extreme machine. This truck goes against every automotive tenet I hold true, and yet somehow I don’t find myself hating it. It was the old-school American luxury that I’m used to, a reasonable facsimile to the driving experience I’ve had in so many Lincolns, Buicks, and Cadillacs of the past. You experience the road much the same way you would operate a television remote with winter gloves on; there is little tactility and even less sensation of motion. If you desire a disconnect from the world around you, Escalade provides.
By contrast, the remainder of Cadillac’s lineup is filled with gorgeous, flowing, futuristic designs, and dynamically excellent automobiles. The Escalade is incongruous with the current design language, featuring slab sides, an upright grille, and too-big everything. It also feels nothing like any of its brand mates from a driving experience perspective. Though they share a somewhat spurious engine connection, the Escalade is the ideological opposite of Cadillac’s DPi-V.R prototype. It might be the ideological opposite of a modern Cadillac. At least they stopped making the Escalade EXT.
[Disclaimer: Cadillac provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Keiron Berndt/Hooniverse 2017]