2015 Cadillac Escalade (© General Motors)Click to enlarge picture

2015 Cadillac Escalade

The bling is back — or so Cadillac is hoping as it gets ready to launch the long-delayed fourth-generation Escalade, a massive SUV that, to fans, once defined the pinnacle of luxury while, to critics, was a symbol of wretched excess.

Whichever side you're on, an all-new version of the 'Slade — as it was known among the hip-hoppers who became a major market -- will reach showrooms early next year and, Cadillac promises, will deliver the latest in performance, technology and, hard as it might be for some to believe, the newest in fuel economy-enhancing powertrain systems.

"The 2015 Escalade is completely new and elevated in design and technology, inside and out. The clear objective is to once again assume the leadership position among luxury SUVs ," said Bob Ferguson, the head of Cadillac's global operations, during a preview of the 2015 Cadillac in Manhattan, traditionally one of the big ute's largest markets.

"The clear objective," he added, "is to once again assume the leadership position among luxury SUVs."
That's going to be a lot more challenging than when the first Cadillac Escalade appeared in 1998. Back then, there was only marginal competition in the full-size luxury ute segment — primarily the Lincoln Navigator.

View Pictures:  More pictures of the 2015 Escalade

Today, while that cross-town offering is considered even more out-of-date than the outgoing Escalade, there are a range of alternatives from Europe, including the latest Range Rover and the slightly smaller Range Rover Sport, as well as the Mercedes-Benz GL, Audi Q7 and BMW X5, as well as models from both Lexus and Infiniti. Cadillac is currently an also-ran, though Ferguson said the goal is to reclaim the sales leadership position.

To get there, the maker has started largely from the ground up with the 2015 Cadillac Escalade. The underlying platform is shared with the new-for-2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups , albeit with significant technical revisions.

Performance
That includes the Magnetic Ride Control suspension that will be standard equipment on the Escalade. The system constantly monitors both road conditions and driver input and can change the shocks at each corner from fully soft to completely firm in the time it takes to travel three inches at 60 mph, noted Cadillac Chief Engineer David Leone.

Other new features include a push-button system for folding flat both the second and third-row seats.
The 2015 Escalade will be powered by a 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V-8 making 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, significant muscle even for a vehicle weighing in at between 5,603 and 6,086 pounds depending on the vehicle body style and powertrain configuration. One surprise was the decision to go with a 6-speed rather than a newer 8-speed gearbox. The Escalade will be offered with a choice of either rear- or all-wheel-drive layouts.

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Depending upon the package, the outgoing Escalade delivered the sort of fuel economy numbers that sent Sierra Club members into a tizzy, at a mere 13 mpg City, 18 Highway and 15 Combined, in AWD trim. Cadillac has yet to release numbers for the 2015 gen-4 model but promises a notable improvement. To get there, the new version of the 6.2-liter V-8 adopts such features as direct injection, variable valve timing and displacement on demand - which allows half the cylinders to shut off when power demands are low.

Design
While performance and ride will clearly be factors potential customers are likely to consider, Cadillac knows that exterior design and interior layout and features will be the biggest selling points for the 2015 Escalade.
The design team used terms like, "bold," and "premium" to describe their goal, while also emphasizing the new "craftsmanship" of an interior that features hand-stitched leather and polished wood.

There'll be no confusing the 2015 Cadillac Escalade with other full-sized SUVs GM recently updated, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon Denali. The Caddy model picks up on the brand's edgy Art & Science design language, such as the massive grille surrounding the Cadillac wreath-and-crest logo, the distinctive vertical lighting cues, front and back, and new LED daytime running lamps.

Cadillac will offer two body styles, the standard Escalade, at 203.9 inches, nose-to-tail, and the stretched Escalade ESV, which adds nearly 14 inches more. The body-on-frame package will be offered in different seating configurations, as well, handling up to eight passengers.

Ed Welburn, GM's global design director, said that "from Day One of the design process," his team aimed to improve rear-door ingress and egress. There's also more rear legroom than before. Meanwhile, new sculpted seats were developed to improve comfort during long drives. The front and second-row buckets are both heated and cooled.

Technology
Technology has become a big selling point in the luxury market and Cadillac had fallen behind with the old 'Slade. It now adds an eight-inch center screen using capacitive touch technology and gesture recognition to operate the CUE infotainment system. Meanwhile, a second, 12.-inch reconfigurable display replaces traditional driver gauges and instrumentation.

Along with the expected range of safety systems, including a new center-mounted airbag and Front and Rear Automatic Braking -- which relies on short-range radar technology and ultrasonic sensors to help the driver avoid front and rear low-speed collisions - Cadillac also is adding new anti-theft technology. Much-needed, it seems considering the Escalade has had an unusually serious problem with theft over the years.

Cadillac isn't saying what all the new features will go for. The current rear-drive Escalade starts at $64,740. Look for the 2015 Caddy ute to reach showrooms next spring.