Critics’ Notebook: 2016 Cadillac Escalade Platinum

A fleet vehicle with surprisingly fleet feet and sweet seats.

Cadillac Escalade Platinum
Sean Evans/TheDrive.com

Body-on-frame construction is great because it's so damn durable. It shakes off twisting forces, present when off-roading or hauling heavy loads, with aplomb. Repairs are cheaper and easier. Fabrication itself is less costly, with the savings (sometimes) passed on to the buyer. That's why General Motors, and fleet managers the country over, are so enamored with the first family of body-on-frame SUV: the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade.

That trinity makes up the 4WD backbone of most livery fleets. The Tahoe and Yukon are government agency darlings, employed for everything from policing to road maintenance crews. They’re capable, dependable and comely. Still, of the trio, there's only one to truly covet: the Escalade. The Tahoe, for all its square utility, never makes a passer-by scream, "want!"

In part, the Escalade soars because of 15 years of branding and product placement. When it first emerged in 1999, it was little more than a rebadged GMC Denali, aimed at luring buyers from Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators. As it caught on, Caddy devoted more resources to further delineate it from its step-brothers and imbue it with the “art and science” flourishes that set Cadillac apart. The more engineers honed and refined, the more appealing it became. Plus, hip-hop.

Today, the 2016 Escalade is a smart truck. The GMT K2XX truck underpinnings are sturdy, but fluid magnetic ride suspension means it doesn’t drive like a truck. That wizardry helps the Escalade counter the issues inherent in body-on-frame: weight problems and sloppy handling. My test mule, in stately dark granite metallic, trounced the curvy mountain roads of Vermont on a recent ski weekend, never imparting unnerving body roll. When paved roads gave way to gravel ones, there was little change in handling and comfort.

The 6.2-liter V-8 is good for 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque and, with a creamy eight-speed automatic transmission, it delivers plenty of power whenever you ask. Remove your foot from the floor and the behemoth will stealthily shutter half its cylinders and cruise in an eco-friendly V-4 mode. Then, depress the accelerator a hair over a quarter-inch and instantly stoke the big block to full fury. It’s such a seamless handover that unless you stare at the dash to see the icons swap, you’d never know it occurred. That dance enabled a 19 mpg average. Not bad for a three-ton beast.

The Escalade in Platinum trim comes with a features list as lengthy as it should be, for $91,950. The bling, sir, has arrived. The 22-inch 9-spoke premium rims are hypnotic. The 16-speaker Bose surround sound system, three TVs in the rear, 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, fridge box beneath the front arm rests, 18-way power adjusted, heated, cooled and massaging seats are all fit for a rap god and his plus-six. The only add-on our test car enjoyed was power assist running boards ($1,750), which deploy and retract automatically when a door opens and closes. Unnecessary? Sure. Pleasingly butler-y? Absolutely.

Any scoffer who writes off the Escalade as a pricy Tahoe should sit in the driver's seat—the interior is kingly where the Tahoe's is modest baronial. Everything, tiller to tail, is dipped in Nappa leather, exotic wood and suede. Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen told the Detroit Free Press that as future generations are planned, “the Escalade must become more sophisticated and technically advanced, more detail oriented,” particularly in its interior design and materials. So far, they're on the right path.

The marque may have started out with some posturing, but the Escalade wouldn’t have endured for nearly two decades were all its charms skin deep. This is a good truck to the core—the typical Escalade flair is only a bonus.

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2016 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum
PRICE (as tested): $95,275
POWERTRAIN: 6.2-liter V-8; 420 hp, 460 lb-ft torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; 4WD
MPG: 15 city / 21 highway
Truck Sub-Genre: Lusty Luxury Dinosaur