Car Review: Cadillac Escalade Diesel | Automatic functions


CHARLEVOIX, Michigan — Like a Great Lakes passenger ship, the bow of my Cadillac Escalade cut through the fog of an April snow shower. Sure-footed, diesel-powered, on autopilot to our port of call.

On a long trip up North and back to explore my son’s Castle Farms summer wedding venue, the Escalade showed why it’s the king of mega-utes. Parked in front of the magnificent turrets of Castle Farm’s Queen’s Court, the jet-black tank wears the stuff of royalty: the Cadillac family crest on the towering chainmail grille, large silver wheels like a knight’s shield, horizontal front and rear traffic lights shining like medieval torches.

My Sport model is fitted with black trim – unlike the Caddy’s signature chrome – which gives the tall silhouette an extra sense of menace. Behold, the dark knight.

Unlike the Knights of old, however, there’s little chassis rattle. Once upon a time, you knew a diesel from its idling CLACKETY-CLACK-CLACK engine. Not Climbing. The Caddy’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 ​​is the same as the next-generation Duramax diesel engines that power GM’s Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks. He purrs like a resting lion.

My family descends from their seats, the air suspension lowering the cabin and the running boards extending in front of their feet like a royal welcome.

Castle Farms was built by Sears President Albert Loeb in 1918 as a large country estate on a 1,600 acre farm. The house echoes a European castle with turrets, a large hall and arcades. It fell into disrepair during the 20th century – a curious ruin like so many European castles. Successful Domino’s Pizza franchisee Richard Mueller and his wife Susan resurrected it as a passion project in 2000. Today it’s a bustling tourist attraction with train rides, wine tastings, collections art and weddings.

The Escalade also resurrected the Cadillac brand.

In poor condition after an uninspired end to the 20th century, Caddy engineers have done extensive work to rebuild the brand as an athletic competitor to European performance brands with the hellions of CTS, ATS and V-series sedans. But it was the magnificent Escalade that restored Cadillac’s luxurious luster, paving the way for its transition to a regal, all-electric brand in the mold of 1950s Cadillac ocean liners.

This luxury is best demonstrated by Super Cruise, the semi-autonomous driver assistance system that lets (most) drive the car.

Along side roads I drove conveniently – the adaptive cruise control maintaining cruise control since, uh, my lead foot gets heavy in this nimble behemoth. But as I entered I-75, I activated the extra lane-keeping icon on my steering wheel and, like a robotic driver, the Escalade took over driving duties from me.

A green light meant I could take my mittens off the wheel. No hands, no feet. I drank Snapple, put my hands on my knees, and relaxed on my leather throne. As a driving instructor with a novice driver, however, I still needed to be engaged.

The infrared camera mounted on the steering column noticed that I was looking away from the road for too long while chatting with the attractive Mrs. Payne. It triggered a red light reminding me to be careful.

North of Bay City, Super Cruise suddenly hit a blind spot. The green light disappeared, the Caddy wobbled – and I quickly took over, pushing through the dead zone until the system reacclimated.

No I-75 trip is complete without orange barrels, and Super Cruise asked me to take over construction zones. Otherwise, the system ran confidently (Zilwaukee Bridge? No problem. Heavy traffic from Flint? Piece of cake.) like in 2017 when I drove from Memphis to Dallas. Only better.

Super Cruise’s final trick is to perform automatic lane changes with impressive precision. I have some experience with automatic lane changing from my Tesla Model 3’s autopilot system. It’s science fiction, but the Tesla – driving at, say, 80 mph – will balk when it encounters a slower car before passing on the left.

The Super Cruise robot driver passes as a human. Seeing a slower car ahead of me, my SUV didn’t wait to be slowed down. He put on the left turn signal, pulled left at 80 mph without breaking stride, passed traffic, then immediately pulled out into the right lane. What if a vehicle was on our left, you ask? Cadillac remained parked until it passed, then executed the passing maneuver. My 32-year-old son — who’s no stranger to the high-tech capabilities of the cars I test — gave it a try.

“Wow! Not at all!” he exclaimed as the Escalade completed a flawless pass.

Super Cruise is so good you have to remember to be careful. There are the aforementioned dead zones and construction zones. Or, God forbid, a ladder that fell off a utility truck (yeah, it happened) that the system can’t see.

Exit the highway for a toilet break, and the system will abort jumping the invisible geo-fence. Super Cruise only charted divided highways.

There are other great features on board.

Tesla launched the first salvo in the display wars in 2012, and Escalade’s offering is three displays in one, spanning a 38-inch-wide dash-mounted jumbotron. It is a solution as practical as it is elegant. While deeper console screens – think Tesla Model S or Ram 1500 – force the driver to look down the road, the Caddy system is always in your line of sight.

The left touchscreen is useful, allowing me to adjust the heads-up display, check the mileage or configure the instrument display. I chose to display the navigation route in front of me while using the console’s right screen to view Sirius XM stations.

The Dark Knight got high marks for its practicality. The diesel engine returned a solid 28 mpg highway (compared to the available 20 V-8s). My wife, son and his future wife traveled comfortably, especially my son, who fell ill with food poisoning on the return trip.

Long drives and illness don’t mix, but my son had three options for resting: 1) flatten the front seat, 2) flatten the second and third row right seats to make a bed ( hard), or 3) relax in the roomy, dark third-row bench seat (helped, in part, by a new compact independent rear suspension) with the panoramic roof closed.

He chose option three and needed to sleep on the way back on I-75. Spacious, luxurious, imposing. Escalade is a castle on wheels.

Henry Payne is an auto critic for The Detroit News. Find it on or Twitter HenryEPayne.

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