Throughout swirling decades of industry change, with divisions created and dropped, bought and sold, and forgotten, remembered, then forgotten again, Cadillac has remained GM’s luxury-car pinnacle. It has done so despite front-wheel-drive platforms and the industry’s increasing tilt toward Europeanization with aero-slick bodies, minimal body adornment, and firm suspensions all standing in the face of what many of us remember Cadillac to be. Which among today’s Cadillacs has the inside track for collectibility? I choose what I see as the most traditional Cadillac still in the lineup: the Escalade.
How so? Simple: Only the Escalade has carried on Cadillac’s grand tradition of V-8 power, rear-wheel drive, body-on-frame construction, sybaritic comfort for at least five adult humans, and a proper name. If I had our own money to buy a Cadillac right now, and it couldn’t have a V-badge on its flanks, then the choice would be simple. I’d find a low-mileage Escalade and either drive the hell out of it or let it sit in an air-conditioned sarcophagus for the next decade and a half.
Forced to pinpoint one or another, the third- and fourth-generation Escalades (the 2007-’14 and 2015-’20 versions, respectively) would be where I’d look. The first-gen ones simply looked like GMC Yukons. The second-gen models suffered from tacked-on flares too closely related to GM’s too-much-body-cladding era in the first half of the 2000s, which made the wheels look like they were tucked too far in. And the new 2021+ versions are too new to judge, although their face looks like Muttley, the canine sidekick of Dick Dastardly from the Wacky Races cartoon. I’d also suggest the standard Escalade, not the longer ESV that looks like a Suburban, or the EXT that looks like a Chevy Avalanche pickup, is where it’s at.
In late 2006, I somehow ended up behind the wheel of a new-for-2007 Escalade over the Christmas holiday. Around town, in Southern California, it frankly felt hopeless. Too large for traffic, too over-assisted to be fun, too self-conscious to try and get away with anything. Parking was a nightmare. But I took it out for a road trip stretch from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and beyond, and on the open road the big ’Sclade really came into its own. Fingertip steering. Lush luxury. Smooth-riding over patches of really crappy SoCal roads. Cruise control at 90 mph, with wife and child asleep in leather-lined comfort and precious little wind noise to rattle them awake. Absolute comfort behind the wheel, yet with enough driver engagement to keep me conscious as I sped north on Interstate 15. I even got nearly 400 miles on a tankful at those super-legal speeds. Not bad for a 400-horse, 6.2-liter V-8 hauling roughly three tons of steel, people and presents. (And for those who want to play and tweak, the LS engine architecture can be massaged to produce more power still, whether in the computer or with hard parts. Or both.)