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The 2015 Cadillac Escalade.Amee Reehal

It's safe to say that only a handful of vehicles can truly enjoy the unofficial distinction of being a segment leader, whether they're still leading the market or they've long fizzled out.

When it comes to the mighty, luxury, full-size SUV, arguably no other vehicle is as quintessential as the iconic Cadillac Escalade. From diplomats to suburbanites, the Escalade has quickly become the standard since its inception 15 years ago, continuing to raise the bar for intrepid design, dependable power and handling, security ... the list goes on.

Building on this formula, Cadillac spared little expense designing and developing the all-new, fourth-generation 2015 Escalade, with greater emphasis on interior craftsmanship, new technology, and stylish-but-dignified exterior design.

At the expense of becoming self-assertive or overly brazen – how much bigger and better can a utility vehicle get? – the 2015 Escalade veers toward greater sophistication, striking the near perfect balance between confidence and elegance while maintaining all the Escalade swagger consumers have come to expect with Cadillac's signature SUV.

Powered by an all-new 6.2L V8 engine, the 2015 Escalade produces 420 hp and 460 lb.ft of torque, up from 403 hp and 417 lb.ft of torque in the outgoing model. And whether you're fleeing an embassy or rushing to soccer practice, the Escalade sprints from 0 to 60 in an impressive 5.96 seconds. Overall mass is reduced with a new lightweight aluminum hood and aluminum liftgate panels.

Gone is the all-wheel-drive system, replaced by a new 4WD with three modes: auto, 4 HI for capability, and 2 HI for optimal fuel consumption, offering 17-per-cent greater fuel efficiency on the highway than the 2014 model (2015 model rated at 11.4 L/100 km). According to Cadillac, the Escalade records about 13-per-cent better highway fuel consumption than the Mercedes-Benz GL550 and almost 17-per-cent greater than the Lexus LX 570 and Land Rover Range Rover.

Delivering enhanced, truck-like driving performance, the Cadillac Magnetic Ride Control with a two-mode selector finds its way into the Escalade and it is standard in all models. Reacting to road conditions every 10 to 15 milliseconds while monitoring road conditions 1,000 times a second, Cadillac dubs this new suspension the world's fastest-reacting system.

As we drove our Escalades through some windy roads en route to Ontario's Georgina region near Lake Simcoe, the ride felt incredibly controlled on the highway while astonishingly nimble on the country roads. Even a quick U-turn was effortless thanks to an excellent turning radius – and this was in the ESV extended model. New tires, re-tuned hydraulic engine mounts, and a redesigned frame with stronger attachment points all heighten the Escalade's athletic performance while a wider rear track adds to a more planted stance.

Available in three streamlined packages, the 2015 Escalade Standard starts at $79,900 MSRP, equipped with new features, including 20-inch chrome wheels, hands-free power liftgate, illuminated door sills, full LED headlamps and taillights, 12-inch digital reconfigurable gauge cluster, cut-and-sewn interior trim with real wood decor, a 16-speaker premium Bose audio system, and heated steering wheel, to name a few.

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The mid-level Escalade Luxury at $85,500 offers a full-colour heads-up display, an advanced security package, plus the Driver Awareness Package with a long list of safety features. The top-level Escalade Premium at $90,500 adds rear seat entertainment with a new nine-inch overhead screen, cornering lamps, lit door handles, and the Driver Assist Package. Second-row bench seating is optional in all trims with larger 22-inch wheels available on the Luxury and Premium models.

In addition to the standard Escalade, an extended-length Escalade ESV edition offers close to double the cargo space behind the third-row seat while maximizing real estate for third-row passengers. With a 14-inch longer wheelbase and almost 20 inches in extra overall height, the extended ESV model offers copious rear volume and storage. Plus, with the new power-folding third-row seats reclining flat in just seconds, there's enough room for a month's worth of groceries. Or a Gatling gun.

Initially, from the photos, my thoughts were mixed on the new exterior look – in particular the front-end design with the progressive headlamp styling. But in person, the Escalade looks sharp and the elongated headlamps, which happen to incorporate the industry's first Total Internal Reflection LED high-beam function, look stylish flanking the Galvano chrome grille and extending into the long, clean shoulder lines running front to back.

The rear design is equally streamlined with a new wiper blade hidden beneath the standard rear spoiler, while the red light-blade LED tail lamps frame and define the Escalade's rear profile.

Overall, the SUV appears beefy with large sculpted surfaces and straight edges, yet super clean, elegant and dignified, maintaining Cadillac's classic design heritage. New inlaid doors fit into the body side openings, enhancing the aerodynamic look – the new design also improves second- and third-row passenger accessibility.

Inside, the new Escalade is undeniably Cadillac, with real wood and premium materials throughout, but now with an elevated level of craftsmanship, redefining passenger luxury with one of the industry's most authentic and poised interior spaces. Sueded accents and cut-and-sewn materials coupled with ambient lighting add elegance, while precision controls, triple-sealed doors, and tighter door panels and instrument panel reinforce quality. Passengers enjoy increased storage as well, in the doors, console, and rear cargo.

New technologies include the Bose Active Noise Cancellation rendering a comfortable, quiet environment, plus a new OnStar service with 4G LTE and standard built-in wi-fi hotspot hub for reliable web connectivity (arriving in later models). And Cadillac's most advanced surround sound system ever, the 2015 Escalade features the new Bose Centerpoint audio with proprietary technologies and incredible sound clarity through 16 speakers plus five custom-tuned speakers nestled across the instrument panel and front doors.

Standard in all models is the CUE system (Cadillac User Experience) featuring voice recognition with touch controls compatible with the popular handheld devices; the eight-inch screen is perfect for the happy-hand types, using capacitive touch technology allowing tapping, swiping, and gesture recognition similar to tablets. CUE also supports up to ten Bluetooth-enabled devices. Other connectivity features include five USB ports, five 12V power ports, a 110 outlet, SD card slot, and a 3.5mm aux audio jack port.

While the competition, from domestic challengers such as the Lincoln Navigator to foreign contenders in Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz G-class, continue to elevate their own game within a tight full-size luxury SUV class, the all-new 2015 Cadillac Escalade is arguably the undisputed champ, continuing to raise the bar.

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