CHARLEVEX, Michigan – Like a Great Lakes passenger ship, the arc of my Cadillac Escalade pierced through the mist of an April snow shower. Confirmed, diesel powered, on autopilot to our port of call.
On a long trip north to see my son’s summer wedding venue at Castle Farms, Escalade showed why he’s the King of Mega-utes. The jet-black carriage stands in front of the magnificent towers of Queens Court at Castle Farm, bearing the things of royalty: the Cadillac family crest on the majestic grille of the post, large silver wheels like a knight’s shield, and glowing horizontal running lights front and rear like medieval torches.
The My Sport model is equipped with black trim – as opposed to Caddy’s signature chrome – which gives the cool shape an added sense of danger. Behold, the dark knight.
Unlike the old knights, there is a little rattling from the chassis. Once upon a time, you knew a diesel from its idle CLACKETY-CLACK-CLACK engine. No Escalade. Caddy’s twin-turbo, 3.0-liter inline-6 is the same new generation of Duramax-powered sister engines for the GMC Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. It gurgles like a resting lion.
My family gets off their seats, air suspension lowers the cab and extends the boards in front of their feet as 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 arched entrances. It fell into disrepair over the course of the 20th century – an intriguing ruin as many European castles. Richard Mueller, a successful Domino’s Pizza franchisee, and his wife Susan revived this as a passion project in 2000. Today it’s a bustling tourist attraction complete with train rides, wine tastings, art collections, and weddings.
Escalade, too, has revived the Cadillac brand.
In disrepair after the uninspiring twentieth century approached, Caddy’s engineers did yeomen’s work to rebuild the brand as a European performance sporting contender with the CTS, ATS and V-series hellions sedan. But it was the gorgeous Escalade that brought back Cadillac’s luxurious luster — paving the way for its transition to a proprietary all-electric brand in the mold of 1950s Cadillac Ocean liners.
This luxury is best illustrated by Super Cruise, the semi-autonomous driver assistance system that leaves (most) driving to the car.
Along the secondary roads, I’ve been driving practically – adaptive cruise control with regulating speed as my main foot becomes heavy on this nimble behemoth. But upon entering I-75, I toggled the auxiliary lane-keep code on my steering wheel and—like an autopilot—the Escalade took over driving duties from me.
The green light indicates that I can remove the gloves from the steering wheel. No hands, no feet. I took a sip, and put my hands on my knees and rested on my leather throne. However, like a driving instructor with a novice driver, you still need to get involved.
An infrared camera mounted on the steering column noticed that I was looking away from the road for a long time while chatting with the attractive Mrs. Payne. This led to a red light reminding me to pay attention.
North of Bay City, Super Cruise suddenly hit a blind spot. The green light went away, the can vibrated – and I quickly took over, sealing the dead zone until the system acclimatized again.
No I-75 trip is complete without orange barrels, and Super Cruise asked me to take over the construction areas. Other than that, the system worked as confidently (Zilwaukee Bridge? No problem. Heavy traffic in Flint? A piece of cake.) just as it did in 2017 when I was driving from Memphis to Dallas. Only better.
Super Cruise’s latest trick is to make automatic route changes with amazing accuracy. I have some experience with automatically changing lanes from the autopilot system on a Tesla Model 3. It’s the stuff of science fiction, but a Tesla—going at 80 mph, for example, will hesitate because it encounters a slower car before it passes on the left.
The super cruise robot driver passes like a human. Seeing a slower car ahead, my SUV didn’t wait for it to slow down. I put on my left turn signal, pulled left at 80 mph without cutting my stride, passed traffic, and immediately pulled into the right lane. What if the car is on our left, you ask? Cadillac held its position until it passed, and then carried out the passing maneuver. My 32-year-old son – no stranger to the high-tech capabilities of the cars I test – give it a try.
“Stop! Impossible!” He exclaimed as Escalade made a flawless pass.
Very good is the Super Cruise, you have to remind yourself to pay attention. There are dead zones and construction zones mentioned above. Or, God forbid, a ladder fell off a utility truck (yes, it happened) the system can’t see.
Get off the highway for a bathroom break, and the system will succumb as it jumps over the invisible geofence. Super Cruise has only designated divided highways.
There are other super features on board.
Tesla launched its first display in the screen wars in 2012, and the Escalade Display is a three-in-one display, spanning 38 inches wide, mounted to the dashboard. It’s as practical as it is elegant. Whereas deeper console screens—think Tesla Model S or Ram 1500—require the pilot to look down from the road, the Caddy’s system is always in your field of view.
Helpful is the touch screen on the left side, which allowed me to tweak the top display differently, check mileage, or configure the display of the device. I chose to put the screen navigation in front of me while using the right console screen to show Sirius XM stations.
The Dark Knight gets high marks for its practicality. The diesel returned a solid highway of 28 mpg (compared to the available V-8’s 20). My wife, son, and bride-to-be traveled comfortably – especially my son who had food poisoning on the return trip.
Long flights and sickness don’t pair well, but my son had three comfortable options: 1) lay the front seat flat, 2) lay the right second and third-row seats flat to make a bed (hard), or 3) wrap in the spacious, dark third-row seats (assisted in part by a new integrated and independent rear suspension) with the panoramic roof closed.
He chose the third option and got some sleep on the way home on I-75. Spacious, luxurious and luxurious. Escalade is a castle on wheels.
Henry Payne is an auto critic for the Detroit News. You can find him at hpaynedetroitnews.com or Twitter HenryEPayne.
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