* Model: 2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Luxury
* Exterior color: Black Raven
* Interior color: Jet Black
* Engine: 6.2-liter V-8
* Horsepower: 420
* Transmission: Six-speed automatic
* Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 14 mpg highway
* Dealer: Integrity Buick GMC Cadillac
* Price (as tested): $82,040
Taking the wheel of the new Cadillac Escalade - especially one painted Raven Black with a mirror finish - requires a certain hey-look-at-me attitude.
It's easy to settle into those sumptuous front bucket seats and imagine you're the lead driver in a presidential motorcade -- and that there are Secret Service agents in lumpy jackets standing outside on the running boards.
Or, perhaps you can envision yourself pulling up to a stop light in Buckhead in Atlanta as passersby strain to look for a celebrity through the Escalade's deeply tinted rear windows.
My point is this: If you don't like being the center of attention, don't buy an Escalade. On the other hand, if you'd like for your vehicle to announce your arrival, and see your car as a symbol of your hard work and success, you might want to join the thousands who are rushing out to buy the showy, new full-size SUV.
Earlier this week, Integrity Buick GMC Cadillac sales manager Bryan House invited us out to drive a 2015 Cadillac Escalade in Luxury trim. Supplies of the new Escalade are still catching up to demand, House says, so we hurried out to sample the only 2015 model on the lot before it could be snapped up by a buyer. Prices for the new Escalade start at $72,690 in base trim, and our test SUV stickers for $82,040 with four-wheel-drive and several significant options including a rear-seat entertainment package and 22-inch wheels.
STYLING AND COMFORT
Five minutes into our test drive, the question came to mind: How can something so quiet on the inside, be so loud on the outside? Not loud in decibels, mind you, but loud in presence. Just about every eye that caught a glint of sunlight on the Escalade's generous chrome trim during my test drive on Highway 153 and beyond seemed to fall under its spell. I felt like a hypnotist dangling a shiny object.
You can witness all this neck-turning from your perch in the luxurious leather-clad interior. The tailoring in the leather upholstery is first class, and the dial- and button-free dash remind you of all the 21st century technology baked into the Escalade. Cadillac incorporates digital gauges which you can reconfigure as easily as rearranging patio furniture.
Cadillac's evolving CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system combines display screens and icons to control the vehicle's information and media systems. Anyone conversant in iPad or iPhone touch-and-scroll techniques should feel instantly at home inside the Escalade. Beyond electronic gadgetry, the new Escalade competes for the first time with Mercedes and Land Rover in terms of sheer automotive craftsmanship. Everything about the interior -- from the soft-touch materials on the dash to the firm cushioning in the seats -- has a top-shelf quality.
Meanwhile, the grille of the new Escalade has as much metalwork as the entrance to Graceland. Vertical LED headlights complete the Escalade's imposing fascia. There are even chrome accent strips under the transparent headlight covers. (I like it -- chrome under glass.) The chrome theme continues through body side molding, roof rails, window trim and of course the seven-spoke, ultra-bright wheels.
Our test vehicle also included a 16-speaker Bose sound system, an active noise cancellation system, an 8-inch display screen, a 12-inch full-color gauge cluster, and heated and cooled seats. There's seating for seven with captain's chairs in the second row and a bench in the back. While adults can fit into the "way-back" bench, it would be a little cramped for them on a cross-country trip.
If the Escalade's creature comforts were not enough, Cadillac says its stout, 6.2-liter V-8 engine will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour at 5.9 seconds -- no small accomplishment for a vehicle that weighs more than 5,500 pounds. Towing capacity is rated at 7,300 pounds in four-wheel-drive versions.
The cabin is supremely quiet and isolated, with only a tiny hum of road and wind noise filtering inside. At idle, the Escalade is almost silent. At highway speed it shuts down four cylinders to conserve gasoline, and manages 21 miles per gallon in highway driving (14 mpg city).
The Escalade features a six-speed, electronic transmission and Cadillac's magnetic ride control, which yields to a soft, compliant ride.
My overall impression of the new Escalade is that Cadillac has made its flagship SUV into a true luxury vehicle, not just a blinged-up GMC Yukon or Chevrolet Tahoe. Once word spreads about the upgrades in the new Escalade, look for drivers of previous-generation models to line up for trade-ins.
The Escalade is assembled, appropriately enough, in Texas.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.