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    F10 520d SE

    We’ve been doing the tourist thing around Florida this month, and the rented #Cadillac-Escalade-ESV was an interesting contrast to life with the Five Series. And not necessarily for the right reasons, either. But we’ll get to that. Incidentally, we had the usual polite and efficient Virgin Atlantic crew, whose efforts were partially undone by the brusque and cavalier attitude of the check-in staff at Orlando’s Disney Springs on the way home. You can’t have everything I suppose. The trip itself was good, featuring an hilarious airboat ride (8.0-litre #V8 , walls of noise), lovely, relaxed Disney resorts set against the frenzied Universal parks (I doubt we’ll go back to those as they’ve changed little since our last visit and the people are bleetin’ miserable), and a guided tour around Daytona International Speedway (where the people were lovely, even though when they showed us last season’s winning car, I clearly had no idea what I was looking at). Garnished with some great weather. Although, of course, there was some very disturbing news items during our visit. But let’s talk cars…

    1200 miles in the #Cadillac provided sufficient time to form an opinion. And my opinion is this – consider the context. In the US, this car works. Elsewhere in the world, it’d be akin to Eddie Murphy speaking at the Klan’s AGM. In the US, its over 17-foot length and 7-foot girth blends in with the other road furniture, and the 6.2- litre V8 knocking out 420hp and 460lb ft blends old-school pushrod tech with new-fangled direct injection and cylinder deactivation. Physics won’t be dissuaded though and shifting 2.6 tonnes with even this powerplant results in merely brisk acceleration and just enough of a V8 rumble to confirm you’ve not succumbed to the new twin-blower V6 in the rival Lincoln Navigator.

    Want more mass? Opt for the AWD version (not all SUVs in the US are allwheel drive by default) and bludgeon down the highway with 2.75 tonnes of prime American iron. Want more noise? Fit a ruder exhaust, which some people do. Want more, full stop? Then buy a pick-up truck where 6.7 litres of blown V8 diesel are available from Ford along with stumppulling torque to the tune of 860lb ft.

    But I digress, what was the Cadillac really like? Well, to storm down I-4, east towards Daytona and the coast, it was a pleasure. I’ve never driven anything which exhibited that much kinetic energy once up and running at speed but other than needing frequent and subtle steering tweaks in order to keep this leviathan thundering along in a straight line, driving the 90 miles to the International Speedway was relaxing. Slowing to 60mph when traffic intervened was no hardship, as a meaningful boot on the throttle dropped the transmission a cog or two and the V8 would spin past 4k as speed was regained, along with a roar from upfront. And overall, it returned 17.7 US mpg (or just under 15mpg in imperial), which was amusing.

    Launching from the lights with gusto would result in a chirrup from the rear (two-wheel drive remember) and once up to speed the eight-speed auto was unobtrusive in its operation, although it did suffer from that unfortunate ‘surging’ effect which seems to afflict all American SUVs if they’re run on anything other than premium gasoline. Wind noise was pretty well suppressed, despite the jumbo door mirrors, the brakes demonstrated an amusing effort-to-effect multiplication ratio (Lord only knows how big the servo is) and road noise was also kept to a minimum. The only dynamic flaw (as one could never really expect a vehicle like this to handle) was the steering which could best be described as vague and felt as if it was connected to the wheels via several hundred strands of gluedtogether pasta. The interior was a lovely place to spend time in terms of comfort levels and materials though and overall, one could see why this is the premier American SUV.


    Time was when the best from the European manufactures flaunted its technology in the face of embarrassingly basic American offerings. Not anymore. Equipped with HUD (although I prefer the BMW system), blind-spot monitoring, 360 degree cameras, active cruise (which I still don’t really like) and active lane keeping assist (which drove me mad on the curved interstate exit ramps as it was far too pessimistic), this most modern of Cadillacs offered up all the tech one could possibly want.

    Augmenting this list were other (standard) niceties such as ventilated seats, an electric glass sunroof, LED active headlights, a Bose stereo system of quite astounding quality, a powered tailgate, powered third row seats (in this, the extended version) and more USB ports and memory card reader slots than in your typical desktop support department. Not even the presence of the bizarre manual gearshift control button on the ancient column shifter detracted from the general air of sophistication.

    So why the negative vibes? Well the scuttle shake came as bit of a shock, considering the great expanse of metal above our heads. But sure enough, catch a pot hole and the steering column vibrated like a tuning fork. I’ve genuinely driven convertibles which felt better screwed together.

    And not modern ones, either. My biggest gripe though, concerned the Cadillac User Experience system, or CUE. This refers to the satellite navigation and infotainment system, plus by extension, the HVAC panel below, and combined they conspired to really sour our time together.

    CUE is touch-screen, which I’m already not fond of in cars. But worse than this, there is no controller option à la iDrive in your BMW. So you have to dangle your hands in mid-air in order to control the system. The first problem with this is that with the seat set low for my six foot frame, and combined with the screen’s square-on orientation (i.e, it’s not angled towards the driver) arm fatigue soon sets in.

    Next, you have to suffer fingerprints all over the screen which, when combined with the sun hitting the glass through the side windows (and this is Florida remember) renders the display nigh-on unreadable, especially when also combined with the ‘helpful’ proximity sensor, which changes the lower portion of the screen when it detects your approaching hand and in doing so, completely removes whatever you were seeing previously (such as the sat-nav map). Oh and the front passenger is forced to use the screen too, as there are no buttons for the audio system, other than those offered up by the touchscreen (which also removes the satnav view, but completely this time, which is bloody annoying when you’re confronted with an interstate junction the size of Cirencester).

    Get the idea? There’s more. The HVAC panel consists of another of these haptic feedback panels, but worse than the BMW offerings, the Cadillac approach is to affix slivers of aloominum to the dashboard in an attempt to locate your finger. This fails in its aim as you end up pressing that and not the actual ‘button’. ARGH! In short, as I’ve rambled enough, the whole thing feels like a solution which is two-thirds developed and needs to go back into the lab. Alas though I fear this is the future.

    So how does the Five Series feel upon our return, save for the fact that beyond having four doors, four wheels and a front-engined, rear-drive configuration, the two don’t really compare? Put simply, ignoring the sheer size difference for a moment, the BMW demonstrates a more resolved approach, more thorough thinking and a more cohesive drive as a result. Nowhere is this more visible than in the iDrive, nav, and audio system of course, where the presence of actual buttons make me again question the wisdom of BMW itself moving in the direction of touchsensitive panels on the new Seven.

    Aside from that though, the design of the BMW system is such that various functions can be operated in parallel, without impacting the prime requirement at that time, such as the satellite navigation map. It just seems much more thoroughly engineered overall and the product of a development team who have already done all their thinking.

    Returning to a 2.0-litre four-pot diesel may have felt like a bit of a comedown, but given the weight difference of around 900kg the truth is that the F10 feels almost as sprightly (although the power-to-weight figures are heavily in the Caddy’s favour, 110hp/ton versus around 160), if not quite offering up that unique feeling of a monumental engine deploying Himalayan torque in order to overcome sheer mass. I note with interest that the habit of left-foot braking I started whilst driving the Cadillac (due mostly to the amount of room in which the pedal box sits) has continued in the BMW, something I’ve not done since my rallying days. It now feels quite natural to keep my right foot hovering continually around the throttle, but time will tell whether I slip back into old habits.

    Overall then it was a pleasure to fall back into OU16 after the nine-hour return flight from the US, even if our daughter then asked why our car is so small (and even if I cannot now start our car remotely, which was one of the features the Cadillac had which I really appreciated). There is a level of intimacy to the drive which is missing in the SUV, and it’s further proof that I don’t think such a vehicle would suit our lifestyle and my approach to driving. It was a nice way to whistle around Florida though. There’ll be a video review on my YouTube channel in due course, but given my woeful record in that area it’s probably best I reactively confirm when it’s up, rather than promise it in advance…

    It seems that the B47 is loosening up a little perhaps, judged on fuel economy alone. But in addition, the power appears more readily accessible with the passing miles. And I made mention previously of a half-decent exhaust sound (one couldn’t really call it a ‘note’ for fear of contradiction), something which I have now nailed down to occurring in traffic situations when the car is warm. It sounds almost like a blowing exhaust, which it clearly isn’t. Whilst not an unpleasant sound, it does seem a tad out of place in a 520d, so it’s something else I’ll ask North Oxford to advise on when the car eventually goes in for a service. Anybody else noticed this?

    When we ordered OU16, friends and family smirked at the stabiliserspec alloys, and I have to now admit that the 17s do appear overwhelmed by the bulk of the body sitting atop them. So in addition to those mud flaps I want to get fitted, I think at some point during our tenure, and early enough to get the benefit from them (probably when the tyres approach replacement), a set of 18s will need to be purchased.

    Recommendations for suitable styles gratefully received, although I won’t be turning this into some ghastly M5 clone from the waist down.


    Further Autoglym leather cleaner is needed on the seats I’m afraid. I had intended to get some better quality denim when in the US, but the combined allure of both the Lego shop (see picture on the left – the Mercedes truck is deeply impressive, if fiendishly complex to put together, and they say it’s suitable for 11 year olds!?) and a cigar shop with humidor conspired to divert my attention. Ten minutes, one Technic set and $200 of smokes later, we’d wandered straight past the Levis shop, never to return. I’ll have to bite the bullet and buy some over here, if only to save on Autoglym costs.

    DATA #BMW-F10 / #BMW-520d-SE / #BMW-520d-SE-F10 / #BMW-520d-F10 / #BMW-5-Series / #BMW-5-Series-F10 / #BMW / #N47 /
    YEAR: #2016
    MILEAGE THIS MONTH: 1260
    TOTAL MILEAGE: 4519
    MPG THIS MONTH: 41.7
    COST THIS MONTH: nil
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