At their heart, the Cadillac Escalade and the Land Rover Range Rover Sport offer a similar first-impression appeal. These luxury SUVs deliver exuberant, flamboyant, ritzy styling that creates an instant “cool factor.” When you pull up and clamber down from their lavishly trimmed leather seats, people notice.
And it’s not all about image. Both of these vehicles bring true substance as well, further burnishing their appeal. But while someone seeking a high-style luxury SUV might consider both the Escalade and the Range Rover Sport, many of their strengths are quite different — and neither is perfect.
Let’s start with the Range Rover Sport.
An important place to start is the vehicle’s name, which is no easy task. The British luxury brand Land Rover — sister brand to the Jaguar line of performance cars — applies the Range Rover name to several of its models. The top of the line is the Range Rover, the world’s first luxury SUV.
This Range Rover Sport, meanwhile, slots just below the flagship Range Rover. It has similar styling, so similar that it’s easy to mistake the two. But Sport is slightly smaller and significantly less expensive. It starts at a “mere” $68,795 compared to the $90,795 Range Rover.
Unless an extra-spacious rear seat is important to you, you likely will not feel much loss from the Range Rover Sport. In addition to similar aesthetics, the models are similar under the skin, sharing some engines and key suspension components. (That has not always been the case; the first-generation Range Rover Sport, sold from 2006 through 2013, put a Range Rover face on a cheaper model’s platform.) The Range Rover Sport also accommodates families with a tiny third-row seat, while the larger Range Rover focuses on a coddling experience for just five passengers.
On the road, the two models are similar. This month, we tested the Range Rover Sport’s entry-level engine: a turbocharged V6 with 355 horsepower. It delivers smooth, eager acceleration, and it sounds rich without being obnoxiously loud when you are not trying to make everyone stare. Crazy-powerful V8s, fuel-efficient diesel and a plug-in hybrid are also available.
While you might expect the Range Rover Sport to deliver a silky-smooth ride, it focuses on other priorities: agile handling and astonishing off-road capability. We did not take our test vehicle clawing its way through mud or fording 33.5-inch-deep streams, but we could have. A recently added feature even measures the depth of the water ahead of you, to confirm that you’re safely within that range. The suspension is height-adjustable; the photo here shows it in its lowest setting for easy ingress and egress, but it can rise to 4 inches higher for off-road duty.
The Range Rover’s dashboard design is another highlight. Its white leather upholstery surrounds a stunning pair of infotainment touchscreens, stacked atop each other spreading down the dashboard. An elderly parking garage attendant was moved to take pictures with his phone. Range Rover subscribes to the idea that luxury cars should have dazzling technology along with beauty, and the infotainment screens gave fresh life to a vehicle that’s been around since 2014.
To be clear, the Range Rover Sport’s redesigned controls are harder to operate than cars with simple buttons and knobs. The touchscreen does not always respond perfectly to your touch, and some functions require extra steps to select. But it’s undeniably beautiful.
In another functional demerit, the Range Rover Sport puts interior space efficiency as a low priority. Rear seat and cargo volume trail compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, and although there’s an optional third-row seat, it is tiny.
If maximum space is a priority, that’s where the Cadillac Escalade comes in. Specifically the extended-length Escalade ESV model we tested over the summer.
While the Range Rover Sport is a technological marvel, the Escalade makes itself known with sheer size. You cannot miss this hulking chrome barge, which measures a whopping 224 inches long (versus 204 inches for the standard-length Escalade and 192 inches for the Range Rover Sport).
You do not pay wildly extra for the Escalade’s extra size, either. It starts at $76,490 in standard length or $3,000 more in ESV form. We’re still not talking about an affordable car, but you do get fully twice the Range Rover Sport’s cargo capacity — and more cargo capacity behind the second-row seats than the Range Rover Sport offers with all rows folded down.
The Escalade is a rough, clumsy truck in contrast to the posh, polished Range Rover. Like the Range Rover Sport, it delivers a bumpier ride than you might expect at this price, but it does not back that up with either handling agility or exceptional off-road ability. It’s a spacious, hardy vehicle, but chrome and fine leather don’t take away its truck-like feel. Nor is the Escalade’s dashboard nearly as impressive as the Range Rover’s — or that of its most direct rival, the Lincoln Navigator.
The aging Escalade struggles against the recently redesigned Lincoln in several key ways. The third-row seat in the standard-length version is skimpier and the interior is plainer. And the Cadillac’s V8 engine is less fuel-efficient than the Navigator’s turbocharged V6 (though by a smaller margin than one might expect). But even against the Lincoln, the Escalade delivers plenty of brawny size for the luxury dollar.
If you are still torn between the Range Rover’s graceful verve and the Escalade’s useful spaciousness, a pair of European models might split the difference: the newly introduced BMW X7 and the freshly-redesigned Mercedes-Benz GLS. They have arguably less character than either of these SUVs, but they deliver sumptuous luxury along with family-friendly spaciousness.
Meanwhile, the Escalade has more affordable variants in its Chevrolet and GMC sister brands. The Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL have slightly lower-rent interiors than the Escalade and a shorter list of available features, but the difference is hardly night and day.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.