SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide
The most significant Cadillac since the second-generation Northstar Seville is...a truck? Believe it. If the Seville is the Cadillac for international tastes, the new Escalade is very definitely the vehicle for the contemporary American luxury market, where luxury SUVs are increasingly popular.
The Escalade is the first sport-utility vehicle in Cadillac's 96- year history, but it builds on over 60 years of General Motors utility vehicle construction. Not only is it considerably more luxurious than the first Suburban, sold back in 1937, befitting its Cadillac nameplate it is considerably more luxurious than any GM truck ever sold, offering the same comforts and amenities as any Cadillac sedan. The Escalade is based on the same rugged platform as the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali, with special body panels and cladding and a very Cadillac interior. Ironically, it is built at the same Arlington, Texas plant where the Fleetwood, last of the full-sized, rear- wheel-drive Cadillac sedans, was once made.
Trucks may not be a tradition at Cadillac, but the Escalade has plenty in common with past Cadillacs. Like the late Fleetwood, and like the classic tailfinned Caddies of the Fifties and early Sixties, it is built with body-on-frame construction and powered by a pushrod V8 engine. At nearly 17 feet long and six-and-a-half feet wide, it is comparable in size to those old classics, too, although considerably higher. Inside is space for five, with plenty of headroom. All of the luxury trimmings expected in a Cadillac are standard, including the "OnStar" electronic concierge and emergency assistance system.
Is the Escalade a true Cadillac? After a week with one, I can say that it most certainly is. If the look is unfamiliar, the appointments and comforts are classic Cadillac. It mixes the size and presence of past Cadillacs with contemporary comfort and safety. It is a Cadillac for today's luxury vehicle buyer.
APPEARANCE: The Escalade looks like no other Cadillac ever seen, but has the look of a contemporary luxury SUV. Its kinship to the Tahoe and Yukon is apparent in its large, two-box shape. Although most body panels are shared, the Escalade has side cladding and over- fenders and unique front styling featuring a classic Cadillac eggcrate grille and wreath. That grille is about the only chrome in an otherwise monochrome color scheme. Even the roof rack is body-colored.
COMFORT: The Escalade may not look much like any other Cadillac outside, but the interior is familiar. A short climb up, made easier courtesy of standard running boards, reveals the modern design, soft, fragrant, perforated Nuance leather, and Zebrano wood trim for which today's Cadillac's are renowned. The instrument panel design is shared with the Tahoe and Yukon. The covering material is different, but the visible gauges and usefully large, well-placed controls remain. Top- notch automatic climate control and Bose Acoustimass sound systems set the tone for comfort. The dash-mounted AM/FM/cassette/CD head is augmented by a 6-disc CD changer in the center console. The Escalade has unique, and very comfortable, seats. The front buckets are power-adjustable and heated, of course. Rear accommodations are also first class. The contoured bench has a 60/40 split for cargo versatility. A center armrest has storage, cupholders, and headphones. Auxiliary audio and climate controls allow rear passengers their own environment. A cargo net and cover are standard, as are five power outlets, three in the front, one in the rear seat, and one in the cargo area.
SAFETY: The OnStar communications system, Auto Trac multimode four-wheel drive, second-generation airbags, two theft-deterrent systems, and antilock brakes are some of the 1999 Cadillac Escalade's safety features.
ROADABILITY: The Escalade shares the sturdy ladder frame of the other GM SUVs, and their independent double A-arm front and leaf- sprung solid axle rear suspensions. Its springs and shock absorbers are tuned and matched for a soft, comfortable ride with no tendency to float. Bumps are dealt with and forgotten. Except for the height, the Escalade feels much like a traditional Cadillac on the road, but with far better suspension control than was found in the old days. It's as quiet as expected, and just the Caddy for a long trip on any road from a superhighway to a Conestoga track. The multimode "AutoTrac" four- wheel drive system allows energy-saving rear-wheel drive for clear, dry roads, automatic all-wheel drive for slippery pavement, and 4HI and 4LO four-wheel drive modes for inclement conditions and terrain.
PERFORMANCE: The only engine offered in the Escalade is the venerable 350-cubic-inch "small block" V8. Another nod tho the past? Not really - it's a proven, well-developed powerplant with a healthy 225 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. It's powerful enough to move the 5500-lb. vehicle quickly enough for any situation, and gives it the ability to tow up to 6000 lbs. The electronically-controlled 4L60E 4- speed automatic transmission is the perfect match for smooth power delivery.
CONCLUSIONS: The new Escalade gives Cadillac serious presence at the luxury end of the sport-utility spectrum.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 45,875 Price As Tested $ 46,525 Engine Type 16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8 Engine Size 350 cu. in. / 5.7 liters Horsepower 255 @ 4600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 330 @ 2800 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 117.5 in. / 201.2 in. Curb Weight 5572 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.9 Fuel Capacity 30 gal. Fuel Requirement regular unleaded, 87 octane Tires P265 /70 R16 Goodyear Wrangler HP Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent double A-arms with torsion bars / solid axle with leaf springs Ground Clearance 8.4 inches Drivetrain front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 12 / 16 / 13 0 to 60 mph 10.5 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.8 sec Towing Capacity 6,000 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination charge $ 650