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Review - 2003 Cadillac Escalade - Review

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SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide


    The second generation of Cadillac's Escalade SUV debuted 
partway through 2001 as a 2002 model. It was meant to bring 
young, affluent buyers into the Cadillac fold, and succeeded beyond 
Cadillac's expectations as it became a status symbol among 
trendsetters like professional athletes and pop musicians. Often 
second-year changes are minimal, especially to successful vehicles. 
But in the auto industry these days, sitting on one's laurels is among 
the best ways to lose, and so there are important new features for 
the 2003 Escalade.
    As before, the basic Escalade is offered in two-wheel drive or all-
wheel drive form, with the 2WD model equipped with a 285-
horsepower 5.7-liter V8 and the AWD model having a 345-hp 6.0-
liter V8. While the external styling is unchanged, both models have 
a host of new interior features, thanks in part to a multiplexed 
electrical architecture. The StabiliTrak stability enhancement system 
standard on the AWD model has been upgraded, and the 2WD 
model now has a version of StabiliTrak as well. XM satellite radio, 
a DVD rear-seat entertainment system, and an upgraded Bose(tm) 
sound system are now available. 
    I've been driving a new AWD Escalade for the past week. It's 
large, but after doing a little historical research, I discovered that it 
is actually shorter and narrower than some of the classics of the tail-
fin era. It is higher and heavier than those ancestors, but it also 
holds more people in greater comfort. The Escalade  big, 
comfortable, and luxurious in a totally American way - those are 
Cadillac core values, after all.

APPEARANCE: While the Escalade shares most of the gently-
rounded contours of the full-sized GM SUV family, the matte-silver 
egg-crate grille, chiseled hood, angular lower cladding, and 
protruding taillights distinguish it from its cousins. It's big, it has 
presence, and it is the new look of Cadillac. Rearview mirrors with 
integrated turn signals and factory optional chromed wheels are the 
only changes to the Escalade's exterior styling for its sophomore 
year - other Cadillacs are catching up to it. The angular ``stealth 
fighter'' styling first introduced at the front of the Escalade can be 
seen on the CTS sports sedan, and look for further development on 
upcoming Cadillacs. 

COMFORT: Inside, there is absolutely no doubt that the Escalade 
is a Cadillac. Despite sharing its basic architecture with the other 
GM full-sized SUVs, signature touches like style of the perforated 
leather upholstery, and the Zebrano wood trim on the instrument 
panel, center stack, and doors define the Escalade as a Cadillac. 
And then there is the ``wreath and crest'' emblem embroidered into 
each headrest. The instrument panel has been redesigned this year, 
improving on the already good placement of instruments and 
controls. Power-adjustable pedals add to driver comfort and safety, 
helping to keep shorter drivers further away from the steering 
wheel airbag. The steering wheel design is also new, with well-
placed auxiliary controls for audio, cruise control, and driver 
information systems. As expected, the front seats are very 
comfortable, with good support, and shoulder straps anchored to 
the seat back make adjustment easy and add to comfort and safety. 
Different heat levels can be adjusted for the back and cushion of the 
front seats, and the second row seat has heating as well. For the 
first time, reclining second-row bucket seats are available. My test 
vehicle was so equipped, and they offer the same comfort and 
support as the front buckets, plenty of head and leg room, and easy 
access to the third row bench, which has a higher cushion height for 
better visibility. ``Theatre seating''? Well, yes, with the new DVD 
entertainment system. The third row can be removed, and the 
second-row seats fold flat without removal of the headrests for 
cargo versatility. 

SAFETY: Dual-stage front airbags and a front passenger-sensing 
system that deactivates the front passenger bag if there is less than 
an adult weight in that seat are new for 2003. The four-wheel 
antilock vented disc brake system has been upgraded, as has the 
StabiliTrak stability enhancement system, which is now found in all 
Escalades. The front seats meet 2005 Federal safety standards.

ROADABILITY: There is no denying that an Escalade is a large 
vehicle, both in size and mass. And, with 10.7 inches of ground 
clearance, it has a high center of gravity. So there is no way it will 
change direction like a low, lightweight sports car. But good 
matching of spring and shock absorber rates means luxury car ride 
comfort, with less body motion (and consequent weight transfer) 
than expected. The rear suspension is a solid axle, but excellent 
five-link location and use of coil springs removes any axle hop. Few 
owners will go off-roading, but the 10.7 inches of clearance is 
handy in snow and when encountering road debris.

PERFORMANCE: At nearly 6,000 lbs, the AWD Escalade is no 
lightweight. But with 345 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, its 
6.0-liter V8 has no problem moving that mass, and quickly. The 
Hydra-Matic 4L65-E four-speed electronically-controlled automatic 
transmission shifts smoothly, quickly, and efficiently. Acceleration 
is no problem, ever, and is matched by a muscular note from the 
engine. Despite its brute strength, the Escalade feels as smooth and 
refined as any other Cadillac, although its 7800-lb towing capacity 
is somewhat greater than that of other Cadillacs. The all-wheel 
drive system is completely automatic, with no driver input 

CONCLUSIONS: What is ``The Cadillac of SUVs?'' Why, the 
Cadillac Escalade, of course.

2003 Cadillac Escalade

Base Price			$ 53,205
Price As Tested		        $ 56,600
Engine Type			16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8
Engine Size			6.0 liters / 366 cu. in.
Horsepower			345 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			380 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			4-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length		116.0 in. / 198.9 in.
Curb Weight			5809 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        16.8
Fuel Capacity			26 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium recommended
				 but not required
Tires				P265/70 SR17 Goodyear Wrangler HP
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent with torsion bars /
				 solid axle with 5-link location and 
				 coil springs
Ground clearance		10.7 inches
Drivetrain			front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		12 / 16 / 13.5
0 to 60 mph				8.6  sec
Towing capacity				7800 lbs.

Rear seat entertainment system		$ 1,295
17-inch chrome wheels			$   795
XM satellite radio (subscription extra)	$   325
Trailer package				$   190
Destination charge			$   790