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Cadillac Escalade, The Cadillac of Sport/Utes

by Larry Weitzman


SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide

With the market for upscale sport/utes growing with the likes of Mercedes Benz, BMW, Lexus and Range Rover, there was one marque that was conspicuously missing, Cadillac. Some of the aforementioned manufacturers have created more car like sport utes such as the new BMW X5 or the MBZ ML 430.

Cadillac took another route and used the architecture from GM's existing sport utility platform to create the Cadillac Truck. A first in Cadillac's 96 year history in two respects. First, it is a real truck and second, it is four wheel drive.

The fact that it uses as a foundation, the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon/Denali makes the Escalade (rhymes with marmalade) no less a Cadillac. In bringing this vehicle to market in less than one year from go ahead to first deliveries, Cadillac went to great lengths to customize the existing GM platform in such a way that when you sit in the captains' chair, you know its a Cadillac.

The Escalade received suspension touches such as Bilstein shocks and variable rate two-stage leaf springs. The body has a special front end and lower body cladding with running boards that were designed in a wind tunnel. On the inside is a special interior. There is no chrome or bright metal except for the Cadillac crest on the grille, the grille surround and the name Cadillac on the body. The result is an elegant sport ute, with one of the best looking front ends (great looking jeweled halogen headlights) in the business and understated elegance that is only Cadillac.

It is powered by GM's 5.7L V-8 that is smooth, quiet and powerful. Putting out 255 hp at 4,600 rpm and 330 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,800 rpm makes for strong performance, in spite of a curb weight of 5573 pounds. The Escalade knocked off 0-60 in an average of 9.35 seconds. Passing performance will not disappoint either with 50-70 runs taking just 5.35 seconds. Passing on a steep grade will only lower that time to 8.75 seconds. Its rated to tow 6,000 pounds. For this Cadillac, that would be a piece of cake.

Notwithstanding the 201.2 inch overall length (18 inches shorter than a Suburban) and 77 inch width, the Escalade drives much smaller than it is. With speed sensitive electronic variable-orifice power assist steering, the Escalade also feels more nimble than its overall size would suggest. Steering is just three turns lock to lock with a curb to curb turning circle of just over 40 feet. It's quick and accurate. In driving the roads of El Dorado County, the more miles I drove the more confident I became. Roads like Green Valley and Latrobe could be negotiated almost entirely at the speed limit without pushing.

Suspension is independent double A arm in front with torsion bars and live axle with progressive rate multileaf leaf springs in the rear. Bilsteins are at each corner and stabilizer bars are at both ends. It works.

Punishing Ponderosa Road was handled with aplomb. The Escalade protected its occupants from the washboard and harshness that Ponderosa can dish out to lesser vehicles. Bumpy corners caused little upset to the rear end and the axle stayed reasonably planted.

In taking to the highway, the Escalade provided a very smooth, quiet ride. It's hard to believe that this is a full body on frame truck chassis. This thing is a pleasure on the road. Just bring along your gasoline credit card (maybe two). Although rated at an EPA 12/16 mpg city/highway, I recorded just over 14 mpg in 600 miles of rural driving. But the fuel tank is a mammoth 30 gallons, so highway range should extend out to nearly 500 miles at legal speeds.

Probably one out of 100 Escalades will ever see off road or in conditions that really require its special capabilities. This one did. The Escalade is equipped with AutoTrac, an innovative four wheel drive system. It gives the driver the choice of normal two wheel (rear wheel) drive and three different 4X4 driving modes, all engaged electronically with four large rectangular buttons on the lower dash to the right of the steering column.

The Cadillac has a Auto 4 wheel drive selection that can goes from two wheel drive to four wheel drive if wheel slip is detected. A viscous clutch will seamlessly transfer power to the front axle for extra needed traction. When unsure of conditions, just push this Auto Drive and let the Cadillac do its stuff. Also available is standard part time 4X4 Hi which splits power evenly between the front and rear axles and 4X4 Low for heavy duty mud or snow and climbing up the side of a cliff (not recommended).

A locking rear axle is standard equipment (in fact everything is standard on the Escalade, there are no factory options). A locking axle when engaged (by wheel slip) transfers power to the rear wheels equally. This means even in two wheel drive, the traction is quite good in light snow or slippery conditions. Even in six inch snow, it was hard to get stuck.

But in turning maneuvers, the traction of Auto Drive made control much more positive and accurate. So much so that encountering deep snow was had little effect on its drivability. In fact it was hard to make it break lose even in sharp turns (speeds of about 15-20 mph). I never bothered to use 4 Hi or Low as it wasn't necessary. The Auto Drive was smooth, imperceptible, positive and silent in its engagement. The is a very confident 4X4.

Braking is standard antilock braking system (ABS) with large front ventilated discs. They are very visible through the six spoke 16X7 inch chrome alloys shod in hugh P265/75R/16 all weather radials that do not generate any road noise (this is a Cadillac). The rear drums are coated with a special black corrosion resistant material. Stops were straight and controllable even in deep or packed snow. Pedal effort was well modulated but at times felt a little soft.

The best part of the Cadillac Escalade is on the inside. The very large front armchair buckets are covered in soft perforated nuance leather. The better part is the comfort. These seats were obviously designed by Cadillac and are exclusive to the Escalade. They are some of the most comfortable that I have encountered in any sport ute. Both driver and passenger seats are full power and individually heated. Nice.

The dash has full instrumentation with a large speedo flanked to the left by a tach. Four smaller ancillary gauges (gas,temp,oil and volts) are grouped to the right of the speedo. Still in the drivers pod but in the center of the dash is the Bose Acoustimass AM/FM Stereo C/D, Cassette. A 6 pack CD changer is in the center console. Needless to say the large interior volume (118.2 cubic feet behind the front seats) makes for a great sound chamber.

On the rear of the center console are controls for the rear seat passengers who can select their own program and volume with individual headphone jacks.

Under the radio controls are the easy to use large rotary HVAC controls. No time with the owner's manual or a 3 hour course at CRC is necessary to learn how to use. This is a wise use of the KISS design philosophy.

The center console and the door panels are covered in soft padded leather and have plenty of trays and pockets for storage. Cadillac also tastefully uses beautiful Zebrano wood generously on the doors, dash, console and steering wheel.

The rear seats are a 60/40 split affair. They are almost as comfortable as the front and offer copious room. I kept looking for the big screen TV, the 49'ers and my leather ottoman. It felt like my family room. Cadillac does know how to do an interior.

With the rear seats up, there is still 66.9 cubic feet of space or about four times the size of a trunk in a large sedan. Its so big that it's very difficult to reach items just behind the seats (the load floor is over 4.5 feet deep). Did I tell you that this Escalade is huge inside?

So how much? The Escalade sticker's for $45,875 plus $650 for shipping. Everything is standard and there are no factory options. Thinks like class three trailer hitch and wiring harness? Standard. Wood, leather, C/D changer, five power ports, and the integrated On Star system. Standard. If you want hot and cold running water, you will have to talk to the dealer' plumber however.

The On Star system located in the center overhead console is a hands free communication system that operates through an overhead microphone and the radio speakers. Get stuck or have a problem. A push of a button in the overhead will immediate connect you to an On Star operator who will summon immediate help. Trick.

Family Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Cadillac displays the Escalade. A test drive will demonstrate that the Escalade is a Cadillac through and through. One drive in the snow and you will instantly know its one comfortable way to go anywhere and I mean anywhere.


Price                                    $46,525

5.7L OHV V-8                              255 hp @ 4,600
                                          330 lb-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm

4 speed electronically 
controlled automatic

Transfer case
AutoTrac active transfer case
with viscous clutch

Front longitudinal engine
all wheel drive

Wheelbase                                117.5  inches
Length                                   201.2  inches
Width                                    77.0   inches
Height                                   74.3   inches
Weight                                   5573   pounds
Fuel Capacity                            30     gallons
Tow Capacity                             6,000  pounds
Cargo Capacity                           118.2  cubic feet (behind front seats)
                                         66.9   cubic feet (behind rear seats)

0-60                                     9.35   seconds
50-70                                    5.35   seconds
50-70  uphill (6% grade)                 8.75   seconds
Top Speed                                Governed at 97 mph, but would 
                                         easily attain triple digits, but why try?

Fuel Economy                             EPA 12/16 mpg city/highway.
I estimate 13-14 in El Dorado County and 16 plus on the highway at legal speeds.