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Cadillac Escalade AWD (2002)

SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Pardon the very bad (and irresistible) pun, but the luxury sport-utility wars are Escalading. Cadillac was late to the party, with no SUV until the first Escalade was introduced as a 1999 model partway through 1998. It did reasonably well, and brought much-desired younger buyers to Cadillac showrooms. Now the second-generation Escalade has been introduced, as the first 2002 Cadillac. Fittingly, it points to Cadillac's future. If you liked the angular "art and science" look of the Evoq concept car of a few years back, you'll love the new Escalade.

Recognizing the varied markets for luxury SUVs, Cadillac is offering two slightly different Escalade models. The two-wheel drive version has a 5.3-liter V8 with 285 horsepower, 30 more than last year's models. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) model uses a special version of GM's 6.0-liter "Vortec" V8, with a healthy 385 horses. Both have plenty of Cadillac's most advanced technology, highlighted by a very impressive computer-controlled suspension that gives the ride quality expected of a Cadillac.

The ride and handling qualities were what most impressed me about the Escalade during my week with an AWD model. Many SUVs have enough body roll when maneuvering at speed to feel more like boats than cars. Not this one. Despite its size and height, the Escalade feels like a well-engineered luxury car, with great comfort and very little body roll. My compliments to Cadillac's suspension engineers.

APPEARANCE: The new Escalade is a large, imposing vehicle with an undeniable presence. While definitely a short-wheelbase full-sized GM SUV in profile, the front and rear styling are unique, and preview future Cadillac design trends. A prominent matte-silver egg-crate grille with the newest version of the Cadillac wreath-and- crest emblem in its center and huge stacked headlights dominate the front, which has more angles and plane surfaces in its sheet metal than an F-117 Stealth Fighter. Descended from the Evoq concept car, this bold, angular look promises to be the dominant Cadillac styling motif for the near future. The bumpers are clad with body- colored plastic, for a carlike look, and match the side and fender cladding. Bright trim on the running boards and roof rack and chromed door handles give an upscale touch. The vents in the rear pillar and protruding taillights are unique to the Escalade. Wheels are bright alloy, of course, with large tires.

COMFORT: The running boards are convenient for access, and once inside there is little doubt that the Escalade is a Cadillac. The signature perforated leather and zebrano wood abound. The seats are similar in design to those found in other GM full-sized SUVs, with integral safety harness mounting, but have unique stitching patterns and "nuance" leather upholstery. The instrument panel, too, is basically shared, but has its own touches, including plenty of zebrano trim and distinctive aluminum-bezeled instruments. Convenient storage spaces are found throughout the cabin. The front seats are power-adjustable in just about every possible way, and heated. The split-bench second-row seat is also heated, under the outside positions, and can be flipped and folded for cargo space. "Second row" doesn't mean "second class," with plenty of room, separate audio controls, multiple power points, and a nearly flat floor. The headrests fold automatically with the seat, a nice touch. The third row seats are best used by children and small adults, and can be removed if necessary. It's a luxury car for up to seven people that can also haul furniture and other large, clean items.

SAFETY: Besides the usual four-wheel antilock disc brakes, airbags, and crumple zones, the Escalade has a number of innovative safety features, including ultrasonic rear parking assist and the OnStar electronic concierge system.

ROADABILITY: The Escalade has the standard truck-based chassis layout: body-on-frame construction with independent front suspension and a solid axle in the rear. But in no way does it feel like a truck; it has the ride quality expected of a Cadillac sedan. Really. Cadillac has long been a leader in electronic suspension technology, and has applied its knowledge to the Escalade. With the "Road Sensing Suspension" (RSS), all four shock absorbers have electronic sensors that feed into a computer for real-time control of damping rates, resulting in very good ride comfort and virtually no body motion in normal maneuvering. A well-designed five-link rear axle location system and Goodyear tires expressly made for the vehicle also add to the ride and handling qualities. There is no axle hop under acceleration, even on rough surfaces. When needed, the all-wheel drive system and the "Stabilitrak"(tm) stability-control system ensure wide margins of control.

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 4L60-E HD four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts smoothly, quickly, and efficiently. Despite its brute strength, the Escalade feels as smooth and refined as any other Cadillac. Its 8500-lb towing capacity is somewhat greater than that of other Cadillacs, though. The all-wheel drive system splits torque 38/62 percent between the front and rear wheels for optimum traction in most conditions, and can transfer more torque to the wheels that can use it in slippery conditions. It is a completely automatic system, with no driver input necessary.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2002 Escalade is the Cadillac of SUVs.

2002 Cadillac Escalade AWD

Base Price              $ 49,290
Price As Tested         $ 50,840
Engine Type             16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8
Engine Size             6.0 liters / 364 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        regular unleaded gasoline, 87 octane
Tires                   P265/70 R17 Goodyear Wrangler
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock 
Suspension, front/rear  independent with torsion bars / solid 
                          axle with 5-link location and coil
Ground clearance        10.7 in.
Drivetrain              front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      12 /15 /13
0 to 60 mph            8.6  sec (mfg)
Towing Capacity        8500 lbs

Power glass sunroof    $ 1,500
Destination charge     $   700