2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV

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2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV
Available in 1 styles:  Escalade ESV shown
Asking Price Range
$99–$22,227
Estimated MPG

12 city / 15 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

By 

AZCentral.com

Even Cadillac is amazed by the booming success of its Escalade sport utility vehicle, a newly minted pop icon that has bullied its way into the consciousness of a new generation of Cadillac aspirants.

"The success is greater than any number we had for it," said Mark LaNeve, Cadillac's 44-year-old general manager. "Just the way it has shown up in pop culture, like MTV videos."

LaNeve called Escalade "the turning point for Cadillac," when the venerable General Motors luxury division went from stodgy to hip overnight. There's a note of humility in that statement: that Escalade just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.

"It became the cool car," LaNeve said in wonderment. "And everyone knows you can't control cool."

For 2003, Escalade ESV is the latest in a trio of Caddy trucks. Twenty-two inches longer than the standard Escalade, it becomes a looming presence that rules the strange world of luxury SUVs.

Here is today's version of the classic land yacht, once exemplified by the sleek 1959 Cadillac with its record-setting tail fins. The Escalade may be big and boxy, but the spirit is still there.

Opulent, excessive and wasteful are words that could describe the ESV. But so does the word "cool."

What it is:

The third member of the Escalade family, which includes the regular Escalade and the Escalade EXT crew-cab pickup truck. The ESV adds a third row of adult-size seating and prodigious cargo capacity to the formula. Basically an upscale version of the Chevrolet Suburban, it's the largest full-size luxury sport utility vehicle on the market.

Engine and transmission:

A 6-liter, 345-horsepower V-8 is plenty of motivation for the ESV. This is the same engine as that in the performance-laden Silverado SS pickup truck, and it provides the Escalade with plenty of gutsy power.

Despite its massive heft, the ESV moves out quickly, accelerating to highway speed with a roaring rush. The heavy-duty automatic shifts smoothly, and it's eager to kick down a gear under throttle for immediate response.

Towing capacity is rated at a beefy 7,400 pounds.

Of course, all that weight and power comes at a price. The EPA rates the biggest Escalade at 12 miles per gallon city and 16 mpg highway, though that seems optimistic. I spent a lot of time pumping gas into this behemoth.

Handling and drivability:

It's really amazing how well the ESV drives, considering its size and weight. It handles corners as nicely as many automobiles with little sense of top-heaviness or body sway. It also maneuvers well in urban driving with good steering response and excellent braking.

The steering feels too light, however, especially at midrange speeds around 40 mph. Here it's numb and twitchy with too much of a vague feel when traveling in a straight line. On the freeway, it firms up nicely.

Electronic enhancements include all-wheel-drive; Stabilitrac, which helps prevent skids; traction control, which prevents wheel spin; Road Sensing Suspension, which continuously adjusts the shock absorbers for road conditions; and Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, which warns if you're about to back into something.

Styling:

For me, the beauty of the Escalade is purely in the eye of the beholder. Plenty of people love this image, which speaks of affluence and hip urban culture. There are lots of appreciative stares, especially from young people.

I found the ESV to look overly formal, too big and not really appealing. In glossy black, it felt more like a vehicle for Secret Service agents to use while protecting the president than a showy ride for a night on the town.

The looming presence of the test truck was tempered with chrome trim and gleaming chrome wheels, and Cadillac's broad, signature grille. Caddy designers have hit on a style that people recognize and appreciate, and there is no mistaking this truck for anything but part of the Escalade clan.

Interior:

Despite lovely and comfortable leather seating and a plethora of electronic features, the interior treatment is a weak point in the package. The console feels cheap with fake-wood plastic covers on cup holders and a stowage bin.

An attractive Bulgari analog clock is set into the console but too low and off-center. It should be a focal point.

Seven people fit comfortably in here. The third row does require a climb to access.

The middle row folds flat, but the third row must be removed to create a broad loading area. Although the seat is easy to detach, it is heavy and cumbersome.

The test truck was loaded with goodies, including XM satellite radio and a DVD video system.

Pricing:

Naturally, Escalade comes fully loaded for its steep baseline price of $57,975. The test vehicle included the DVD system, $1,295; 17-inch chrome wheels, $795; XM radio, $325 (subscription fee is extra); trailer package, $190; and shipping, $790. Total is an exclusive $58,765.

Bottom line:

Big and bold, the most massive fashion statement on wheels, the Escalade ESV should help continue Cadillac's reign in this diverse upscale SUV segment.

Cadillac Escalade ESV

Vehicle type: Seven-passenger, four-door sport utility vehicle, all-wheel drive.

Base price: $55,370.

Price as tested: $58,765.

Engine: 6-liter V-8, 345 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, 380 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 130 inches.

Curb weight: 5,839 pounds.

Towing capacity: 7,400 pounds.

EPA mileage: 12 city, 16 highway.

Highs:

Roomy capability.

Power, handling.

The essence of cool.

Lows:

Interior trim issues.

Steering vagueness.

Mighty thirst for fuel.


    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

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