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2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV

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2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV
Available in 1 styles:  Escalade ESV shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

12 city / 15 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 3 of 4
2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV 3.8 4
$ 4,210-13,982
March 23, 2003

The Escalade ESV joins the regular Escalade sport-utility vehicle and Escalade EXT sport-ute/truck at Cadillac for '03 to give it a trio of vehicles to satisfy well-heeled big families.

All share the same look with a bold chrome grille, but Escalade is built off the Chevrolet Tahoe platform and the ESV comes off the 22-inch longer Chevy Suburban platform. This gives ESV what consumers asked for, a third-row seat to hold more passengers and massive cargo room behind it.

ESV's steering system is tuned so you can slip in and out of parking spots surprisingly easily--when those in the little cars on either side choose to park in a straight line.

Hmm. If big SUVs are supposed to be so difficult to manage, why is it that cars make up the bulk of those vehicles parked crooked in the lot?

With size comes the ability to hold seven people in comfort. Of course, with size also comes sacrifice and a 12 m.p.g. city/16 m.p.g. highway rating from the 6-liter, 345-horsepower V-8, which has plenty of spirit from the light and up the hill, yet a strong thirst for fuel. ESV comes with a 31-gallon tank to allow for about 500 miles of travel before the need to fill, though at the price of gas, waiting for "E" to flash on calls for yet another sacrifice to pocket or purse.

ESV looks big but doesn't act it. Steering and suspension are tuned to deliver smooth, sedan-like ride and rather precise handling without having to fight weight in the wheel. Better yet, ESV doesn't feel top heavy and eliminates unnecessary lean in turns. ESV feels very secure on the road.

Safety and security features include dual-stage air bags whose deployment speed is based on occupant position in the seat and speed of impact in a collision. Front passenger-seat sensors determine whether someone is on board. If not, or if a small adult, child or child safety seat is there, the bag is deactivated. Nice touch, though children and child safety seats belong in back.

It also comes with traction control and StabiliTrak as standard. Traction control senses wheel slippage at takeoff and applies the anti-lock brakes to the offending wheel to get you moving. StabiliTrak senses wheel slippage while moving and applies the ABS to the offending wheel or reduces engine power to keep you traveling in the pointed direction.

Road-sensing suspension eliminates the jolts and roller-coaster action over uneven pavement; automatic level control ensures balanced braking even when the cargo hold is loaded; and rear park assist beeps when backing up to warn of objects behind, such as little cars parked crooked in the lot.

Some vehicles such as the Infiniti Q45 come with a camera in back so you can see on a dash screen what's behind rather than rely on beeps. Susan Docherty, Escalade marketing director, said a camera was considered, but rejected until one that has a wider angle lens for better side viewing and that can be positioned to avoid collecting road dirt and grime that cloud the lens can be developed.

Other features include power adjustable brake/gas pedals; all-season, 17-inch, radial tires with a wide paw print for optimum road grip; four-wheel ABS; and full-time all-wheel-drive.

You'll also appreciate the non-slip, perforated leather seats (heated in front and second rows); running boards for easy entry/exit; "puddle lamps" on the outside mirrors; and a massive cargo hold with a stowage compartment and a 12-volt power plug.

There are some drawbacks. Second-row seats flip and fold to provide an aisle to the third row. But you have to remove the headrests to fold the backs flat and even then there's not much of an aisle.

Also, the tailgate opens as one piece or the window separately, but with only the window open, the reach-in height is rather high.

With the tailgate lifted, you can reach in and pull a lever to quickly fold the third-row seat backs to expand cargo capacity. But you need more muscle and dexterity to pull another lever to flip up the third-row seat bottom to expose even more cargo area or to remove the seat. A power folding third seat like in the Lincoln Navigator offers would solve the problem.

One other gripe, the Bulgari analog clock is off to the right of the console, where it's difficult to see.

ESV base price is $55,370. Other standard equipment includes power seats, Bose sound system with cassette and CD player, automatic climate control, power folding and heated mirrors and one-year free OnStar emergency communications system service.

You can add a rear-seat DVD entertainment system at $1,295 to keep the kids quiet on trips and XM satellite radio to keep the adults entertained for $325.

Cadillac expects to sell 10,000 ESVs annually. Despite the talk of war, a weak economy and an iffy stock market, dealer orders for ESVs exceed production capacity by 2,000 units in April, Docherty said.

"ESV buyers are sensitive to war and the economy. It's just that neither affect their choice to buy or not," Docherty said of people with income levels exceeding $200,000.

Volkswagen EuroVan

If you need to hold seven people, a cheaper alternative is the Volkswagen EuroVan.

But act fast. This is probably the last year it will be offered in the U.S. A new generation is coming in Europe next year, but VW isn't sure it will send it to the U.S.

And you had better prefer room over luxury. EuroVan is a vehicle for those who enjoy adventure and the great outdoors, but aren't quite ready for a huge motor home.

Like the ESV, EuroVan seats seven, but the two middle seats face rearward and sit up against the backs of the front seats. After a few miles facing the passengers in the third seat, plus the headlights of those behind, you feel disoriented. The seats face backward to accommodate a picnic table that pulls from the wall to serve the second and third row.

And be warned the only sliding door is on the passenger's side and it's manual, not power.

But, for the outdoors minded who visit remote retreats, the third-row seat folds into a bed. A host of supplies can be kept in the cargo hold, which comes with a parcel shelf so you can stow items below as well as on the shelf.

But be warned that EuroVan is tall (76 inches versus 68 inches on a Dodge Caravan) and narrow (72 inches versus 78 on Caravan), and with slab sides you feel the wind bursts when semis pass.

The 2.8-liter, 201-h.p., inline 6-cylinder is not very quiet, though at 17 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway, it's fairly fuel efficient.

EuroVan starts at $27,700. It comes with traction/anti-slip/stability control systems, ABS, power windows/locks/mirrors (heated), electronic climate control, AM/FM stereo/cassette, rear window wiper/washer/defroster, tinted glass and cruise control.

    Expert Reviews 3 of 4

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