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Expert Reviews 1 of 7
By G. Chambers Williams III
May 19, 1999
The first truck in the 96-year history of the Cadillac brand is destined to be a bestseller for General Motors' otherwise stagnant luxury-vehicle line. But the 1999 Escalade isn't a new vehicle. It's a gussied-up GMC Yukon/Chevrolet Tahoe,
built alongside the others at GM's plant in Arlington, Texas. Because Cadillac dealers were screaming to GM for a sport-utility vehicle to battle the highly popular Lincoln Navigator and to entice people under retirement age into their showrooms,
GM rushed the Escalade from concept to market in less than a year. Plans originally were to wait until the new-generation Suburban, Tahoe and Yukon debuted this fall to roll out a Cadillac sport-utility vehicle, but dealers insisted that they get
an SUV sooner. Even though there was a rush to bring the Escalade to showrooms, GM didn't cut any corners. This vehicle is a worthy competitor for the Navigator and other vehicles in the burgeoning full-size SUV market segment, which includes the
Range Rover, Isuzu Trooper/Acura SLX and Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX 470. My significant other, who is a great fan of full-size SUVs, pronounced the Escalade her favorite among the class. "Tell them we're not giving it back, just to send us the
payment book," she said during our week with the Escalade. But at a list price of $45,875 (plus $640 transportation), it had to go back, even though I didn't want it to. I have children to feed. This is the ultimate Yukon or Tahoe,
complete with comfortable perforated leather seats (a bit cooler on the backside than solid leather seats in hot climates like Texas'), rugged yet refined four-wheel drive (suited for any driving conditions, including deep snow or off-road mountain
climbing), a built-in satellite navigation system linked to live operators at GM's OnStar communications center (they can unlock your doors by satellite remote control if you lock yourself out of the vehicle), and a 255-horsepower V-8 engine that pushes
this vehicle along with the best of them. As a lifelong off-road driving aficionado, I appreciate that GM kept the great off-road attributes of the Tahoe and Yukon in the Escalade. The only differences are the highway tires that come standard on
the Escalade and a slightly softer suspension. If you want to do some serious exploring, you can put off-road tires on the Escalade, but even the stock tires will work for mild off-roading. The Escalade, like the four-wheel-drive versions of the Tahoe and
Yukon, even has a low-range gearbox setting for serious hill-climbing. And unlike the Tahoe and Yukon, the Escalade is not offered in a cheaper two-wheel-drive version. Of course, I understand that most Escalade buyers won't take their vehicles
off-road, but I'm sure they will appreciate that the vehicle can handle the wilderness if they ever want to go. The Escalade will mostly be an around-town family hauler and on-the-road travel machine, perhaps pulling a
horse trailer, sailboat or camper. It can tow up to 6,000 pounds. What the Escalade does for Cadillac dealers is perhaps its most significant achievement. It brings baby boomers into showrooms for the first time. Cadillac hopes that some of those
boomers will pass on the Escalade and buy another Cadillac product such as the Seville STS -- a truly remarkable vehicle that they might never have considered if they hadn't been drawn into the dealership by the big SUV. Lincoln is finding that to
be true of its Navigator. People who wouldn't have considered visiting a Lincoln showroom before the Navigator are coming in now and driving away in other Lincolns. My only complaint with the Escalade is the same one I have with the Tahoe and
Yukon equipped with heated seats. The switch for the driver's seat heater is on the lower left side of the seat near the seat-position controls, completely out of sight. It is easily bumped on while adjusting the seat, and within minutes,
e driver begins melting away. The first time I drove a Tahoe, I accidentally turned on the seat heater and had to stop the car a few minutes later, take the owner's manual from the glovebox, and figure out where the switch was so I could turn it off.
Like the Tahoe and Yukon, the Escalade is a shortened version of the Suburban, the national car of Texas. That means that it doesn't have room for a third seat; consumers have to choose one of its competitors to get that feature. A third seat is
available in the Navigator and Land Cruiser/LX 470, as well as in the smaller but also competitive Mercedes-Benz M-class. The Escalade seats five full-size adults in comfort, and there is 66.9 cubic feet of cargo space available behind the rear
seat. Fold the rear seat down and that space expands to 118.2 cubic feet. The 5.7-liter V-8 engine is the only power plant offered, but it is more than adequate for this vehicle. As heavy as it is -- nearly 5,573 pounds -- the Escalade can go from
zero to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds. The transmission is a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic with overdrive. Escalade's top speed is 110 mph, and even at highway speeds, the vehicle handles rather well. Among the standard features are
speed-sensitive power steering and four-wheel antilock brakes. Inside, passengers ride in the luxury and comfort they would expect from a Cadillac, even though it is a truck. The Escalade is elegant, but unlike many Cadillac cars of the past, the
elegance isn't ridiculously overdone. All controls are within easy reach of the driver, and gauges are large and easy to read. Standard is a Bose Acoustimass music system with cassette and single compact-disc players in the dash, as well
as a six-disc remote CD changer. There are four speakers in the doors, two in the headliner and a subwoofer in the console. Rear-seat passengers have their own stereo controls and headphones so they can listen privately to something different from what is
being played up front. Automatic climate control isn't offered on the Escalade; it uses the same manual heating/air-conditioning system that comes with the Suburban, Tahoe and Yukon. There is a separate control for the rear fan, however.
Most other luxury features are standard, including power windows/mirrors/door locks, automatic-dimming mirrors, high-tech theft-deterrent system, running boards for easy entry/exit, remote locking/unlocking, front and rear consoles, eight cupholders,
10-way power driver and passenger seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and cruise control. The Escalade comes fully loaded, so there are no options offered. Total sticker is $46,515, including transportation. EPA fuel-economy ratings are
about average for this class: 13 miles per gallon in the city and 16 mpg on the highway. The tank holds 30 gallons of gasoline, and regular unleaded is recommended. THE PACKAGE: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, V
-8 power, four-wheel-drive sport-utility wagon based on the Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon. HIGHLIGHTS: The first truck-based Cadillac product offers luxury, elegance and performance in a full-size SUV package. There is good power, comfortable seating, a
roomy interior, and excellent on- and off-road performance. NEGATIVES: Front-seat heater switches are in an awkward place, out of sight on the sides of the seats. MAJOR COMPETITORS: Ford Expedition/Lincoln Navigator, Isuzu Trooper/Acura SLX, Land
Rover Discovery, Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX 470, Mercedes-Benz M-class. EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 13 miles per gallon city, 16 highway. BASE PRICE: $45,875 plus $640 transportation. PRICE AS TESTED: $46,515, including
transportation. ON THE ROAD RATING: A-plus.