2004 Cadillac Escalade Let's accept difference -- me from you, you from me, us from them, them from we. Let's understand that what you like, others abhor. You want two-wheel drive. Others want four. Let's leave one another alone. You drive away in a small-car parade. I'll take the Cadillac Escalade. It's huge, yes, with a wide-mouth grille. Its 6-literV-8 roars and sends a chill -- almost as scary as its gasoline bill. Driving the 2004 Escalade from city to city, 2,000 miles, almost emptied my kitty. The gas bill tallied 240 U.S. dollars, a tab that made me scream and holler. You don't have to be a scholar to know that's a crazy way to spend a dollar. But, hey, the cash was mine, and if I wanted to drive something as big and fine as the Escalade with its leather seats and very thick carpeting beneath my feet, with standard XM Satellite Radio and rear-seat DVD, why did you frown and scowl at me? Do I tell you where to live, how to dress? Do I put you under duress for the thousands you spend on earthly things, such as neckwear bling-bling and diamond rings? What about the millions you take in campaign donations to take power for you, but from the rest of the nation? You waste gas flying from city to city making promises to empty the public's kitty. Let's leave one another alone. The Escalade isn't for everyone. But those who love it say it's fun. I saw them on the road in various rest-area parking lots. Some had the smaller, more fuel-economical Vortec 5300, 5.3-liter, 285-horsepower V-8; others drove what I drove, the Vortec High-Output, 345-horsepower V-8 with liters six. But all of them said they got their kicks from the Escalade's power and ride, the latter of which is a mix of truck and sedan, which is General Motors Corp.'s plan to make truck-based vehicles palatable for the common man -- and woman. Surely, by now, most of you know the Escalade is the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe. In its 1999 birth year, the Escalade and siblings shared more than a gear. Changed badges and plastic pieces did not hold critics at bay, but the public bought the Escalade anyway. The evidence can be found with the GM bank teller who has been raking in cash on a bona fide bestseller. Now with bold, new styling and a bank of standard equipment, the Escalade looks and feels really different. People now know it on sight, like the young brother at a New Jersey rest stop the other night: "Hey, man, that's the new Escalade!" Yeah, man, you're right. The new Escalade is much easier to control. It has standard StabiliTrak to help prevent a roll. It comes with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and two side air bags, too -- one for the driver and front-seat passenger, assuming that passenger is you. The Escalade's high-intensity-discharge headlamps burn blue- white bright. They help enhance the driver's sight. But if you're coming toward the Escalade in the dead of the night, those lamps startle, give you a fright. GM and other car companies should do more to get this right. What else can I say? How better to explain why different things appeal to different women and men? Their preferences make them no better than you, no worse than me. You can't ask a man "What would Jesus drive?" if his name is Muhammad Ali. They're just doing what they have a right to do in the Land of the Free. Let's leave one another alone. Nuts & Bolts Complaints: I expected poor gas mileage and got it, an average 15 miles per gallon. Also, the Escalade's high-intensity-discharge lights bother drivers coming toward the vehicle and they irritate those driving immediately in front of it. GM needs to rethink this. Praise: An absolutely wonderful ride, exceedingly comfortable. Credit here goes to GM's compute -controlled Road Sensing Suspension System (RSS), which delivers an excellent compromise between truck and sedan ride -- even over bad roads. Head-turning quotient: "Hey, man, that's the new Escalade!" The people who love it love it and the people who hate it hate it. It's America. Acceleration and handling: Excellent on both counts. If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to implement rollover protection rules for sport-utility vehicles, it had better hurry up. GM has its StabiliTrak System. Volvo now employs an anti-roll system developed by Autoliv. Wagner Engineering has developed its patented Link-X Stability System. They all work well. If the technology has moved ahead of NHTSA's regulatory efforts, what does NHTSA have to regulate? Vehicle design and layout: The Escalade is a truck-based, body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle with four side doors and a hatchback. It has a front-mounted engine. It is available with two-wheel or all-wheel drive. Capacities: The Escalade can seat up to seven people. Fuel capacity is 26 gallons; regular unleaded gasoline is recommended. Depending on equipment chosen, the Escalade can tow up to 8,100 pounds and carry a payload up to 1,433 pounds. Price: Base price on the tested 6-liter Escalade AWD is $54,880. Dealer invoice price on that model is $50,215. Price as tested is $55,695, including $815 in transportation charges. Purse-strings note: The Escalade is a bestseller, but it has lots of competition. You can bargain. Compare with GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Volvo XC 90, Lexus LX 470, Land Rover Range Rover.