Cadillac hastily launched its first Escalade full-size sport utility vehicle for the 1999 model year in response to the success of the Lincoln Navigator. Sales never reached expectations, but the automaker rejoined the fray with a boldly redesigned version that was introduced as an early 2002 model. A newly available V-8 engine made the Escalade the most powerful SUV on the market.
For 2005, the Escalade gained burled walnut interior decoration and a premium instrument cluster with bright chrome trim. Nothing has changed for the 2006 model year.
All Escalades hold a 345-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8. A DVD-based rear entertainment system with a 7-inch flip-down screen is available. Cadillac also offers a touch-screen navigation system. XM Satellite Radio, a trailering package, second-row bucket seats and a tire-pressure monitor are standard; a second-row bench seat is a no-charge option.
Cadillac also offers an extended-length Escalade ESV, as well as an Escalade EXT model that features a pickup-truck bed. Both models are listed separately in the Research section.
When it was unveiled for 2002, the Escalade was the first production model to display Cadillac's art and science design theme, which features sharp angular edges, inside and out. Cadillac refers to the look as the Escalade's "sheer, chiseled shapes."
Squared-off xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights complement the front end, which flaunts a vertical eggcrate grille. Cadillac's wreath-and-crest insignia decorates the grille and liftgate. Escalades ride a 116-inch wheelbase, stand 74.2 inches tall and measure 198.9 inches long overall. Seven-spoke cast-aluminum wheels hold 17-inch tires. A glass sunroof is optional.
Seven people fit inside the Escalade. When fitted with the available second-row bench seat, seating capacity is eight. Front bucket seats have 14-way power adjustment, and the first- and second-row seats are heated. The third row contains a 50/50-split bench seat.
Power-adjustable brake and gas pedals include a memory function. A Bulgari-designed analog clock sits on the console.
The nine-speaker Bose stereo system includes an in-dash six-CD changer. Touching a button folds the side mirrors close to the body to squeeze through tight spots. Cadillac said its OnStar communication system's hands-free capability was improved for 2005.
Under the Hood
All Escalades use a 345-hp, 6.0-liter V-8 that produces 380 pounds-feet of torque and drives a four-speed-automatic transmission. Rear- and all-wheel-drive models are available, and a weight-distributing trailer hitch is included. The rear-drive model can tow up to 7,400 pounds, while all-wheel-drive Escalades can tow as much as 8,100 pounds.
Antilock brakes, all-speed traction control, side-impact airbags for the front seats, a front passenger-sensing system and General Motors' StabiliTrak electronic stability system are standard. A rear parking assist function warns of obstacles to the rear while the vehicle is backing up.
The Escalade is awfully large for maneuvering through city streets, and although the soft ride may be appealing, it compromises stability. On the plus side, you get plenty of V-8 acceleration and a lot of interior space. Still, you'll pay a hefty premium at the gas pump. Climbing aboard isn't so easy for everyone, either.