After a week in the all-new Cadillac Escalade I have now reviewed each of GM's full-size SUVs, including the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. The Escalade is the top fish in the pond, complete with a more powerful V-8 engine, high-end leather appointments and plenty of flashy chrome.
It's too bad the Escalade has such an established reputation as a show-off vehicle, because I found the look of my dark blue test vehicle extremely elegant. It's as utilitarian as its less expensive siblings, but it adds what the others can't: style.
For such a large SUV, the Escalade — like the Yukon and Tahoe — is easy to drive, but unlike the slightly less powerful Yukon Denali it packed plenty of punch. Its spirited launches, though, are taken in from the extreme comfort of heated and cooled front leather seats, making the Escalade a fine place to be. The problem only comes when you check the sticker price and realize there are a lot of fine luxury SUVs on the market that offer as much or more for the money. Our all-wheel-drive tester started at $56,405; after almost all of the available options were tacked on, we were north of $65,000.
Exterior & Styling
When I saw the first press images of the all-new Escalade, I was aghast. The new front grille seemed way too extravagant for what is essentially an all-American SUV. Then I saw it in black-metallic painted flesh at the Detroit auto show and realized that this would be a big seller. I've only seen black Escalades on the streets, and I was delighted to receive the dark blue test vehicle. How do you tone down all the chrome? Get a subtle color like this blue. Overall I'm a bigger fan of the traditional look of the Range Rover, but it's easy to see why people are attracted to this Escalade.
The front is overwhelmed by the multi-faceted chrome grille, so much so that you barely notice the huge headlights. In back, vertical LED taillights add a high-end touch and — if you think about it — tie this un-car-like SUV right into the rest of Cadillac's lineup. Large chrome wheels finish off the package, and while I would opt for something more practical, they weren't at all gaudy. Even as someone well outside any of the target markets for the Escalade — I'm neither hip nor old enough to be a former Cadillac owner — I felt comfortable being seen behind the wheel.
If I had to drive forever in the Escalade's optional heated and cooled seats, I don't think I could complain. Why every luxury car doesn't come with ventilation is a mystery. On a hot hour-long ride home from a weekend getaway the cooling seat meant I didn't have to blast the other occupants with cold A/C while I sat in the sun.
The thick, padded armrest and storage bin were nice, but I prefer the handy cell phone indentation the Yukon and Tahoe have in their centers, compared to the Escalade's ornamental wood strip. It's a little thing, but I thought that was a nifty use of space.
Along with others in the office I'm a bit perplexed as to why Cadillac chose to stray from the standard center stack controls that the Yukon and Tahoe have and instead use the slightly more outdated Cadillac ones also seen in the STS sedan. They're adequate, but the environmental controls are much more confusing and forced my eyes from the road too often.
The sound system and center LCD screen were above par and almost identical to the Yukon Denali's in terms of quality. Unlike a bad road trip in the Denali, though, the Escalade's navigation did not get us lost (even returning to the same exact home address). On the weekend trip to a nearby resort town, my wife and I were accompanied by her parents. My wife and mother-in-law sat in the second-row captain's chairs and enjoyed the chauffeured life the Escalade provides. My wife even popped a romantic comedy — I'm generally not a fan of the genre — into the DVD player. With the remote in hand and wireless headphones in place, we didn't hear from her the rest of the trip. Now I know why parents love these things.
Ride & Handling
I hate to keep referencing other vehicles in a review of the Escalade, but the Cadillac retains all the same favorable handling traits of the Yukon and Tahoe. None of these models feel bloated, and they all refute the stereotype of full-size SUVs being hard to navigate around town. Unlike the Yukon's somewhat rough ride, the Escalade was much smoother on the highway and winding country roads. Road noise was minimal, as was wind noise — a surprise given the vehicle's many sharp exterior surfaces.
Going & Stopping
Again with the comparison, but the Escalade and Yukon Denali I tested have the exact same 6.2-liter V-8, yet they felt worlds apart. Sure, the Escalade is tuned to turn out 403 horsepower versus the Denali's 383 hp, but at that end of the spectrum — and in this large of a vehicle — it shouldn't have made such a big difference. The Escalade and its six-speed transmission felt powerful, where the Denali was often straining to get to speed. And this was with four passengers and luggage, and with the A/C on constantly.
Braking in the Escalade offered the same tried and true delivery, but was kicked up a notch. Whether GM just made the Escalade slightly better or is holding the Yukon Denali back I don't know, but if you can afford the roughly $10,000 difference there's no question which vehicle provides the better experience for drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2007 Escalade a five-star frontal crash-test rating; it hadn't done a side-impact test as of this writing. Rollover ratings were listed at three stars, which means in a single-vehicle crash the Escalade has a 22 - 24 percent chance of rolling over. That's about average for SUVs of this class. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet rated the Escalade or any other new full-size SUV.
The Escalade comes with plenty of safety features, including stability control, rollover mitigation, antilock brakes and side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats.
Cargo & Towing
Just like the Yukon, the Escalade's cargo configuration is less than optimal, but for four passengers on a weekend trip it was great. Three overnight bags, two golf bags and a garment bag on top all fit in the rear cargo area after the third row had been folded in half then swung forward. Unfortunately none of the passenger seats fold flat, so this system has to do unless you remove the seats entirely. The huge center aisle between the second row seats held our snacks and cooler, and everyone had ample legroom. Headroom wasn't even a consideration. Given how tall the Escalade is, getting in and out could have been easier for everyone on the trip, myself included.
For four people, the Escalade is always going to be easy to live with; even for three couples the rear row is adequate. Thus you'll have a Cadillac shuttle to use to go out to a very nice dinner all in one vehicle. The money you save at the valet, of course, will go right back into the gas tank.
While the Escalade's sticker says it gets 13/19 mpg in city/highway driving, I observed a 13 mpg average over the course of about 300 miles of mixed highway and suburban driving in summer weather bordering the 90s. And as I mentioned before, for about 120 of those miles we had a full load of people and cargo. The air conditioning was used liberally the entire time, along with those cooling seats. In better conditions I'd expect the Escalade to provide better mileage in the middle of its advertised range.
Towing is rated at 7,700 pounds, about 200 pounds less than the Yukon Denali and about equal with the Range Rover Sport.
Escalade in the Market
GM has managed to build the best Escalade to date, but I'm still torn as to where it rates in the still-growing luxury SUV segment. If you have this kind of money and want to be seen in a fancy SUV with power, I would think the Range Rover Sport — especially the supercharged version — would be more desirable at a similar price. I certainly prefer it. Of course the difference there would simply be about who wants to be seen in which vehicle. And those are the intangibles we'll never be able to gauge.
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