It's not so easy trying to kick a bad habit. Just ask GM.

Almost a decade ago, just after a boardroom coup in 1992, GM said no to badge engineering, the practice of slapping a new badge on a old product and offering it for sale. (Did I hear someone say Cimmaron?)

GM was good on its word, until Lincoln beat Cadillac for the title of best-selling luxury marque in 1998. Lincoln did it by selling all the Navigators it could produce. Mercedes Benz and Lexus saw their fortunes rising too, due to brisk truck sales.

Finally, GM relented. And so comes the Escalade, based on the Chevy Tahoe-GMC Yukon/Danali. And so the question is this: what do you get on an Escalade that retails for $4x,xxx that you can't get on a fully-loaded $32,000 Chevy Tahoe?

Lots of what Cadillac terms "Soft Nuance Leather." Certainly the covering is soft and it covers seats that are supportive and comfortable.

There's also lots of Cadillac's "Zebrano wood" tarting up the interior. It certainly gives the cabin a nice aroma.

There are many cupholders. The front seat has three power outlets and there's one in the rear seat and one in the cargo area.

The are 16-inch chrome wheels, not exactly a high priority when going through muck and mire. But this is a pure suburban utility vehicle.

But the subtleties are harder to hide. The switch-gear is identical to the Chevrolet, including look and feel. So, you won't be surprised to find that this Caddy doesn't have memory seats or automatic climate controls. It doesn't offer Cadillac's new massaging seat option or a Northstar engine. You won't be surprised to find a dash identical to its corporate cousins. The fit and finish is about the same as well: okay, but nothing to write home about.

You will find heated seats, OnStar concierge service, and an absolutely incredible Bose acoustic mass sound system with cassette, a single slot CD, a 6-CD changer and rear seat controls with two separate headphones for rear seat passengers.

The rear seat folds 60/40, but the seatback is engineered in such a way that the seat back doesn't really latch into place.

Space is good, as one would expect of a full-size sport ute. Buyers can chose between a door that swings up or a split tailgate. The split tailgate puts a large blind spot dead center of the mirror, so try before you buy. The cargo area has a retractable cargo cover and a cargo net for smaller items.

Power comes from a Chevy 5.7-liter overhead valve V-8. This 255 horsepower engine has good pulling power around town and is good for a 10.5 second 0-60 run. With 330 foot-pounds of torque, the Escalade can pull 6,600 pounds of fun behind it.

Since this is a Cadillac, this truck's workhorse demeanor has been softened not only in accouterments, but also in handling. The ride is soft with a capital S. The steering is numb, the handling ponderous, with plenty of wallowing. Some wallow is typical of the breed, but it's especially pronounced, although a great deal less than the Ford Excursion.

Despite all that, it's a very easy sport ute to drive daily.

Cadillac equips the drive line so that the driver can select 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive as well as a fully automatic mode. I'm sure most Caddy drivers will throw it into automatic and forget about it.

Braking is nothing special, with front disc/rear drum brakes equipped with four-wheel-anti-lock standard.

Styling is block-like, with conservative colors and large Cadillac lettering lending this truck a handsome look.

Mileage is rated 13 mpg city, 16 mpg highway, just about typical for the class. Test mileage was 13 mpg and the engine runs on regular gas. This can't be said for its foreign competition.

This truck was enjoyable enough, but don't mistake its handsome chiseled lines as anything permanent. This is a stopgap measure, one to prevent Cadillac buyers from buying someone else's sport ute.

By this spring, Chevrolet and GMC will have s port utes based o n the new GM pick-up truck platform, with Cadillac following for the 2001 model year.

But if you have to have a Caddy truck, this is a really soft, cushy way to ooze into the sport ute market.

>> 2000 Cadillac Escalade

Vehicle type: Full-size sport utility vehicle
Engine: 5.7-liter OHV V-8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 117.5 inches
Length: 120.1 inches
Curb weight: 5,572 pounds
Cargo volume: 66.9 cubic feet
Tires: P265/70R16
EPA rating: 13 mpg city, 16 mpg highway
Test mileage: 13 mpg
Fuel type: Regular