By Jim Gorzelany

With only a few tweaks for 2006, the new Cadillac Escalade awaits a redesign. In the meantime, it remains one of the most Superfly rides around.

While the 2006 base Escalade and extended ESV model continue unchanged for 2006, the EXT version, which has a small cargo bed, adds an optional power sliding cover for the pickup bed that opens and closes at the touch of a button and replaces the manual one. Also new for the EXT (but debuting later in the model year) is a movable load floor that slides aft to make loading cargo easier.

A redesigned Escalade is expected for the 2007 model year.

Cadillac introduced the full-size Escalade for the 1999 model year, along with its GMC sibling, the Yukon Denali. Both are based on the Chevrolet Tahoe. The Escalade quickly became a bestseller for Cadillac and attracted a younger clientele that includes high-profile athletes and musicians ? the Escalade name itself has been used in hip-hop music lyrics, song titles and even groups' names. The average Escalade buyer is 50 years old, which is about 12 years younger than the typical Cadillac owner, reports the manufacturer.

The Escalade line includes an extended version, the ESV, which is based on the Chevrolet Suburban . The ESV is also available in an ultra-posh Platinum Edition that includes such top-shelf amenities as heated and cooled cup holders, air-conditioned seats and what the young urban crowd refers to as "dubs" ? 20-inch chrome wheels. (See our 2005 ESV photo gallery.)

The EXT is another Escalade version that shares platforms with the Chevrolet Avalanche. It's basically a tricked-out, full-size crew cab pickup with a flat-folding rear seat and front cargo-bed wall that can be adjusted to expand cargo capacity (just like on the Avalanche). Each version in the Escalade line offers comparable performance to its GMC and Chevy counterparts, but with a softer ride, more amenities and amped-up attitude.

The attitude begins with a mammoth front grille and boxy monochrome exterior treatment that's refreshingly devoid of chrome trim. The interior is equally understated, with white-faced gauges set against an ebony background on the dashboard, and a Bulgari-designed analog clock atop the center console. Its standard power-heated front seats are plush yet tastefully appointed. The base and ESV models include a standard third-row seat.

For its massive size and weight, the Escalade certainly doesn't lack for acceleration. Its powerful 6-liter V8 engine generates 345 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to a sturdy four-speed automatic transmission, one gear short of the competition. Base models offer a choice of rear- and four-wheel-drive. The latter comes standard on the ESV and EXT.

Four-wheel disc antilock brakes, traction control and GM's StabiliTrak stability control system are standard on all Escalades, along with dual-stage front and side-impact airbags. A high-tech road-sensing suspension soaks up potholes and provides a pliant ride and respectable handling for a full-size SUV.

The Escalade is loaded with "bling bling," including such amenities as automatic tri-zone air-conditioning, a Bose audio system with a CD changer and XM satellite radio, rear park assist, power adjustable pedals and the OnStar communications/safety system. A DVD entertainment system, power sunroof and satellite navigation system are optional. (See the Standard Equipment and Specs page for more information.)


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