2003 Cadillac Escalade Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Big luxury, big size, big style.Black tie pickup.
Cadillac Escalade is all-new for 2002. This full-size luxury SUV makes a strong statement with sharp, chiseled styling. Built on GM's newest truck platform, the Escalade is available with a high-performance 6.0-liter V8, all-wheel drive, and GM's latest technology. While the 1999-2000 Escalade was essentially a warmed-over Denali, this new one offers unique engineering and features to go with its unique styling. The 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT is a new model in a new market: the luxury sport utility truck (SUT) segment. It combines the stowage and hauling capabilities of a full-sized pick-up truck with the people-carrying capacity of an SUV, packaged with the creature comforts of a luxury car.
Cadillac Escalade EXT is designed to give drivers an alternative to owning an SUV and a truck. It comes with full-time four-wheel drive, five-passenger seating, a spacious interior and the unmatched cargo space of a full pick-up bed. Thanks to GM's Midgate it can be quickly converted from a people hauler to a hay hauler.
This new luxury SUT, as it is called, follows on the heels of Lincoln's Blackwood, which arrived in dealerships in June 2001. The Cadillac Escalade EXT is based on the Chevy Avalanche, which also features the Midgate.
Cadillac's luxury sport-utility truck is, of course, designed for an upscale audience. Trucks are popular with this crowd, and Cadillac says nearly a fourth of all of its customers own a pickups. At the same time, an increasing number of SUV buyers are women - and that's particularly true of the Escalade SUV. Surely, some of these people would like Cadillac levels of luxury and technology combined with a pickup bed, so, voila! Escalade EXT.
With aggressive styling and a powerful 345-horsepower V8 the new Escalade EXT is no pussycat. Park it next to your average SUV and it looks like it would eat it for lunch. All of this comes at a price.
All-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive versions of the Escalade are available, using different engines and transmissions.
2WD Escalades use GM's new Vortec 5300, a 5.3-liter overhead-valve V8 with an iron block and heads, producing 285 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque, tied to a four-speed automatic transmission (code-named 4L60-E).
AWD Escalades use a high-performance version of GM's 6.0-liter Vortec 6000. With special high-compression aluminum heads on the iron block, this engine produces 345 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque. To handle all that power, it's connected to a heavy-duty version of the same automatic transmission (4L60-HD).
Cadillac is GM's technology leader and the Escalade comes loaded with the latest. All Cadillacs come standard with the OnStar communications system and the Escalade's system includes Personal Calling, which allows drivers to make hands-free, voice-activated personal calls, and Virtual Advisor, which provides headlines, scores, weather, and personalized stock quotes.
The list of standard equipment is as long as the Escalade itself (okay, not quite 199 inches). It includes Nuance leather seats with Zebrano wood interior trim, power heated 10-way adjustable front seats, Bose Acoustimass audio system with six-disc CD, rear seat audio controls with earphones, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, computer-controlled road-sensing suspension (RSS), Heavy Duty Trailering Package (the works), URPA (Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, a warning beeper); removable lightweight third-row seats, and more.
Conversely, the list of options is short, almost nonexistent: White Diamond paint ($995) and power glass sunroof ($1550). EXT starts at $49,990. Only one well-equipped model is available, which comes loaded with the Midgate storage system, GM's OnStar communications and navigation system, Stabilitrak traction control and road-sensing suspension, four-wheel ABS, front and side airbags, and Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist.
There are two options only: a tinted-glass, power-assisted sunroof ($1550) and premium paint ($995).
The 2002 Escalade offers the first look at the future of Cadillac design, with bold, progressive, sharp, chiseled, vertical styling, and a grille inspired by the Evoq concept car. Cadillac says the Escalade is 'the first Cadillac to reflect the division's fusion of art and science philosophy by blending forward-thinking technology with an expressive new design.' One thing's for sure. Cadillac is not backing away from the future. The Escalade definitely has presence, looking far more modern than the GMC Yukon Denali. (Cadillac Escalade rides on the same platform as the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe.) Surprisingly, though, the new styling has been accepted in stride, without making waves.
The front end is massive and looks it, with its big satin-nickel plastic grille and vertical halogen headlight clusters that measure 16 by 12 inches. Cadillac's new wreath and crest insignia, designed to symbolize a new Cadillac for the new millennium, is used on the grille and liftgate, conspicuously made of plastic. Chrome trim is used on the nameplate, running boards and roof rack. The cladding on the bottom halves of the doors might also be described as sharp and chiseled, though never finely so. There's so much of it that when you stand on the running boards to reach the roof rack, it bulges into your legs. Big 17-inch forged alloy wheels have a big round center with seven short wide spokes, and carry P265/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler HP tires. The signature wheels are attractive, but are less dynamic than the rest of the styling.
The exterior door handles are easy to grab. The liftgate raises with a surprisingly light touch, but it doesn't come down so lightly, despite a leather loop to help pull it down. At first glance, the EXT is unabashedly masculine and hulking. A wide-slatted front grille and oversized and squared, jeweled headlamps are key elements to its bold-faced look that continues with monochromatic fenders and body moldings, as well as a high ground clearance of nearly a foot and a bed height of 25 inches. Running boards help those more vertically challenged to find their way into the roomy cabin.
Despite its aggressive appearance, this SUT is still modern and sleek looking and clearly strikes the pose of a country club pedigree. It's offered in three basic colors - Sable Black, Silver Sand and White Diamond - which adds to its simple, yet powerful, presence.
Not everyone will like its so-called 'Art & Science' design, but it certainly makes a strong impression, as does the large revamped Cadillac badge, which sits center-stage on the grille. Like its cousin, the Chevy Avalanche, the EXT spouts dramatic sail panels, or C-pillars, that act as structural supports behind the rear seat and visually link the passenger and cargo area. The rear is stylishly tapered with large lamps, an integrated step-up bumper and a second Caddy badge on the tailgate.
Door handles are large and easy to grip. The luggage rack is nicely integrated onto the roof and not imposing in style or dimensions. Wheels are attractive 17-inch seven-spoke cast aluminum and are matched to P265/70R17 Goodyear tires.
Of note are the power-folding and heated exterior rearview mirrors (electrochromic on driver's side) with puddle lamps on the underside that illuminate the ground at night to assist with getting in and out of the EXT. The mirrors can be programmed to provide a curb view when the vehicle is in reverse gear. Integrated fog lamps are tucked into the base of the front bumper and courtesy lighting illuminates the sides and rear. Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist can help in steering this sizable truck into tight spaces, especially when towing, by beeping faster as the EXT is backed closer toward an object.
The seats are great, because not only is there adjustable lumbar support, but there's another adjustment that nicely squeezes you at the sides. The 10-way power driver's seat comes with a memory feature. His and hers key fobs allow each driver to program their own seat position; unlock the doors with your personal remote entry fob, and the seat slides to your position. This doesn't work when borrowing the spouse's keys, but you'll still be able to press a button near the armrest to get your seating position back. Buttons for the seat heaters are conveniently located here as well.
A big center console serves as a front armrest and opens in a couple of different ways to reveal storage areas. Two power outlets, two large cupholders, CD rack and coinholder are all in there. The dashboard is squarish, like a big flat tray. A leather-wrapped handgrip runs across the top of the dash on the passenger side with big stitching that faces out.
The instruments are stylish and look sort of retro high-tech, with Zebrano wood trim. Too many marks on the six little gauges (including transmission temperature), and the larger tachometer and speedometer, make it difficult to determine what numbers need the most attention.
A message center reports the status of 19 vehicle functions, including total hours on the engine, and, excellent for parents checking up on teens, a measure of the top speed reached and miles driven during each of the previous seven days. For example, we can report that three days before we got our Escalade, somebody reached a speed of 98 mph (10 mph below its electronically limited top speed of 108) during the 348 miles they drove it. A computer in the center dash allows the driver to program such things as whether the locks operate automatically, how locking or unlocking with the key fob is confirmed (horn, lights or both), whether the mirrors tilt when backing up, length of headlamp delay, etc.
The steering-wheel audio controls are set into the center of the butterfly four-spoke burl wood trim wheel, but can't be reached by thumb.
The Escalade is no airport shuttle. With all three rows of seats in place, the Escalade can, in theory, accommodate eight people, but they won't be terribly comfortable. Nor will they be able to bring along much more than a briefcase; with the third row in place there's only a foot of storage in the back. Four or five people with the third row removed is much better, offering comfort and cargo capacity. Fortunately, removing the third row is easy; each of the two third-row seats weighs 40 pounds. With the third row removed and the middle seat down, there's 108.2 cubic feet of cargo space.
The second row of seats comes with all the conveniences, starting with seat heaters, climate control, audio system controls, map lights, and adjustable vents. The center seatback folds down to reveal a virtual fold-down table. Lift the vinyl top and there's a black felt compartment with little round recesses designed for the headphones. There's less legroom than you might expect in a vehicle this large, particularly if the front seat is moved all the way back. There are no pockets in the doors, but there are pockets in the front seatbacks. Big hanging loops make climbing in and out easier.
The third row is a pair of seats split 50/50. Getting in and out of the third row is awkward. Leather-soled dress shoes slip on the trim when squeezing by the second row. Cadillac says the Escalade offers 3.5 more inches of rear-seat headroom than the Lincoln Navigator, and 9 inches more legroom. Still, it feels cramped back there. At least it's not stuffy; there's an A/C outlet on each side on the ceiling, and the left side has its own private glovebox with only a few fuses stored in there. Both sides have deep cupholders built into the wheel wells. Three seatbelts are used, something not found on many SUVs, and child-seat tethers are in place. The most noticeable feature once inside the EXT is that the exterior's monstrous proportions become sensible and simply large. You'll find a posh cabin with plush front Nuance leather bucket seats and heated seatbacks and cushions. Front seats are 10-way power adjusting with power lumbar and side bolsters and articulating head restraints; memory settings can be programmed for two drivers.
Second-row bench seating for three is Nuance leather, as well. The seat flips and folds down to maximize cargo space and is split 60/40 for versatility. It's comfortable, with adjustable outboard head restraints, and a folding center armrest with stowage and cupholders.
The steering wheel is color-keyed with leather trim and real wood accents and radio controls. Gauges are round and tipped with chrome and are easy-to-read. The entire dash is an array of buttons, switches and dials, with proportions that are big and busy, which may turn off drivers whose driving preferences lean more toward efficiency and straightforward elegance. Overall, the cabin feels gadgety, but, at the same time, retains Cadillac's signature luxury styling.
EXT's safety features are top of the line and include front and side passenger airbags and improved structural rigidity. A host of modern-day amenities includes a climate control system, driver information center, premium audio system, front and overhead consoles and GM's updated OnStar Communication system with concierge services, route support and internet access.
The most notable interior feature is the Midgate, GM's reconfigurable storage system. Made of a strong, lightweight and scratch-resistant material, the Midgate functions like a small tailgate behind the second row of seats, sort of like folding rear seats in a sedan that allow access to the trunk. The system includes a glass window, which can be easily removed and stored when the Midgate is folded down to give extra cargo space. With the Midgate folded down, the pick up bed is transformed from 5-feet 3-inches to 8-feet 1-inch. An 8-foot bed allows for the transportation of large items such as furniture, carpets, appliances, or even 4x8 sheets of plywood, without damaging the items or the vehicle. Smaller items can also be safely stowed in divided cargo boxes, which lock for safe keeping. The entire cargo bed can be covered by a lightweight and lockable three-piece cargo cover.
An important characteristic of the Midgate system is its usability. Most components are covered in damage-resistant PRO-TEC, which protects both the vehicle and the cargo. And each piece, from the cargo cover to the removable window, is made to be lightweight and easy-to-use, designed so that one person can move the tailgate, store the window and install or remove the cargo bed cover quickly and easily.
One advantage of PRO-TEC is that it allows designers to mold tie-down and divider brackets directly into the cargo box, as well as two lockable, watertight, Top-Box storage containers that are useful for stowing small cargo items, wet or dry. Even the tailgate is made of this material, and it features two molded-in cupholders for tailgate parties or worksite or campsite refreshment. PRO-TEC is also lighter than steel, which reduces the overall vehicle weight, therefore improving performance and fuel economy.
EXT comes with a standard three-piece cargo cover that can be configured in a number of different ways (to bring a tall shrub home from the garden center while keeping your groceries out of the wind, for example) or stowed altogether on board.
In contrast to the Lincoln Blackwood, EXT offers a storage system that is highly customizable. Blackwood's cargo bed is covered with a permanent tonneau cover that can only be raised to 45 degrees, not removed completely, which make toting large items like a sofa or bed impossible.
Interior-wise, the EXT betters the Blackwood in all but a few measurements. In front and rear hip room, front and rear shoulde.
The 345-horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec engine that comes on the AWD Escalade delivers good throttle response, making it easy to control speed when tooling around town. Punch it and the Vortec's 380 foot-pounds of torque provide terrific passing on two-lane roads. It's one of the quickest SUVs on the road, nearly 1.5 seconds (which is a lot) quicker than a Lincoln Navigator. Still, with 5800 pounds to motivate, it's not that quick off the line by sports car standards, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. The smaller and lighter (by 1000 pounds) BMW X5 4.4i, equipped with a 282-horsepower V8, is a full second quicker than the Escalade (though the Escalade can pull a bigger boat).
The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly, particularly around town. But it didn't seem programmed to take advantage of the humongous torque. Its features include something called passive shift stabilization, which delays upshifts, and Cadillac claims it does not induce downshifts. However, something does; ours frequently kicked down out of overdrive, in places and at speeds that other powerful new cars and trucks buzz right through, such as uphill on a 65-mph freeway at a steady cruise-controlled 70.
Like other full-size SUVs from GM, the Escalade is equipped with a Tow/Haul mode. Press a button on the end of the shift stalk and the Tow mode reduces hunting among gears by delaying upshifts and downshifts. The shifting is also harder and more abrupt. This reduces heat buildup in the transmission when towing reducing wear.
The computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system directs engine power where it's needed and compensates whenever and wherever wheel spin occurs. In dry conditions, the front wheels get 38 percent of the driving torque, and the rear wheels get 62 percent; as any wheel slips, torque is transferred away, until it can be restored to regain that 38/62 optimum split. This increases stability and performance in slippery conditions.
The computer-controlled self-leveling suspension with extra large high-tech Bilstein shock absorbers sounds impressive on paper ('through a complex software algorithm, it computes the individual optimal shock demand for each wheel'), but paper is easy, the road is rough. In simpler words, we think the Escalade feels floaty. There's a switch on the dash that allows a suspension setting for towing or off-road. In the Columbia River valley where wind reigns supreme, the Escalade did not feel as stable as it should be. And you can feel the patches on the freeway more than you might like to. On two-lanes with curves it doesn't feel as agile as a BMW X5-or even a Ford Expedition, for that matter-but at least there isn't a lot of body roll.
The Escalade feels very stable when driven hard through on-ramps and off-ramps. In back-to-back driving with a Lexus LX 470, the Escalade felt more stable in corners and in braking-and-turning maneuvers.
The brakes are four-wheel disc with ABS, 12-inch diameter front, 13-inch rear, not ventilated. That doesn't sound impressive for such as big vehicle, particularly if it's headed downhill with a trailer weighing the maximum 8500 pounds towing capacity. But they felt good in hard use on winding roads and delivered stable performance under hard braking. The brakes are an enormous improvement over the brakes that used to come on Suburbans. How did we like this truck when we climbed behind the wheel and turned the key to on? Overall, it's a winner. We drove the EXT recently in northern California on secondary roads with tight and twisty turns, as well as on freeways. There's plenty of engine power for passing at speed and to carry it gracefully up hill and extremely capable suspension dynamics that allow it to hunker around hairpins despite its size, weight, and an empty bed. (Most pickups ride and handle better with a little weight in back.) It has confidence-inspiring, well-modulated brakes, and a comfortable, well-appointed interior that's a pleasure to call your home on the road. On the side of niggling complaints: it's a tall step up to get in without a grab handle at the driver's door (all other doors have them); there's noticeable engine noise on exertion; and it's an expensive fill at the pump.
Under the hood is a 6.0-liter V8 and four-speed automatic transmission which provides segment-leading 345 horsepower and 380 pounds-feet of torque. This powerful combination provides plenty of in-town scoot and the towing power of a draft horse - thanks to GM's Heavy-Duty Trailering Package, which includes a 12,000-pound weight-distributing hitch platform.
The heart of its handling, though, is an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system supported by a viscous coupling case that provides surefooted performance aided by a computer-controlled road-sensing suspension called Stabilitrak. This system brings stability and ride comfort by controlling the wheel motion; it improves the skills of even the best drivers with its quick response to sharp corners, emergency lane changes, and panic braking. As with GM's other full-size trucks, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control are standard, unlike the Blackwood, which offers ABS only as an option.
Of note were the EXT's large greenhouse (good visibility in all directions), its quiet cabin and its suprisingly surefooted handling despite its large footprint. Additionally, we enjoyed the fact that the rear glass can be removed, allowing for an open-air experience that's unlike anything else, except the Avalanche.
The 2002 Cadillac Escalade is one of the most luxurious SUVs available. It's distinctive with flashy styling. It has lots of horsepower, but lots of weight to move. It feels more stable than other full-size SUVs. It comes with three rows of seats and is rated to carry up to eight people, but it's much more comfortable with two rows of seats and four people aboard. Built on the full-sized Chevy Avalanche truck platform, the Escalade EXT carries the industry-leading DNA of GM trucks and sport-utility vehicles matched with the technologies and luxury of the Cadillac brand. Its eclectic carrying capabilities, new demographic reach, luxury appointments and unique looks make this vehicle an entirely new branch on the family tree.
An impact player rather than a pinch hitter, this brute ute is aimed at a slightly younger crowd with an average age of 40 with higher incomes than traditional SUV buyers (average income around $110,000). Cadillac anticipates that about 80 percent of purchasers will be men. One look and you'll know why. Its styling is unabashedly burly and yet what makes this truck truly remarkable is its pioneering technology and powertrain-- delivering the brains behind the brawn.
Compared to the sleeker and traditionally stylish Lincoln Blackwood, EXT takes center stage for its passenger-carrying and goods-ferrying capabilities. Despite its blocky exterior styling and monstrous proportions, its strong suit is that it's well engineered, well equipped, and has refined road manners befitting of the country club set.
2WD ($47,290); AWD ($50,285). Escalade EXT ($49,990).
Arlington, Texas. 3 years/36,000 miles.
Options As Tested
power glass sunroof ($1550).
AWD Escalade ($50,285). Escalade EXT ($49,990).
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