2008 Cadillac Escalade Expert Review:Autoblog
The Cadillac Escalade is good looking, charismatic, and larger-than-life -- both literally and figuratively. People we encountered wanted to be in it, and one of the most common refrains heard was, "You're driving." We were happy to oblige.
If you were to compare the gaggle of new GMT900 utility vehicles to the Rat Pack, Escalade, without a doubt, would be Sinatra. It's fully aware of what it is, and it makes no apologies; this is perhaps its most endearing quality. So many vehicles nowadays bend over backwards to be non-controversial that it makes things boring after a while. The Escalade embraces its excesses, and does so in a manner that one can't help but enjoy. The idea of a truck-turned-luxobus is no longer a new concept, but it's one that's executed very well in Cadillac's latest high-profile, leather-lined blingwagon.
Unlike the other GMT900s (
So there you have the setup. Follow the jump for our detailed impressions after having one in the garage for a week.
The Escalade is nothing if not attention-grabbing. Our tester was the standard-length SUV, which strikes us as being better looking than its longer ESV sibling thanks to more "compact" proportions. Compactness, in this case, means an overall length of 16.8 feet, a width of just over 6.5 ft, and a height of 6.1 feet. In person, those measurements can be distilled down to a single word: Big. What else would you expect from a Cadillac built in Texas?
Actually, we take that back. The Escalade's proportions can be distilled into two words: big and imposing. That's the only way to describe the front end of the 'Slade. Large, jewel-like headlamps frame the (appropriately) sizeable grille, which is made of sixteen chrome-ringed cutouts. Step to the side and you see that the Escalade makes the most of its GMT900 roots. The faster windshield angle makes it look (a little) sleeker than it really is, and unlike its corporate brethren, the 'Slade appears always dressed for a night on the town. That's made plain by the chrome fender vent (which, as a styling element, works beautifully here), the glitzy foot-long nameplate, and the equally bright rub strips, door handles, side mirrors, integrated running boards, and roof rails. Continue to the rear, and you'll find that the power rear hatch is adorned with a large chrome plate and a jumbo-sized Cadillac crest.
Finally, while the Escalade comes with 18" wheels standard, our loaded tester was equipped with the excellent-looking chrome-finished 22" wagon wheels – a $2,995 option. Despite the rather substantial surcharge, we'd recommend the double-deuces because they fill the wheel wells and their enlarged size is actually proportionate to the rest of the vehicle. Plus, their highly-polished finish is in keeping with the standard brightwork and complemented our tester's Blue Chip paint very nicely. Face it, the Escalade welcomes flash like a politician relishes camera time.
Speaking of cameras, there's one discreetly mounted in the rear of the truck to help you see any children, pets or small automobiles that you might otherwise miss just peering back through the rear windows. The image is displayed on the navigation screen that came as part of our truck's $2,495 Information Package. The rearview camera works in conjunction with the package's Intellibeam system, which not only warns you of possible rear obstructions with an audible tone and indicators at the back of the cargo compartment, but also highlights said obstructions on the video screen – a handy feature, given the big truck's limited rearward visibility. (There's plenty of space below the back windows that you wouldn't ordinarily get a look at otherwise.)
The aforementioned video screen is the centerpiece of an attractive and well-laid-out dashboard that's about as big a departure from what was available in the previous generation Escalade as possible. All the other GMT900s get upgraded interiors, too, but the Escalade's is unique among them. It, like the rest of the interior, was finished in a light Cashmere color, which served to only enhance the sense of airiness already afforded by the large cabin. A twist of the key brings the 403-horsepower 6.2L V8 to life, and a satisfying burble is emitted from the single exhaust pipe as the Caddy settles into an idle.
While that happens, the dashboard comes alive, as the backlit instrument cluster illuminates and the blue-lit gauge needles make their now de rigueur test sweep. As is the case with many other current GM products, an easy-to-read driver information display resides beneath the two primary gauges. The heated, wood-trimmed steering wheel is home to controls for the audio system and cruise control, and the column-mounted shifter features a rocker switch that lets the driver manually select the gears on the standard 6-speed Hydra-matic 6L80 tranny. Why anyone would want to do so is beyond us, because we tried it and decided that it was incredibly awkward, unnatural, and best left to masochists. If you plan to use the Escalade to haul a trailer, there's a tow mode button at the end of the stalk, too.
A glance to the right reveals the center stack, which is topped by an attractive analog clock and dominated by the navigation/entertainment system and the climate controls. The former included Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround sound, a 6-disc CD/DVD changer and AM/FM/XM radio.
The supremely loaded nature of our Escalade actually worked against it when it came to the climate controls. Driver and passenger get dials to select their individual temp settings, but the rest of the buttons, including the fan control, all feel the same, and you can't adjust settings without looking down and away from the road. More than once, we turned on the seat heaters when we wanted to change the fan speed. It's the Achilles heel of an otherwise very complete system, which includes seats that are both heated and cooled. We learned that it was better to just set it and forget it, because adjustments underway were a hassle.
The center console is wide enough that there's no danger of the driver and passenger bumping elbows as they share the leather-covered, woodgrain-trimmed armrest. Excellent cupholders (seriously) keep beverages secure, and the storage bin is felt-lined, dual-leveled, and spacious. It had room for the rear seat headsets, DVD remote, Owner's manual, plus smaller items in the shallower top section.
Seating is very comfortable in rows one and two, and the backseat passengers' seats are also heated. Our tester had the optional 2-seat 3rd row, which featured floor-mounted captain's chairs. They looked more comfortable than they were, because the lack of a real footwell forced adults to sit somewhat awkwardly. We wouldn't want to be back there for a trip of any length. Kids would likely be fine, though.
If we owned the truck, we'd probably remove the third row seats and leave 'em in the garage, as they eat up the truck's usable cargo space. -- even when they're flipped forward, they're taking up room that's unlikely to be used , for the most part. Granted, doing so turns the escalade into a pure 4-seater, but we'd rather have the extra capacity for day-to-day usage. This is one area where the Lincoln Navigator has it all over the Escalade. The Navigator's IRS and power folding third row are a killer combo -- one that'll sway a certain number of consumers. In a vehicle this expensive, it's somewhat of a sin to have the live axle and ancient seats that need to be tugged out like a stump in the ground.
Despite it's formidable mass, the Escalade is easy to drive. The steering struck us as being somewhat overassisted, but we became accustomed to it very quickly. That said, a little less assist would make the driving experience a lot better. With 402 horsepower under your right foot, power delivery is smooth and effortless. Escalade accelerates briskly and without commotion, holding its own at left-lane highway speeds. Its size makes the speed at which it's moving seem slower than it really is, and in every situation we drove in, the truck felt completely stable from our perch behind the wheel. Not that you'd want to autocross the thing, but it handles curvy stretches without causing your knuckles to whiten along the way.
Of course, with all that size and power, you're ultimately going to have to pay the piper. The Escalade's 13 City/19 Hwy EPA fuel economy rating is optimistic at best. It's safe to say that in normal local driving scenarios, you're going to get mileage in the 10-12 mpg range. We saw the insta-mileage indicator drop into the single digits more than once, too. The thing is, if you can afford to hand your dealer $65 large for an SUV, chances are that you're not overly concerned about what it's going to cost you to run it.
In suburban settings, it's a snap to live with. Parking lots abound and big SUVs are anything but a rarity. We drove the Escalade into Manhattan one night to take in a concert, however, and things got interesting. On the city streets, the high driving position and 400+ horsepower are nice-to-haves. You can see over all the cabs and get the holeshot at stoplights. Parking's not so easy, though. We didn't even bother looking for a street spot in Midtown, and instead started sizing up garages. We were turned away from three because the truck exceeded their size limits. In one of them, we were forced to perform a three-point turn in a very tight space while at the same time avoiding an Aston Martin DB9 convertible parked in the "glory" spot behind us. This is how we learned that the 'Slade's turning circle is quite impressive for a large SUV, and that the rear camara/radar setup is a very good thing, indeed. We finally found a garage that welcomed us with open arms...and hit us with a $15.00 "large vehicle" surcharge on the way out. The drive home that night was a snap; and the Escalade shrugged off potholes and other road hazards such as the Cross Bronx Expressway with ease. and in relative quiet, thanks to good sound insulation in the cabin.
In summary, we have to say that we enjoyed our time with the Escalade. It's powerful, exceedingly comfortable and great to look at. Yes, it consumes gasoline at a prodigious rate (premium recommended but not required), it's no bargain at $65,685, and the third-row is less useful than you'd ever think, but it wins you over with its compelling and well-executed interpretation of what modern, opulent American motoring is. Make no mistake: this is very much a niche luxury vehicle, and in that role it succeeds resoundingly.
All photos ©2006 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Big and powerful.
The Cadillac Escalade is big in every way: in sheer size, in style, in comfort, and in power. All-new for 2007, this latest Escalade breaks from the customized-Suburban mold of its predecessors to provide a smoother, more integrated, more sculptured look. More than anything, it looks like big money, big success, big bling.
The look is no deception. Under its imposing skin, the Escalade offers all the comfort and convenience features of a top-dollar luxury sedan, including automatic climate control, a premium Bose sound system, ultrasonic parking assist, power adjustable pedals, and heated leather seats. Navigation and DVD entertainment are available, as are a rearview camera and retractable running boards.
The Escalade is offered in three body styles: The standard Escalade is a full-size sport utility sharing the same architecture and roughly the same dimensions as the Chevy Tahoe. The Escalade ESV is a long-wheelbase version, roughly the same dimensions as the Chevy Suburban. The Escalade EXT is a sport utility/pickup combination that quickly converts from a pickup with an enclosable eight-foot bed to a five-passenger luxury SUV with a short bed; it is Cadillac's version of the Chevy Avalanche.
All three pack a high-performance, 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that offers manual shift control.
Built on GM's robust full-size truck platform, the Escalade, ESV, and EXT make excellent tow vehicles. They share their platforms with the Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, and Silverado, as well as the GMC versions.
At the same time, they're roomy and luxuriously appointed, letting them haul family or friends or business associates in real comfort. The 6.2-liter V8 supplies serious power for surprisingly quick acceleration. On the road, all three Escalade versions are smooth and stable. They ride smoother than the Tahoe or Suburban; but are at the same time taut and well-controlled for surprisingly good handling by full-size SUV standards.
For 2008, both the standard Escalade and ESV come with rear-wheel drive (2WD) or optional all-wheel drive (AWD), while the EXT pickup comes with all-wheel drive as standard equipment. Late in the 2008 model year, a gas-electric hybrid version and an ultra-luxury Platinum Edition will be available. Otherwise, the 2008 Escalade is not significantly changed from last year.
The Cadillac Escalade is a full-size sport utility vehicle. All models are powered by a high-output 6.2-liter V8 engine. Also standard are a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control, 18-inch alloy wheels, and Autoride suspension.
The Escalade is available with rear-wheel drive ($54,740) or all-wheel drive ($57,295). Standard features include leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel with genuine wood highlights, aluminum and faux wood interior trim, Bose 5.1 Digital Surround Sound audio with AM/FM/XM/6CD, power adjustable pedals, power windows, power locks, fog lamps, remote vehicle starting, rear climate control, six-passenger seating configuration, third-row bench seat, heated first and second row seats, Ultrasonic rear park assist and heated windshield washer fluid.
The Escalade ESV is available in 2WD and AWD ($59,710). The ESV features an additional 14 inches of wheelbase and 20 more inches of overall length, greatly enhancing third-row seat legroom and cargo space. It comes with all the same standard luxuries as the shorter Escalade.
The Escalade EXT ($54,215) deletes the third-row seat in favor of a lined, lockable and enclosable pickup bed with manually folding Midgate and removable rear window. Otherwise, the EXT is equipped the same as the standard-length Escalade.
Options on all Escalade models include retractable assist steps ($1,095); a power tilt-and-slide sunroof ($995); rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,295); engine block heater ($75); chromed 18-inch wheels ($795); and an Ultra Luxury Collection ($7,735) that combines navigation, a rearview camera, IntelliBeam headlamps, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, and 22-inch wheels. On the ESV, the DVD entertainment system ($1,895) includes an additional flip-down screen for third-row passengers, plus an additional set of headphones. On the EXT, the Ultra Luxury Collection costs a little less ($7,310).
Safety features on all Escalade models include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes with EBD and Brake Assist; and an electronic stability control system called StabiliTrak with rollover sensing. Passive safety features include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags and side curtain air bags that span all three rows of seats. Tire pressure monitors are also standard.
The front end of every Escalade is dominated by a bold, egg-crate grille that's dripping with chrome trim. The grille is flanked by three-element, vertical headlamps that tie the vehicle more closely than ever to the rest of Cadillac's lineup. Both of those elements are set into a one-piece fascia that integrates the grille and bumper, conveying a sense of integrity and quality.
Similarly, the side-view styling is smoothly contoured, with no clunky side cladding as found on other luxury SUVs. As with the front end, there is abundant chrome, including on the door handles, the huge exterior mirrors, the full-length metal roof rails (which provide anchor points for accessory crossbars for securing cargo on the roof) and Venti-ports above the front wheels, which seem to be a response to the trendy elements found on Range Rovers and Jaguars.
Another clear response to market trends are the optional 22-inch chrome wheels, which visually plant the vehicle, completely filling the Escalade's huge wheelwells and making the standard 18-inch wheels look positively puny by comparison (though we prefer the 18-inch wheels).
Particularly appreciable in colder climates are the pull-type door handles that are easy to grasp, even with gloves on. They're also more comfortable, less likely to snap away from your fingers and less likely to break a fingernail.
The rear view features the nicest modern interpretation of Cadillac's classic skinny taillights, which recall the dramatic tailfins of Cadillacs of the 1960s and '70s, but are now rendered in crisp LED strips. A high-mounted, horizontal brake light with LED illumination crosses the top. But the dominant feature of the Escalade's tail is the enormous badge set within a chunky block of chrome trim.
A surprisingly low bumper height both reduces the truck look while providing easier access to the cargo area; from the ground to the cargo floor is a respectable 32.3 inches. The Class III tow hitch that comes standard is covered by a trim panel that is removable when not need, and which easily can be refitted once a trailer is detached.
The Escalade's interior was designed to provide luxury both in terms of space as well as features. Escalade comes standard with seven-passenger seating, with second-row bucket seats separated by a center console, with a three-passenger, third-row bench behind it. The third-row bench on the standard Escalade has marginal legroom, making it suitable for adults for short trips only; kids should be fine for longer trips.
The EXT pickup is available only with a three-across bench seat in the second row, so it seats up to five people.
Escalade ESV adds nearly 10 inches of additional legroom for the third row, making it a pleasant place even for six-footers. Also, getting into the third row is easier with ESV, its longer rear door providing a larger opening when the second-row seat is folded.
Though step-in is somewhat high, which is to be expected for a full-size SUV, the driving position is stellar. Escalade's streamlined, low dashboard is much more like a car-like than expected, providing easy access to controls without resorting to an imposing bank of buttons and switches. The result is a feeling of openness, with excellent outward vision to the front and side.
Interior trim is very high in quality. The mix of soft, padded materials, genuine aluminum accents, chrome details and relatively convincing faux wood combine with soft leather seats for an ambience on par with other luxury-brand SUVs in this price range. Two color schemes are offered: ebony-over-ebony, or cocoa-over-cashmere.
The Escalade's backlit gauges are clear and bright, featuring white markings and blue pointers on a black background. Between the speedometer and tachometer lies an information display that cycles through several menus via buttons on the steering wheel. The stalk controls for the turn signals and wipers have the supple, expensive feel worthy of the Cadillac name, as do the buttons and knobs on the radio and climate controls.
Escalade comes standard with a 10-speaker (eight-speaker on EXT) stereo that features a six-disc changer that plays both CDs and audio DVDs. Bose designed the speaker system, outfitting the vehicle with 5.1 surround sound, an eight-channel amplifier and a subwoofer. XM radio comes standard.
On vehicles without the navigation system, the head unit presents audio information clearly. On vehicles with the navigation system, the radio features are incorporated into the touch screen-based interface. The latter takes a bit of familiarization to operate smoothly, but offers more functionality and fine-tuning capability once you're comfortable with it all. OnStar route guidance is also included, for those times when getting directions from a live person is preferred. The navigation system is about mid-pack in terms of clarity and simplicity within its competitive set.
A rear-seat entertainment system is available, utilizing a flip-down eight-inch screen that folds down from overhead. The DVD driver itself is mounted in front, but does not play the movie in the front seats. Rear seat passengers can listen to the audio portion of their DVDs via all 10 speakers in the vehicle, the rear speakers only, or infrared wireless headsets. Order DVD entertainment in the ESV and you get a second eight-inch screen for the third seat, as well as an additional set of headphones.
The front bucket seats are quite nice: comfortable and supportive with power adjustment in many directions. Narrow-framed drivers may find the seats a touch wide, but all drivers should find plenty of elbow and shoulder room.
Leather upholstery is standard on all models, which also covers the four-spoke steering wheel with redundant controls for the audio system and cruise control. The Escalade's huge cabin benefits from triple-zone automatic climate controls: one zone for each front passenger and another tending to the rear-seating area.
In back, full-size adults can enjoy plenty of space in the second-row buckets. The EXT w.
On the road, the nimbleness of the Cadillac Escalade is a pleasant surprise. The steering is light and reasonably precise, a nice compromise between the weight of the BMW X5 or Audi Q7 and the vagueness of the Lincoln Navigator. In spite of having a live-axle rear suspension (as opposed to an independent rear suspension, as found on some of the newest SUVs), the Escalade manages bumps beautifully, thanks to the road-sensing Autoride system.
The interior is remarkably quiet, enhancing the ability to hold hushed conversation as well as hear the surround-sound system without extraneous noise. Even more remarkable is the plush ride. The Escalade models we've driven were shod with the optional 22-inch wheels and low-profile tires, and we'd expected them to transfer more road vibration and harshness than they did. We haven't driven any of these vehicles with the 18-inch wheels, but expect them to offer even softer ride characteristics. Frankly, we'd order the 18-inch wheels because we think they are superior for towing and are sturdier for rugged terrain.
Handling crispness and body control are impressive, considering the Escalade's formidable mass.
All Escalades are powered by a huge 6.2-liter V8 that produces a whopping 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is astonishing for such a tall, heavy vehicle. A pleasing growl is emitted when accelerating briskly; otherwise, the engine is virtually silent.
Towing is aided by this prodigious power. The various Escalade models are rated to tow trailers of 7600 to 7800 pounds; that's lower than the ratings for the Lincoln Navigator and Infiniti QX56, but GM is known to be conservative with its tow ratings, which are influenced by lawyers and marketing professionals as well as engineers.
Hitching up a trailer is made easier by the Escalade's optional rearview camera, which mounts in the liftgate to provide a view behind the vehicle when backing up. What the camera sees is projected onto the navigation screen. We highly recommend this feature because it eliminates jumping out of the truck 17 times to get the ball lined up under the trailer tongue. It's also a very useful feature when parallel parking or when backing up close to another object. It can also help the driver spot a child behind the vehicle when backing up, potentially avoiding a tragedy.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts imperceptibly except during full-throttle acceleration. A Tow/Haul mode holds gears longer, or the driver can select gears manually via a button on the column-mounted shift lever. The multi-information display in the instrument cluster clearly displays the selected gear.
All-wheel drive is available. It's a full-time system oriented around sure-footed traction on slippery pavement, rather than creeping through boulder fields. There is no low-range, for example. It works particularly well in slushy conditions with inconsistent grip, improving handling stability and traction and helping the driver better control the vehicle. We demand it for winter weather, but it's a great aid in hard rain or on oily pavement or wet leaves or on gravel or dirt roads or in mud.
The brakes are powerful and quite responsive, more than up to the task of bringing the big truck to a halt with little drama and surprisingly little brake dive. The pedal feel was good, if not as pleasingly firm as its German competitors. ABS and electronic brake force distribution come standard for stable braking while turning or when the grip is inconsistent.
StabiliTrak electronic stability control system manages wheel slip by applying the brakes at the slipping wheel without interrupting power deliver to the wheels with grip. StabiliTrak also helps maintain stability in corners by braking individual wheels when the vehicle's path doesn't match the driver's intentions. It's a superb system.
Fuel economy is EPA-estimated at 12 miles per gallo.
The Cadillac Escalade is an impressive vehicle in more ways than looks. It drives like a smaller vehicle while accommodating adults in unbridled luxury. It offers the segment's most powerful V8, which will make it a great vehicle for drivers who tow or simply like the feeling of strong acceleration. As long as one has enough space in their driveway or garage for this big truck, and can afford its thirst for gasoline, we expect the new Escalade will make many drivers very comfortable and happy for the long haul.
Steve Siler filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com, with nctd.com staff reports.
Cadillac Escalade 2WD ($54,740); Escalade AWD ($57,295); Escalade ESV 2WD; Escalade ESV AWD ($59,710); Escalade EXT ($54,215).
Arlington, Texas (Escalade); Silao, Mexico (ESV, EXT).
Options As Tested
Ultra Luxury Collection ($7,735) includes navigation, rearview camera, IntelliBeam headlamps, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, 22-inch road wheels: DVD entertainment system ($1,295); engine block heater ($75); power sunroof ($995).
Cadillac Escalade AWD ($57,295).
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