2006 Escalade EXT New Car Test Drive
Escalade is a big SUV, big in the way Cadillacs were once known for being big, when the Division built big cars with big performance and big flash. Big now means trucks (which don't have to meet the same strict fuel-economy standards as cars), flash has become bling, but the old Cadillac is back, with more power, more torque, and more dazzle-per-square inch than ever before. In its maximum-length incarnation, Escalade matches exactly the wheelbase of Caddy's famous '59 finned fantasy; while exceeding its weight by more than 1000 pounds.
The Escalade nameplate includes three dramatically different though distinctly similar models: The standard Escalade is a full-size sport utility, the same size as the Chevy Tahoe. The Escalade ESV is a Suburban-sized model. The Escalade EXT is Cadillac's interpretation of the Chevy Avalanche, a brilliantly executed sport utility truck that quickly converts from a pickup with an eight-foot bed to a five-passenger luxury vehicle. All three feature a high-performance 6.0-liter V8 and all-wheel drive.
Built on GM's superb full-size truck platform, the 2006 Escalade, ESV, and EXT are fine trucks and make excellent tow vehicles. At the same time, they're roomy, luxuriously appointed vehicles that can haul family or friends or business associates in comfort. The 6.0-liter V8 supplies serious power for quick acceleration when needed along with strong torque for towing. On the road, all three Escalades are smooth and stable, nicer in ride than a Tahoe or Suburban but taut and well-controlled by full-size SUV standards for surprisingly good handling.
Cadillac made Escalade more appealing starting with the 2005 models, with richer interior appointments, a redesigned satellite-navigation option; and dual electric cooling fans and an upgraded (160-amp) alternator for better air-conditioner performance. During the model year the 6.0-liter V8 became the standard engine for all Escalades. With an all-new Escalade due for model year 2007, no additional changes have been made for 2006.
The standard Escalade is available in three distinct configurations, and though they differ in appearance and packaging, they share interiors and are mechanically the same.
The plenty-full-sized Escalade is offered with two-wheel drive ($53,850) or all-wheel drive ($56,405). All-wheel-drive is standard on the extended-wheelbase Escalade ESV ($58,805); and on the clever Escalade EXT ($53,335) which, like the Chevrolet Avalanche, converts from a four-door, five-seater pickup with a short bed to a two-seater with a long bed. A high-output 6.0-liter V8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission are now standard on all models.
Cadillac is usually the first division to get GM's cutting-edge technology, and all the Escalade models come loaded with the latest: StabiliTrak electronic stability control, computer-controlled road-sensing suspension (RSS), and Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist (with lights and a warning beeper).
The list of standard luxuries is as long as the Escalade itself: Nuance leather seats with burl walnut interior trim; power heated 14-way adjustable front seats; Bose Acoustimass audio system with six-disc CD changer; XM Satellite Radio; rear seat audio controls with earphones; removable lightweight third-row seats; Heavy Duty Trailering Package.
Also standard is the OnStar communications system with Personal Calling, which allows drivers to make hands-free, voice-activated personal calls; and Virtual Advisor, which provides headlines, sports scores, weather, and personalized stock quotes (All 2006 Cadillac buyers receive a 12-month complimentary subscription to Virtual Advisor.) OnStar's latest (Gen 6) technology enhances hands-free capabilities.
The list of options is short and includes a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,295), touch-screen navigation integrated into the audio system ($2,145), a power glass sunroof ($1,550), and chromed wheels in 17-inch ($795) and 20-inch ($2,995) sizes. The Select Edition package ($3,490) combines the sunroof and navigation with 17-inch chrome wheels. EXT buyers may choose a powered soft tonneau cover ($1,000).
And as this is the last year for this generation of Escalade, Cadillac is offering a Collector's Edition, which became available during the '05 model year for standard-length Escalades with 4WD. It combines a unique grille, ebony interior trim, and 20-inch chrome wheels; the price depends on whether you also order the Select Edition ($2,300) or not ($3.095).
ESV buyers may choose the Platinum Edition ($11,370), which includes (among other things) an ebony and shale dash; shale leather seating surfaces and pleated door-panel bolsters; a floor console with heated and cooled cupholders; independent heated and cooled seat cushions and seatbacks; color-keyed wood-and-leather-wrapped steering wheel with chrome accents; 20-inch, nine-spoke chromed aluminum wheels; and floor mats all around embroidered with the Cadillac wreath.