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.
Cadillac Escalade 2WD ($53,850); Escalade AWD ($56,405); Escalade EXT ($53,335); Escalade ESV ($58,805);
These are big vehicles. Stretching 221.4 inches, the EXT and ESV are 2 inches longer than a Suburban, placing them among the longest vehicles on the road. Likewise, the Escalade is 2 inches longer than the Tahoe, the former measuring 198.9 inches. In terms of length, a Lincoln Navigator falls between Escalade and ESV (measuring 207.5 inches).
If their size gives them presence, their bold styling pushes the Escalades over the top. When it debuted in 2002, the Escalade was the first production vehicle to embody Cadillac's progressive new styling, with sharp, chiseled, vertical lines, and a grille inspired by the Evoq concept car. It was the first new vehicle to reflect Cadillac's art and science philosophy, aimed at blending forward-thinking technology with expressive design. Now, Cadillac has a full stable of edgy new designs, including the CTS, STS, and XLR, exciting cars that represent nothing less than a renaissance at Cadillac.
Escalade's front end is massive and looks it, with a big satin-nickel plastic grille and vertical halogen headlight clusters that measure 16 by 12 inches. High intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with chrome bezels reflect a jewel-like appearance, and are integrated with rectangular parking lamps and turn signals. The vehicle's front fascia incorporates recessed tow hooks and rectangular fog lamps.
A simplified wreath-and-crest insignia designed to symbolize the new Cadillac appears on the grille and liftgate. Chrome trim emblazons the nameplate, running boards and roof rack. Big 17-inch forged alloy wheels with seven short, wide spokes carry P265/70R17 Goodyear all-season radials. These standard wheels are attractive, but are less dynamic than the rest of the styling.
Somehow the sheer size of the Escalade ESV makes it look less intimidating than the Escalade. Perhaps that's because it's essentially a Suburban with the Escalade's bold styling and more standard luxuries (including the big 6.0-liter V8 and all-wheel drive). There's something familiar and friendly about a Suburban. But there's still no doubt that the Escalade ESV represents the ultimate in SUV excess. Pulling up in one of these makes a strong statement.
Buyers who want to make an even stronger statement can opt for 20-inch rims, with P275/55R20 tires, though we don't recommend such low-profile tires on a truck. For ultimate eye-popping power, choose the ESV Platinum Edition, which rides about an inch lower than the standard ESV. A chrome grille and chromed 20-inch wheels add to the flash, along with Platinum lettering on the liftgate.
The EXT is the most unusual of the line, with its open pickup bed. In its standard configuration, the EXT offers a roomy, luxurious, comfortable five-passenger cab and a 5-foot, 3-inch long open cargo box. When more cargo room is needed, the driver can easily extend the bed to 8 feet. To accomplish this, the rear seats and Midgate fold into the interior of the cab to create a 4-by-8-foot cargo area. Items can be protected from the elements and theft with a well-designed three-piece cargo cover and lockable tailgate, both of which come standard. The sides of the cargo box, along with the Midgate and tailgate, are constructed of Pro-Tec, an extremely strong composite material. The rear window is removable to allow for additional cargo space or for added air circulation. The window is easily stowed on board and works in conjunction with the Midgate. It's an innovative and brilliantly executed solution to the problem of needing both passenger and cargo space at different times. In the morning it's a full-size work truck, in the afternoon it's a luxury crew cab. The system can be configur
Front-row roominess and accommodations are essentially the same for the Escalade, ESV, and EXT. A big center console serves as a front armrest and opens in a couple of different ways to reveal storage areas. Two large cup holders, a CD rack and coin holder are all in there. A power outlet inside the center console is handy for plugging in and storing cell phones and other accessories.
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. Walnut burl wood trim adds warmth. Chrome trim and detailed graphics on the instruments emphasizes their stylish, retro-tech look. A transmission temperature gauge is included, reassuring when towing.
The optional navigation system ($2,145) was upgraded last year, with touch-screen technology replacing the joystick used previously. At the same time, the screen itself expanded from 5.8 to 6.5 inches.
The Platinum Edition ESV gets premium interior features and materials, including an ebony and shale dash, shale leather seating surfaces and pleated door-panel bolsters. Seats are both heated and cooled in the first and second rows; even the cup holders are heated and cooled. Walnut burl accents appear on the steering wheel, console, door pulls, window switch bezels and dashboard trim. Chrome trim highlights the steering wheel, speaker covers and gauge cluster. Satellite navigation is standard, along with a DVD entertainment system with separate 7-inch screens for the second and third rows.
On all Escalades, a message center provides status reports including total hours on the engine and miles driven during each of the previous seven days. (Good for checking up on teens, it even reports the top speed reached.) A computer in the center dash allows the driver to program such things as whether the locks operate automatically, how locking with the key fob is confirmed (horn, lights), 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 (so they can't be reached with your thumb).
The climate controls work very well. They are easy to understand and operate, yet quite sophisticated, and allow fine-tuning of everyone's temperature. Likewise, the audio system works very well and the XM Satellite Radio is easy to operate. A six-disc CD changer mounted at the bottom of the center stack is convenient and easy to operate. New Gen 6 OnStar is standard.
Second-row passengers have luxurious accommodations, regardless of model. Captain's chairs are standard on Escalade and ESV; they give second-row passengers front-row comfort. EXT comes with a 60/40 split bench, which is available at no charge on the other two models. The center of the bench seat folds 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.
Second-row passengers enjoy their own climate controls, seat heaters, audio system controls, map lights, and adjustable vents. Second-row accommodations for the three models are nearly the same, all within an inch. There's less legroom than you might expect in a vehicle this large, particularly if the front seats are moved all the way back. Big hangi
The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly, particularly around town. 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 lever, and the Tow/Haul function reduces hunting between gears by delaying upshifts and downshifts. The shifting is also harder and more abrupt. This saves wear by reducing heat buildup in the transmission.
The Escalade, ESV and EXT are all superb choices for towing. The Escalade AWD offers a towing capacity of 8100 pounds. The big ESV is rated to pull 7700 pounds, while the EXT can pull 7300 pounds.
All-wheel drive increases stability and performance in slippery conditions. The computer-controlled 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. Whenever a wheel slips, the power is transferred forward or rearward, depending on where grip is best, until traction can be restored to regain that 38/62 optimum split.
The computer-controlled self-leveling suspension, with extra-large high-tech Bilstein shock absorbers, sounds impressive on paper, but we found the Escalade a bit floaty. In the Columbia River valley where wind reigns supreme, the Escalade did not feel as stable as it should have. And you can feel the patches on the freeway more than you might like to. On two-lanes with curves, Escalade doesn't feel as agile as a BMW X5 or even a Ford Expedition. That said, the Escalade feels stable on on-ramps and off-ramps. It doesn't suffer from a lot of body roll. And it'll haul a lot of stuff.
Likewise, the Escalade ESV feels stable on the highway at high speeds, but it feels a little softer than a Suburban, and it conveys a distinct impression of being in control of considerable mass. Perhaps that's because the ESV weighs 5,800 pounds, about 600 pounds more than a Suburban 1500 with 4WD.
Brakes are four-wheel discs 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 at maximum towing capacity. But the Escalade's brakes felt good in hard use on winding roads and delivered stable performance when pressed hard.
Rear Park Assist makes parking these rigs, particularly the ESV and EXT, much easier. By watching a small row of lights at the rear of the headliner, and listening for an audio tone that varies in frequency, the driver can accurately judge how much room is left behind the rear bumper. We found the system often warned us when someone stepped behind the vehicle while backing up in a crowded parking lot.
The Cadillac Escalade is one of the most luxurious SUVs available. Escalade, ESV and EXT are big, distinctive vehicles with flashy styling. With their standard 6.0-liter V8, they boast lots of horsepower, though they also have lots of weight to move. These vehicles feel stable on the road and have a relatively soft ride. They are highly capable tow vehicles.
Escalade and ESV come with three rows of seats and are rated to carry up to eight people, but those who intend to carry this many people often are better served by the Suburban-sized ESV. When set up for four people, either Escalade or ESV can carry a mountain of cargo. EXT offers the innovative Midgate system popularized by the Chevy Avalanche, and is a clever and well-executed solution for someone who alternately needs a pickup truck and a luxury passenger vehicle.
Sam Moses reported from the Columbia Gorge, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.