The 2007 Cadillac Escalade is offered in three distinct models; 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 the Suburban-sized model, sharing the latter's architecture. Finally, 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 vehicle, basically, Cadillac's interpretation of the Chevy Avalanche. All three feature a high-performance, 403-hp 6.2-liter V8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that includes manual shift control (a rarity in this class). The standard Escalade comes with rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive while the ESV and EXT come only with all-wheel drive.
Built on GM's robust new full-size truck platform, the Escalade, ESV and EXT make excellent tow vehicles. 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, along with strong torque for towing. On the road, all three Escalades are smooth and stable, nicer in ride than base Tahoe or Suburban models but taut and well-controlled (by full-size SUV standards) for surprisingly good handling.
Cadillac Escalade 2WD ($53,850); Escalade AWD ($56,405); Escalade ESV ($57,935) and Escalade EXT ($52,815)
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 ventiports above the front wheels that seem to be a clear response to the trendy elements found on Range Rover models and some 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.
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 '60s 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 trucky look while providing easier access to the cargo area; from the ground to the cargo floor is a respectable 32.3 inches. The standard Class III tow hitch is covered by a trim panel that is removable when not need, and which easily can be refitted once a trailer is detached.
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. The EXT pickup is only available with a three-across bench seat in the second row.
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 trim, chrome details and relatively convincing faux wood trim combine with soft leather seats for an ambience on par with other luxury-brand SUVs in this price range. Two color schemes are offered: all black or cocoa-over-cashmere.
The Escalade's white-on-black, backlit gauges are clear and bright, featuring 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, which itself is about mid-pack in terms of clarity and simplicity within its competitive set, 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.
A rear-seat entertainment system is available, utilizing a flip-down 8-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, only the rear speakers, or infrared wireless headsets.
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. We weren't able to test any models with the second-row bench, but have experienced adequate room for three adults in the bench seats on Escalade's sister vehicles, the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Escalade and ESV come with
The interior is also 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. Handling crispness and body control are also impressive, considering the Escalade's formidable mass.
All Escalades are powered by a monster of an engine: 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.
Certainly, there is plenty of power to pull a trailer with ease. The Escalade is rated to tow a 7500-pound trailer, a rating that is curiously lower than that of the Infiniti QX56 and Lincoln Navigator in spite of Escalade's significantly more powerful engine. Then again, tow ratings are not an exact science. Installing a trailer is made easier by the Escalade's rearview camera, which incorporates a camera in the liftgate to provide a view behind the vehicle when backing up projected onto the navigation screen. It's a very useful feature when parallel parking or whenever backing up close to another object.
All Escalades come with a six-speed automatic transmission that 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 shift lever. The multi-information display in the instrument cluster clearly displays the selected gear.
The Escalade comes with either rear-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive; EXT and ESV come only with AWD. The all-wheel drive system is on-road biased, with no low range for creeping through boulder fields.
As indicated, the Escalade's four-wheel disc brakes come standard with ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). The powerful brakes proved to be quite responsive and 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.
The 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.
Fuel economy for the Escalade is estimated at 13 miles per gallon city and 19 highway, which isn't exactly miserly but not as bad as it could be, considering the power and weight of the vehicle. And it's right in line with competitors such as the Infiniti QX56 (13/18 mpg) and the Mercedes-Benz ML500 (15/19 mpg).
The all-new 2007 Cadillac Escalade is an impressive vehicle in more ways than looks. It drives like a much smaller vehicle while accommodating corn-fed 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.
New Car Test Drive contributor Steve Siler filed this report from San Diego, California.