Cadillac Escalade Celebrates its 20th Anniversary
Remembering the 1998 Pebble Beach Debut for the First-Ever Caddy SUV
The Cadillac Escalade turns 20 years old this year, as the first-ever sport-utility vehicle from Caddy was revealed at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August 1998.
Twenty years ago, the world was a much different place. Dotcom businesses were expanding, the real estate market was strong, and consumer confidence was near all-time highs. In these times of cheap gasoline and thick wallets, luxury SUVs started to proliferate the automotive landscape.
One of the first of these was the 1998 Lincoln Navigator. Based on the Ford Expedition, the Navigator was an overnight sales success, offering rugged body-on-frame capability but with a leather-lined, comfortable interior. The success of the Navigator prompted Cadillac to develop its own fullsize luxury SUV, and the first Escalade shared its exterior styling with the contemporary GMC Yukon Denali, swapping out GMC badges for Cadillac crests and using a then-signature egg-crate grille. However, in spite of the similarities to the more plebian Denali and its Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe siblings—not to mention a 5.7L V-8 with 255 hp (compared to the Navigator’s 300hp 5.4L V-8)—the 1999 Escalade sold very well.
The new-for-2002 Escalade righted its predecessor’s styling sins. Although it still used the same doors, roof, and basic structure as the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe, the new Escalade looked more distinctive thanks to a sharp-edged front clip, unique taillamps, and lower body cladding. Furthermore, the Escalade was the only of GM’s fullsize SUVs to use the high-output 6.0L Vortec V-8—at 345 hp, it was actually the most powerful SUV in the world when it launched. Interior styling was still pretty similar to the Tahoe and Yukon, though Cadillac used its own color schemes and had a very pretty dash-mounted clock.
The long-wheelbase Escalade ESV was introduced for 2003, giving luxury SUV buyers a more spacious option than anything available on the market. While the regular Escalade shared bones with the Chevy Tahoe, the ESV was more closely related to the Suburban. There was also an oddball Escalade EXT, which functioned as a luxury equivalent to the Chevy Avalanche. Mercifully, the EXT used the more graceful body cladding of the ESV, rather than the Avalanche’s thick black plastic.
The ’Slade was once again redesigned alongside its Tahoe/Suburban/Avalanche and Yukon siblings in advance of the 2007 model year, again offered in standard, ESV, and EXT forms. While base models of the previous generation were available with a lower-powered 5.3L V-8, almost all Escalades in this new generation were available only with a 6.2L V-8. The only exception was the 2009-2013 Escalade Hybrid. This SUV used a 6.0L V-8 and two 60kW electric motors, producing a total of 379 hp and at least 367 lb-ft. Those numbers pale in comparison to the 6.2 (403 hp and 417 lb-ft), but the Hybrid achieved a max of 20 city/23 highway mpg by the end of its model cycle, improvements of 7 and 5 mpg, respectively, over the gas-only Escalade. While the rest of the Escalade lineup was built through the 2014 model year, both the Hybrid and the half-truck EXT were discontinued after 2013.
The current-generation Escalade went on sale for the 2015 model year, and it’s arguably the best one yet. Built on the stiffer K2XX platform shared (again) with the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon, the new Escalade looks more distinguished from its less expensive brothers than ever before. Stacked LED headlamps, tailfin-invoking vertical taillights, and satin-chrome exterior finishes look fantastic on the SUV’s big bones. Even with 420 hp and 460 lb-ft from its 6.2L V-8, the current Escalade is still more efficient than the model it replaces: up to 14 city/23 highway/17 combined mpg.
There’s no denying the effect the Escalade has had on pop culture and the automotive landscape since its debut 20 years ago. It has become the darling of affluent suburban families, particularly those who tow boats (or want to look flashier than their Range Rover–driving neighbors). It’s also popular with hip-hop musicians and Hollywood celebrities. In many ways, it has carried the Cadillac brand through dark times, because even amid stagnant luxury sedan sales and high gas prices, the Escalade has always attracted a loyal following.
Looking to the future, the next-generation Cadillac Escalade should arrive next year as a 2019 model. Rumors abound what form it will take, but the odds are excellent it’ll retain its fullsize, body-on-frame construction. Furthermore, it’s possible it will get a version of Caddy’s new twin-turbo V-8, producing in excess of 500 hp and turning it into a luxurious, understated terror on the dragstrip. We also expect a hybrid model to return, adding plug-in capability for limited all-electric driving. No matter what, though, we won’t be surprised to see it retain its king-of-the-world stance and glowering contempt for lesser vehicles.
Source: Cadillac, GM Authority