At the Pebble Beach golf course in picturesque Monterey, California, Cadillac launched its new-for-'02 Escalade luxury sport/utility, and pulled the wraps off its highly anticipated, production-spec '03 "luxury roadster," based on the Evoc concept car ("News" Nov. 2000). This "art and science" presentation gave us the opportunity to drive a preproduction version of the all-wheel-drive Escalade, and to get a glimpse of where the manufacturer intends to go in the very near future. We can't divulge much about Cadillac's upcoming model lineup, but we can tell you big things are on the way for GM's premium brand-and what it's like to drive its new, full-size SUV.

The Escalade's capable foundation is the new GMT800 platform shared with the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Yukon Denali. Built in Arlington, Texas, the Escalade's chassis structure features an all-welded, fully boxed, ladder-type channel-frame design with hydroformed front and rear sections. Thanks to this structurally stiff platform, the new Escalade is rock solid, yet whisper quiet and supple to drive.

In terms of "art," we've criticized the previous Escalade for looking way too much like a badge-engineered GMC Yukon Denali-which is exactly what it was. It even used the same wheels as its luxo GMC twin. This time around, the designers created acceptable model differentiation by giving the Escalade unique-and decidedly Caddy-esque-sheetmetal. Its face is a little too "in your face" for us, but it gets noticed, for sure. And the 17-in. seven-spoke alloys are also all its own.

Cadillac was pleased to announce that its version of the 6.0L Vortec motor-also a brand exclusive-allows the Escalade to claim the title of "World's Most Powerful SUV." At a whopping 345 hp, it outdoes the former holder of that title, the Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG-though by a mere 3 hp. Unfortunately, despite this boast, Cad's 5800-lb luxo-cruiser will fail to beat the all-sport ML55 in a sprint to 60 mph (8.4 sec versus 6.3). Perhaps more important, the '02 Escalade does soundly outrun its 5.7L 2000-model predecessor by two full seconds. Note that there'll be no '01 model Escalade, as the '02 will be available in January 2001. A 5.3L/285-hp two-wheel-drive version will be available sometime later in the year.