These days, the word "bling" gets thrown around about as often as peanuts at a baseball game. From Hollywood and hip-hop to VH1 and the NBA, it's seemingly everywhere, at least with regard to pop culture. In America, it applies to far more than just jewelry and clothes. Champagne, homes, electronics, and, last but certainly not least, luxury automobiles--anything that represents wealth, really.

When it comes to rides, particularly SUVs, few are as bling-bling popular as the Cadillac Escalade. Watch an episode of MTV "Cribs," and it's near impossible not to see at least one celebrity showing off his Escalade, generally on a tiled driveway, on the way to the pool.

The Brawler
The 2007 Cadillac Escalade looks fresh, yet is still instantly recognizable as an Escalade--the Frisbee-size emblems, the huge chrome grille, and, of course, the foot-long "Escalade" badges are all intact. Exterior styling is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but the subtle alterations and finer detailing bring about a more handsome facade in addition to aerodynamic benefits. The wraparound fascias, body-attached bumpers, rounded sheetmetal, 25-percent-narrower panel-to-panel gaps, faster windshield angle--they all contribute to a segment-best 0.36 coefficient of drag as well as a more refined appearance that makes the Escalade seem smaller than its predecessor. Indeed, looks can be deceiving: The new version, which rides on an identical 116.0-inch wheelbase, is 3.6 inches longer and 0.1-inch wider and taller.

Under the Escalade's sumptuous skin resides a 49-percent-stiffer fully boxed ladder frame, to which Cadillac has bolted a new control-arm coil-over-shock front suspension--so long, torsion bars--and a reworked live-axle rear with load-leveling dampers, which also are utilized up front. The old recirculating-ball steering is replaced by a power rack-and-pinion setup, and the disc brakes are larger front and rear. Standard 18-inch alloys supplant the old 17s, while the optional 22s--like the ones on our $66,110 tester--outsize the previous dubs (20s). Regardless of tire size, chirping rubber isn't a problem, thanks to an all-aluminum 6.2-liter V-8 that generates 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic, the new 16-valve engine is the first to employ variable valve timing on a mass-produced overhead-valve V-8, according to Cadillac. All of this newfound powertrain technology nets an insignificantly higher combined fuel-economy number--16 mpg versus 15--but Cadillac isn't apologizing; instead, it's promising GM's displacement on demand and dual-mode hybrid fuel-saving technologies within the next couple of years.

Inside, the differences between the old and new Escalade are striking. Whereas the 2006 Escalade interior looks like a gussied-up version of the slab-sided, low-rent cabin of the previous Chevy Tahoe, the 2007 cockpit is downright opulent. Soft leather, real wood on the steering wheel (all other wood trim comes from the environmentally friendly faux tree, although that seems a cheap omission for a truck that costs $66 grand), and brushed-aluminum trim all merge beautifully, highlighting the 1mm interior gaps, blue-lighted gauges, and eight-inch nav screen. For those who appreciate audio, a Bose digital surround-sound system comes stock, and for those who appreciate comfort and convenience, power-release second-row seats and a heated steering wheel and heated and cooled front seats are standard. The only apparent interior oversights are the manually adjustable steering column and the lack of auto-up windows.