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.

Certification
At our test venue in Camarillo, California, on a rather dirty stretch of blacktop that wasn't the friendliest to our featured vehicle, the Escalade did exceptionally well, except in braking, still a weak spot for GM products. The Cadillac needed 135 feet to stop from 60 mph and required 405 feet to stop from 100 mph. By comparison, the new Range Rover stops in 115 and 337 feet, respectively. However, we won't harp on the brake feel too much--it's far superior to the old Escalade's mashed-potato experience.

From a standstill, the Escalade ran to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and through the quarter mile in 15.1 at 92.5 mph. For a full-size SUV that weighs just south of 5800 pounds, those are impressive numbers. On the skidpad, the Caddy registered a respectable 0.75g worth of lateral grip and a speed of 58.9 mph through the slalom, which nearly matches the pace put forth by the more sport-sedan-like Mercedes-Benz R500.

Subjected to real-world driving environments, the Cadillac demonstrates plusher, more luxurious ride, reacting quickly to changing road surfaces. The adaptive suspension delivers a normal ride that sits on the firm side of the spectrum, but it still comes across as compliant, notable considering the enormous 22-inch wheels with tires that have little sidewall. While the Escalade's new rack-and-pinion steering completely outshines the overall feel of the previous recirculating-ball setup, it does seem a bit numb on-center with too much power-assist through the turns.

The Conqueror
Walk around the Escalade, and your eyes will reflect the twinkle of chrome at just about every step. Cadillac wanted to maximize the exterior gleam factor, and chrome was the obvious answer. Thus, the shiny stuff adorns the grille, doors, sideview mirrors, wheels, window frames, roof rack, tailgate, side vents--almost everything. But somehow, it works. It borders on being overdone, yet doesn't overstep the boundary of excess.

More important from a substance standpoint, we like this reborn Escalade as it's quicker, roomier, better equipped, and less expensive than the previous model. That makes it a good value as well. Not a bad combination, even if you don't have to worry about how much it costs.

2007 Cadillac Escalade
General
Location of final assembly Arlington, Texas
EPA size class Full-size 4-door SUV
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Airbags Front, 3-row head
Powertrain
Engine type 90° V-8, all aluminum
Bore x stroke, in 4.06 x 3.62
Displacement, ci/L 378.3/6.2
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Valve gear OHV 2 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 403 @ 5700
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 417 @ 4400
Transmission type 6L80 6-speed automatic
1st 4.03:1
2nd 2.36:1
3rd 1.52:1
4th 1.15:1
5th 0.85:1
6th 0.67:1
Reverse 3.06:1
Axle ratio 3.42:1
Final-drive ratio 2.29:1
Rpm @ 60 mph 1500
Transfer case model BW 44-85
Low-range ratio N/A
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 116.0
Length, in 202.5
Width, in 79.0
Height, in 74.4
Track, f/r, in 68.2/67.0
Headroom, f/m/r, in 40.3/38.5/38.2
Legroom, f/m/r, in 41.3/39.0/25.4
Shoulder room, f/m/r, in 65.3/65.3/61.7
Hiproom, f/m/r, in 64.4/60.6/49.1
Cargo volume behind f/m/r, cu ft 108.9/60.3/16.9
Ground clearance, in 9.0
Approach/departure angle, deg 17.0/21.9
Load lift height, in 31.6
Base curb weight, lb 5768
Payload capacity, lb 1332
GVWR, lb 7100
GCWR, lb 14,500
Towing capacity, lb 7400
Fuel capacity, gal 26.0
Chassis
Construction Hydroformed ladder frame
Suspension, f/r IFS, control arms, coil springs, real-time damping/live axle, five-link, coil springs
Steering type Rack and pinion, power assist
Ratio 17.8:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.1
Turning circle, ft 39.0
Brakes, f/r 13.0-in vented twin-piston disc/ 13.5-in single-piston disc, 4WABS
Wheels 22x9.0-in cast aluminum
Tires 285/45R22 Bridgestone Dueler H/L
Load/speed rating 110H
Performance
Acceleration, sec
0-30 2.3
0-40 3.5
0-50 5.0
0-60 6.9
0-70 8.9
0-80 11.5
0-90 14.4
0-100 18.6
Passing, 45-65 mph, sec 3.5
Standing quarter mile, sec @ mph 15.1 @ 92.5
Braking, 60-0, ft 135
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy, mpg 13/19
Price
Base price $57,280
Price as tested $66,110
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