It's no secret big SUVs are taking a hit lately, but it might surprise you that behemoths like the Cadillac Escalade ESV (based off the Chevy Suburban) are the exception to the rule. The luxury segment, although certainly not bulletproof, is not getting hammered the same way other full-size SUVs are. Sure, that's good news for Cadillac, but not such good news if you're looking to get a great deal on one of the biggest, most luxurious vehicles around. In fact, according to some of the most recent sales numbers, the largest of Cadillac's vehicles (and most expensive) could end up this year selling more than last year. Clearly, very few, if any, vehicles will be able to say that by year's end, but this may be more than an aberration.

Two years ago, the Escalades were GM's first SUVs to get the new all-aluminum, high-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 (belting out a whopping 403 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque) and the new six-speed automatic transmissions. As we understand it, this same setup starting to make it's way into other Chevy and GMC large SUVs, and even into the pickup trucks, and that'll be just fine with us. In fact, we'd say it's overdue. Eventually, this six-speed trans will go into everything offered with the GM 5.3-liter, 6.0-liter, and 6.2-liter V-8, improving highway fuel economy numbers, in some cases (mostly dependent on ring and pinion application), as much as 15-percent, replacing the ubiquitous 4L60-E wherever it goes.

Recently, we had a chance to drive a new Platinum one an extended 800 mile jaunt, 400 of which done empty on the way up to move a graduating college student from her apartment, with another 400 at (or certainly near) maximum payload capacity. In order to make enough room inside this land barge for all the gear, and not have our rear visibility blocked, we also added a roof-rack-mounted Yakima storage bin to give us about 30 extra cubic feet of storage area. All totaled, we added almost 1000 pounds of bookshelves, text books, kitchen appliances, athletic gear, and bags (and bags) of clothing (which apparently meant she didn't need to be wasting any of her quarters doing laundry for the last two weeks -- "I'm coming home anyway," she said), and tons of other knick-knacks I can only describe as "miscellaneous." With the load settled, strapped down, and wedged, we ran the exact same route south that we had taken north the day before, just heavier, plus one exhausted grad.

Empty, we averaged 17.4 mpg run (admittedly, most of which was at highway cruising speed -- cruise control set at 75 mph), while we calculated a respectable16.0 mpg on the return trip. In the name of full disclosure, we did set a slower 70 mph pace on the way back (cruise control), which helped our average when heading through the steep and tall Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles.