"Stop living in the past," say countless advice purveyors across a broad spectrum of media. It's good advice if you're trying to get over an ex-girlfriend, but you pretty much have to live in the past to drop almost $90,000 on a body-on-frame luxury SUV like the 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum. That's $88,295 to be precise, making this the second-most-expensive Caddy available. (First place by a slight margin goes to the Escalade Hybrid.)
The original GMT400 Escalade was a hastily created rebadge of the GMC Yukon, designed as an answer to the then-popular Lincoln Navigator. But it was the next-generation model, based on the GMT800 platform, that became the bling king, while the Lincoln was largely forgotten. Much hype surrounded the launch of the GMT900 platform that underpins the third-generation Escalade, and early on it proved its mettle by besting the Range Rover in a head-to-head shootout. (link: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/luxury/112_0605_fullsize_suv_comparison/index.html). That was 2006. Some five years on, the Escalade's shortcomings are beginning to manifest themselves. More on that later...
The Escalade ESV is the stretched version of the Escalade and uses much of the same hardware as the Chevrolet Suburban. Its 130-inch wheelbase is 14 inches longer than that of the regular Escalade, and its overall length of 222.9 inches is 20.4 inches longer. The extra length is attached entirely behind the C-pillar, which has an unfortunate Sir Mix-A-Lot-approved result on the SUV's proportions. The positive benefits are found on the inside. First, third-row legroom goes up to an adequate 34.9 inches from a brutal 25.4 inches. Second, full-occupancy cargo space goes up from a paltry 16.9 cubic feet to an ample 45.8 cubic feet, with maximum cargo volume jumping to a cavernous 137.4 cubic feet.
Like its shorter brother, the ESV is powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 good for 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that can send power to two or four wheels. All-wheel drive is a $2500 option, worth it if you're going to be driving in inclement weather. Around-town fuel economy takes a one mpg hit if all four wheels are powered, but the difference between 13 and 14 mpg is negligible, especially with highway mpg capped at 18. With gas at $3.50 and rising, it's going to hurt either way, though all luxury SUVs fall firmly into the "if you can buy it, you can fuel it" category.
Opting for the Platinum package is akin to checking every box on the option list -- the only options that aren't available over and above the package are all-wheel drive and an engine block heater. On top of the maxed-out features list, which includes power-folding running boards and chrome 22s, is extra leather trim throughout the cabin, olive ash and walnut burn wood trim, fancier aniline leather for the front two rows of seats, three-screen DVD entertainment system, LED headlamps that look eerily like a close-up of an insect eyeball, and most important, heated and cooled front cupholders.
But as cool as those cupholders and running boards are, they don't make up for some of the Escalade's fundamental antiquity. At the top of the list is the third row, which does not fold flat into the floor the way it does in just about every other SUV on the market. Instead, it has to be removed and stored somewhere -- if you live in a condo, you're screwed. Then there's the lack of a telescoping steering column and the somewhat surprising absence of GM's cool heads-up display.
There are problems on the design front as well. As is the case with our QX56 long-termer, the steering wheel has a piece of wood on its circumference, which limits the usefulness of the heating elements. The column shifter, despite having leather on the tip, looks cheap. That fancy wood trim? Well, it doesn't quite match up where the center console piece meets the passenger-side dash piece -- at least it didn't on our test vehicle. Overall, the interior looks dated. We know Cadillac can do better -- exhibit A: the CTS. A cabin freshening is most definitely in order.
It's not all that great to drive, either. On smooth roads, the ride is perfectly fine, but once the pavement gets ugly, things get bumpy and shaky, partially a consequence of the live-axle rear suspension. The engine isn't a slouch, but the likes of the QX56 and Range Rover Supercharged will blow its doors off. Brakes do not inspire confidence, especially in the wet, while the overboosted steering is plagued with a noticeable on-center dead spot that can make things dicey in tight quarters. On top of that, its size makes it a veritable nightmare to park anywhere except the back of the lot. Even in bigger suburban parking lots, unless you've got a buffer spot, a three-point-plus parking job is a virtual guarantee.
Yet, sales of the Escalade ESV rebounded considerably in 2010 while sales of its shorter brother slightly decreased. That's partly due to a relative lack of competition. Only Lincoln offers a similarly sized SUV in the form of the Navigator L, while overseas folk are content with smaller rides that don't have anywhere near the same amount of cargo room behind the third row, or the 7600-pound towing capacity. And though the Escalade remains something of a blast from the past, it still has plenty of cool -- at least enough that you won't look lame towing your cigarette boat to the dock.
| 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum AWD |
| Base price || $88,295 |
| Price as tested || $88,295 |
| Vehicle layout || Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV |
| Engine || 6.2L/403-hp/417-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8 |
| Transmission || 6-speed automatic |
| Wheelbase || 130.0 in |
| Length x width x height || 222.9 x 79.1 x 75.5 in |
| Headroom, f/m/r || 41.1/38.5/38.1 in |
| Legroom, f/m/r || 41.3/39.5/34.9 in |
| Shoulder room, f/m/r || 65.3/65.3/64.7 in |
| Cargo volume, behind f/m/r || 137.4/90.0/45.8 cu ft |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || 13/18 mpg |
| CO2 emissions || 1.31 lb/mile |