Newcomer: 2009 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum

The top of the hill could become the top of the heap

Mark WilliamsJun 26, 2008
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Although the Escalade ESV Platinum has several minor improvements from the previous top-line model (new badging, chrome accents, and interior upgrades), by far the biggest piece of advanced technology is the Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) system, an integral part of the new suspension, previously only offered on the Corvette and Cadillac cousin. Essentially, the system uses a magnetic charge to stiffen or soften the shocks (each filled with tiny charged metal shavings), collecting data from sensors thousands of times a second. The shock sensors (each shock works independent of one another) reads the real-time road conditions every millisecond and adjusts instantly whether hard cornering, empty cruising, or laden pulling. Beyond that, other impressive details are the quality in the materials and the fact that just about seat in the SUV has access to a video screen. Additionally, even at this level, the third-row seat is still of the removable design, convenient for those who have the upper-body strength to de-latch and haul the seat to the garage, but many will likely just leave it inside the SUV regardless of need. We just flipped them forward out of the way in order to pack more cubic gear.
During our recent trip, with the exception of the extra mass that affected braking more than anything else, we found the ride fully loaded identical with our ride empty -- not a typical occurrence in something this large and loaded. But, as you might imagine, this all comes at price. We're hearing Cadillac is thinking about only offering the ESV in Platinum trim because most of its buyers are looking for fully loaded and dressed-out vehicles anyway. And at $82,495 fully loaded, you can bet GM won't argue with kind of per-vehicle profit. It's expecting to sell over 10,000 of these Luxo-Barges this year, but who knows for how long. Now if it could only get the 2-Mode Hybrid system to work in something this heavy (the 2-Mode will be in the shorter Escalade this year), it could probably charge a premium for it as well.

2009 Cadillac Escalade ESV AWD Platinum
Base Price $62,690
Price as tested $82,495
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4-door, AWD, SUV
Engine 90-deg 6.2L all-alum V-8, 403 hp/417 lb-ft
Transmission 6L80 6-spd auto
Wheelbase, in 130.0
Length x Width x Height, in 222.9 x 79.1 x 75.5
Base Curb Weight, lb 5880
Max GVWR, lb 7400
Max Payload Capacity, lb 1520
Max Towing Capacity, lb 7800
Max Cargo Volume, cu ft 137.4
Fuel econ, city/hwy 12/18
CO2 Emissions, lbs/mile 1.37
On sale in U.S. Currently

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Cadillac Escalade

Fair Market Price
$70,029
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $72,970
Mileage: 15 / 21
Engine: 6.2L V8
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