Introduction

The Escalade has led the way in the re-emergence of Cadillac as a world-class luxury brand. Its sharp, chiseled styling makes a strong statement and the bold looks are backed by lots of power and GM's latest technology.

The Escalade nameplate includes three dramatically different though distinctly similar models: The standard Escalade is a full-size SUV, the same size as the Tahoe. The Escalade ESV is a Suburban-sized model. The Escalade EXT is Cadillac's interpretation of the Avalanche, a brilliantly executed sport-utility truck that can quickly be converted from pickup truck to luxury SUV through the use of GM's innovative mid-gate. All three feature a high-performance 6.0-liter V8 and all-wheel drive.

Built on GM's excellent full-size truck platform, the Escalade, ESV, and EXT are fine trucks and make excellent tow vehicles. On the road they are smooth and stable, a bit softer in ride than a Tahoe or Suburban. They are luxuriously appointed, providing comfortable accommodations while offering the capabilities of full-size truck.

The Escalade was introduced as an all-new model for 2002. The EXT joined the line, followed by the ESV. They share interiors, refreshed for the 2003 model year. More features have been added for 2004 including a new tire pressure monitoring system.

2004 Cadillac Escalade
2004 Cadillac Escalade

Model Lineup

The standard two-wheel-drive Escalade is powered by a 5.3-liter V8 ($51,055), but is available with all-wheel drive and the high-output 6.0-liter V8 engine ($53,955). Escalade ESV ($56,380) and Escalade EXT ($51,230) come standard with the 6.0-liter V8 and all-wheel drive. Though the Escalade, ESV, and EXT differ in appearance, they share interiors and are mechanically the same.

Cadillac is usually the first to get GM's cutting edge technology and all the Escalade models come loaded with the latest: StabiliTrak electronic stability control, computer-controlled road-sensing suspension (RSS), Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist (a warning beeper).

The list of standard equipment is as long as the Escalade itself: Nuance leather seats with Zebrano wood interior trim; power heated 10-way adjustable front seats; Bose Acoustimass audio system with six-disc CD; rear seat audio controls with earphones; removable lightweight third-row seats; Heavy Duty Trailering Package. Also standard is the OnStar communications system with Personal Calling, which allows drivers to make hands-free, voice-activated personal calls, and Virtual Advisor, which provides headlines, scores, weather, and personalized stock quotes. For 2003, a DVD rear seat entertainment system and a DVD navigation system were added as standard equipment. For 2004, XM Satellite Radio comes standard. Second-row bucket seats are standard (and a second-row bench is a no-cost option).

The list of options is short and includes special paint ($995) and a power glass sunroof ($1550).

Walkaround

Though they differ in body style, the Cadillac Escalade, ESV, and EXT share drivetrains, chassis architecture and styling cues. All are built on GM's full-size truck platform and share much in common with their counterparts from Chevrolet and GMC.

These are big vehicles. Stretching 221.4 inches, the EXT and ESV are two inches longer than a Suburban, placing them among the longest vehicles on the road. The Escalade shares its dimensions with the Tahoe (198.9 inches long). By comparison, a Lincoln Navigator falls in between (206 inches).

If their size gives them presence, their bold styling pushes them over the top. Introduced for 2002, the Escalade was the first production vehicle to embody Cadillac's progressive new styling, with sharp, chiseled, vertical lines, and a grille inspired by the Evoq concept car. Escalade was the first to reflect Cadillac's new "art and science" design philosophy aimed at blending forward-thinking technology with expressive design. High intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with chrome bezels deliver a jewel-like appearance, and are integrated with rectangular parking lamps and turn signals. The vehicle's front fascia incorporates recessed tow hooks and rectangular fog lamps.

No question the Escalade has presence. Park a GMC Yukon alongside and it looks downright dowdy by comparison to the Cadillac. The Escalade's front end is massive and looks it with a big satin-nickel plastic grille and vertical halogen headlight clusters that measure 16 by 12 inches. Cadillac's new wreath and crest insignia, designed to symbolize a new Cadillac for the new millennium, is used on the grille and liftgate. Chrome trim is used on the nameplate, running boards and roof rack. Big 17-inch forged alloy wheels have a big round center with seven short wide spokes, and carry P265/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler HP tires. The signature wheels are attractive, but are less dynamic than the rest of the styling.

Somehow the sheer size of the Escalade ESV makes it look less intimidating than the Escalade. Perhaps it's because the ESV reminds us of a Suburban. It is essentially a luxurious Suburban with bold styling (though the ESV comes with the big 6.0-liter V8, all-wheel drive and other features). There's something friendly about a Suburban and that seems to make the ESV look a little friendlier. But there's no question about it: The Cadillac Escalade ESV represents the ultimate in SUV excess, both in terms of its size and its bold styling. Pulling up in one of these, particularly in White Diamond pearlescent metallic paint, makes a strong statement. Some might call it ostentatious. We don't recommend showing it off at your next Sierra Club function. The ESV Platinum Edition features 20-inch chrome wheels with P275/55R20 tires, a slightly lowered stance (20 mm front/23 mm rear), a chrome grille and Platinum lettering on the liftgate.

The EXT is the most unusual of the three with its open pickup bed. In its standard configuration, the EXT offers a roomy, luxurious, comfortable five-passenger cab and a 5-foot, 3-inch long cargo box. When more cargo room is needed, the driver can easily extend the bed to slightly more than 8 feet. The Midgate folds into the interior of the cab to create a 4-by-8-foot cargo area. Items can be protected from the elements and theft with the standard three-piece cargo cover and lockable tailgate. The cargo box also offers protection for items secured inside. The sides of the cargo box, along with the Midgate and tailgate, are constructed of Pro-Tec composite material. The rear window is removable to allow for additional cargo space or for added air circulation. The window is easily stowed on board and works in conjunction with the Midgate. It's an innovative and brilliantly executed solution to the problem of needing both passenger and cargo space. The system can be configured many different ways according to the driver's needs at the moment, the hardware is intelligently designed and of high quality. It's slick.

Getting into any of the Escalade models is easy enough. The exterior door handles are easy to grab. The liftgate on the Escalade and ESV raises with a surprisingly light touch.

2004 Cadillac Escalade
2004 Cadillac Escalade
Interior Features

The seats are great, because not only is there adjustable lumbar support, but there's another adjustment that nicely squeezes you at the sides. The 10-way power driver's seat comes with a memory feature. His and hers key fobs allow each driver to program their own seat position; unlock the doors with your personal remote entry fob, and the seat slides to your position. This doesn't work when borrowing the spouse's keys, but you'll still be able to press a button near the armrest to get your seating position back. Buttons for the seat heaters are conveniently located here as well.

Front-row roominess and accommodations are essentially the same for the Escalade, ESV, and EXT. A big center console serves as a front armrest and opens in a couple of different ways to reveal storage areas. Two large cupholders, CD rack and coinholder are all in there. A power outlet inside the center console is handy for plugging in and storing cell phones and other accessories.

The dashboard is squarish, like a big flat tray. A leather-wrapped handgrip runs across the top of the dash on the passenger side with big stitching that faces out. Wood trim adds warmth. The instruments are stylish and look retro high-tech. A transmission temperature gauge is included, reassuring when towing. A new, jeweled wreath and crest horn-pad emblem is found on all 2004 models.

A new Platinum Edition Escalade ESV adds premium interior features and materials. The Platinum Edition has an ebony and shale dash, shale leather seating surfaces and pleated door panel bolsters. Walnut burl wood accents appear on the steering wheel, console, door pulls, window switch bezels and dashboard trim. Chrome trim highlights the steering wheel, speaker covers and gauge cluster, which features new graphics. New HVAC outlets have rubber thumbwheels and chrome-accented controls.

A message center provides status reports including total hours on the engine and miles driven during each of the previous seven days. (Good for checking up on teens, it even reports the top speed reached.) A computer in the center dash allows the driver to program such things as whether the locks operate automatically, how locking with the key fob is confirmed (horn, lights), whether the mirrors tilt when backing up, length of headlamp delay, etc. The steering-wheel audio controls are set into the center of the butterfly four-spoke burl wood trim wheel (but can't be reached by thumb).

GM's new climate controls work very well. They are easy to understand and operate yet quite sophisticated and allow fine-tuning of everyone's temperature. Likewise, the audio system works very well and the XM Satellite Radio is easy to operate. A six-disc CD changer mounted at the bottom of the center stack is convenient and easy to operate. OnStar is standard.

Second-row passengers have luxurious accommodations, regardless of model. The second row comes with seat heaters, climate controls, audio system controls, map lights, and adjustable vents. Captain's chairs come on most models, but a second-row bench is available for no charge. The captain's chairs give second-row passengers front-row comfort. Bench seats feature a center seatback that folds down to reveal a virtual fold-down table. Lift the vinyl top and there's a black felt compartment with little round recesses designed for the headphones. There's less legroom than you might expect in a vehicle this large, particularly if the front seat is moved all the way back. Second-row accommodations for the three models are nearly the same. ESV offers an additional half-inch of legroom over the standard Escalade and the EXT falls between them. Big hanging loops make climbing in and out of the second row easier.

Getting in and out of the third row is awkward, however. Leather-soled dress shoes slip on the trim when squeezing by the second row. Cadillac says the Escalade offers 3.5 more inches of rear-seat headroom than the Lincoln Navigator, and 9 inches more legroom. Still, it feels cramped back there. At least it's not stuffy. There's an A/C outlet on each side on the ceiling, and rear A/C and heating allow separate control of the temperature back here. The left side has a glovebox for third-row passengers with only a few fuses stored in there. Both sides have deep cupholders built into the wheel wells, limiting hip room on both Escalade and ESV. Three seatbelts are used, something not found on many SUVs, and child-seat tethers are in place.

The Escalade is at its best with four people and their cargo, with the third-row seat left at home in the garage. With all three rows of seats in place, an Escalade can, in theory, accommodate eight people, but they won't be terribly comfortable. Nor will each of them be able to bring along much more than a briefcase because with the third row in place there's only a foot of storage in the back. So it's no airport shuttle.

The Escalade ESV is a better choice for shuttling a crowd home from the airport. The ESV has 9 inches more legroom in the third row than the Escalade. And even with all three rows of seats occupied (seven or eight people), the ESV offers 45.7 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third-row seat.

The third row folds up for additional cargo space and a little kickstand ensures it won't fall back down on Fido. The third row can be removed for still more cargo space and, fortunately, removing it is easy. A 50/50 split bench, each of the two third-row seats weighs 40 pounds. The second row can be folded down to provide a flat load floor, though the captain's chairs leave a space (hole) between them.

The cargo cover pops out more easily than most and can be conveniently stored along one side. For 2004, the sunroof and rear-seat entertainment system can be combined.

Passive safety equipment: The Escalade models have dual-stage frontal air bags for both driver and passenger. The system is designed to detect vehicle deceleration and provide an appropriate amount of air-bag inflation. The system senses crash severity and deploys the air bag with the primary (or lower) amount of inflation or with the primary and secondary (higher) amount of inflation. Also standard is an automatic passenger-sensing air bag system that automatically deactivates the passenger-side front air bag under certain conditions to help protect smaller occupants. The system assesses the size of the occupant in the seat, based on the measured weight in the seat cushion and tension in the belt system, if any. If these measurements are typical for a small occupant or a child in a booster seat, for example, the air bag is disabled. If they are typical for a larger occupant, the air bag is enabled. As no system is perfect, there is a tell-tale in the rearview mirror that lets the occupant know if the system is ON or OFF. Children are always safer in the back seat, however. Side-impact air bags are standard for both the driver and front passenger. In addition, side-impact door beams and energy-absorbing foam blocks on the interior help protect occupants against head injuries.

2004 Cadillac Escalade
Driving Impressions

Equipped with the big 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine, the Escalade, ESV, and EXT offer strong acceleration performance with deep torque for pulling trailers. Punch it and the Vortec's 345 horsepower provides terrific response for passing on two-lane roads. Ease the pedal down on long grades and 380 foot-pounds of torque are there to propel the Escalade with authority. These big Cadillacs are easily among the most powerful of the full-size trucks on the road. Cadillacs are indeed among the quickest SUVs on the road. They accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 8.5 seconds, according to Cadillac, nearly 1.5 seconds (a lot) quicker than a Lincoln Navigator. The engine delivers good throttle response, making easy to control speed when tooling around town.

We haven't driven a 2WD Escalade with the 5.3-liter V8, but based on driving Tahoes and other GM products with that engine we suspect it's more than adequate to propel the Escalade.

The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly, particularly around town. Like other full-size SUVs from GM, the Escalade is equipped with a Tow/Haul mode. Press a button on the end of the shift stalk and the Tow mode reduces hunting among gears by delaying upshifts and downshifts. The shifting is also harder and more abrupt. This reduces heat buildup in the transmission when towing reducing wear.

Rear Park Assist makes parking these rigs, particularly the ESV and ESV, much easier. By using the small row of lights at the rear of the headliner, along with an audio tone that varies in frequency, the driver can accurately judge how much room is left behind the rear bumper. The system can also sometimes warn the driver of a child or person behind the vehicle, though GM is careful not to make this claim, which can be helpful when backing in a crowded parking lot.

The computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system directs engine power where it's needed and compensates whenever and wherever wheel spin occurs. In dry conditions, the front wheels get 38 percent of the driving torque, and the rear wheels get 62 percent; as any wheel slips, torque is transferred away, until it can be restored to regain that 38/62 optimum split. This increases stability and performance in slippery conditions.

The computer-controlled self-leveling suspension with extra large high-tech Bilstein shock absorbers sounds impressive on paper ("through a complex software algorithm, it computes the individual optimal shock demand for each wheel"), but paper is easy, the road is rough. In simpler words, we think the Escalade feels floaty. In the Columbia River valley where wind reigns supreme, the Escalade did not feel as stable as it should be. And you can feel the patches on the freeway more than you might like to. On two-lanes with curves it doesn't feel as agile as a BMW X5 or even a Ford Expedition, but at least there isn't a lot of body roll. That said, the Escalade feels stable on on-ramps and off-ramps. Likewise, the Escalade ESV feels stable on the highway at high speeds, but it is a little softer than a Suburban, and there is a distinct impression of being in control of considerable mass. Perhaps it's because the ESV weighs 5,820 pounds, about 600 pounds more than a Suburban 1500.

Brakes are four-wheel disc with ABS, 12-inch diameter front, 13-inch rear, not ventilated. That doesn't sound impressive for such as big vehicle, particularly if it's headed downhill with a trailer at maximum towing capacity. But they felt good in hard use on winding roads and delivered stable performance under hard braking. The brakes are an enormous improvement over the brakes that used to come on Suburbans.

The Escalade, ESV and EXT are superb choices for towing. The Escalade AWD offers the highest towing capacity at 8100 pounds. The big ESV is rated to pull 7200 pounds, while the EXT can pull 7400 pounds.

Summary

The Cadillac Escalade is one of the most luxurious SUVs available. Escalade, ESV and EXT are big, distinctive vehicles with flashy styling. Equipped with the 6.0-liter V8, these vehicles boast lots of horsepower, but also have lots of weight to move. They feel stable on the road and have a relatively soft ride. They are highly capable tow vehicles.

Escalade and ESV come with three rows of seats and are rated to carry up to eight people, but those who intend to carry this many people often are better served by the Suburban-sized ESV. When set up for four people, they can carry a mountain of cargo.

EXT offers the innovative Midgate system popularized by the Chevy Avalanche and is a clever and well executed solution for someone who alternately needs a pickup truck and a luxury passenger vehicle.


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: Escalade 2WD ($51,055); Escalade AWD ($53,955); Escalade ESV ($56,380); Escalade EXT ($51,230)
Engines: 6.0-liter ohv V8; 5.3-liter ohv V8 (Escalade 2WD only)
Transmissions: heavy-duty 4-speed automatic with overdrive; 4-speed automatic with overdrive (2WD)
Safety equipment (standard): dual-stage frontal airbags and front side-impact airbags, ABS, Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, OnStar communications system, child seat tethers
Safety equipment (optional): all-wheel drive, StabiliTrak (both standard on Escalade AWD, ESV, and EXT)
Basic warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in: Arlington, Texas

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Cadillac Escalade ESV ($56,380)
Standard equipment: leather interior with burl wood trim; 10-way adjustable heated front seats; second-row heated bucket seats with audio and climate control; removable third-row seats; Bose premium audio system with cassette and six-disc CD; XM Satellite Radio; 24-hour roadside assistance; road sensing suspension; trailering package; tire-pressure monitor; all-wheel drive; StabiliTrak
Options as tested (MSRP): rear-seat entertainment ($1,295); White Diamond paint ($995); 17-inch chrome wheels ($795)
Destination charge: ($815)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $ 60,280
Layout: all-wheel drive
Engine: 6.0-liter V8
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 345 @ 5200
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 380 @ 4000
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 12/16 mpg
Wheelbase: 130 in.
Length/width/height: 221.4/78.9/75.7 in.
Track, f/r: 65/66 in.
Turning circle: 43.1 ft.
Seating capacity: 7
Head/hip/leg room, f: 40.7/61.4/41.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: 39.0/61.6/39.1 in.
Head/hip/leg room, r: 38.6/49.2/36.1 in.
Cargo volume: 131.6 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 7700 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent, computer-controlled Bilstein 46 mm shocks, 32 mm stabilizer bar
Suspension, r: live-rear axle, 5-link, Bilstein shocks, 30 mm stabilizer bar
Ground clearance: 10.7 in.
Curb weight: 5820 lbs.
Tires: P265/70R17 Goodyear Eagle LS all-season
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS and StabiliTrak anti-skid system
Fuel capacity: 26 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of May 16, 2003.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.
N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-333-4CAD -
www.cadillac.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.
New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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