Pros: Upscale ambiance; strong truck-based work ethic; extensive technology features
Cons: Pricey, considering it's built alongside the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon
What's New: New colors; revised grade braking performance
If the producers of "Pimp My Ride" were to select one vehicle that speaks to their production values and audience, that vehicle would be the 2013 Cadillac Escalade. The Escalade and its larger stablemate, the Escalade ESV, were originally intended for the country club crowd, but their design, production and marketing have achieved huge resonance with the night club crowd. The reasons for its success with younger demographics vary but certainly include the Cadillac cachet, a strong mechanical package and a vast network of Cadillac dealers located largely in the country's urban areas.
Regardless of its urban, suburban or rural applications, the Escalade's straightforward mechanical menu and last-century construction have been massaged into two beautifully tuned machines. Its 6.2-liter all-alloy V8 delivers ample horsepower and torque through GM's Hydra-matic 6-speed automatic transmission. The Escalade has rear-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive. Although applying 403 horses to three tons (with passengers) doesn't make for neck-snapping acceleration, the Escalade effortlessly finds its rhythm at legal speeds. For the country club set, the Escalade can tow up to 8,000 pounds of horse and trailer.
Despite these many attractive qualities, the Escalade and its body-on-frame siblings are living on borrowed-from-the-EPA time. Having a body independent from the underlying platform may make for a better truck, but it creates inefficiencies in a world increasingly less tolerant of them. Although GM hasn't confirmed the design path the next Escalade and Escalade ESV will take, they will likely have unitized bodies, less weight and reduced capabilities. But improvements to the Escalade's poor fuel economy are all but certain.
Comfort & Utility
The Escalade's interior is throne-like. You need to step up to get in, and once perched behind the thin-diameter wheel or in one of the other five stations, you have a commanding view of most of what's around you. To their credit, the team responsible for the Cadillac's interior has restrained itself. What a customer receives in today's Escalade is a mature, old-money interpretation of luxury and not the loose-pillow look you'd have received 25 years ago. You can interpret that luxury in one of four trim levels: standard, Luxury, Premium and to-die-for Platinum.
The perforated leather buckets are attractive but provide no more lateral support than a piano stool. And should you want to open up the luggage compartment of the standard Escalade for maximum cargo, the rearmost seats need to be removed rather than simply folded out of sight. The gods lie in the details, and this detailing is at least a decade old. Were you to need this extra capacity often, you'd be better served by opting for the Escalade ESV. Its stretched wheelbase (identical to the Chevrolet Suburban's) and overall length allow 3-row seating plus a huge amount of cargo volume, or 2-row seating and the ability to spend the weekend in it.
Where to begin? Cadillac's team may have started with the more pedestrian Chevrolet Tahoe as its base, but thousands of engineering hours later, you'd barely recognize the brown roots within this very blonde confection. Under the hood is Cadillac's Active Fuel Management technology, which uses computers to monitor the engine's load. If all eight cylinders aren't necessary for forward movement, four are shut down to save fuel. High-tech Magnetic Ride Control suspension is optional. Inside, the leather-trimmed front buckets are both heated and cooled, while tri-zone automatic climate control works to keep everyone comfortable. Touchscreen navigation is standard on all models. On the entertainment side, there's MP3/CD/DVD, voice recognition and a USB port. Bluetooth technology is standard on all models.
Finally, GM's OnStar is provided on all trim levels. Whether you're using it for turn-by-turn navigation, concierge service or an on-road emergency, it can prove invaluable. Its only cost is a subscription fee, though you get a year free when you buy a new Escalade.
Performance and Fuel Economy
Within the Escalade family (Escalade, Escalade ESV and Escalade EXT), there are two available drivetrains. Standard is the 6.2-liter V8, offering 403 horsepower and 417 lb-ft of torque. Opt for the Escalade Hybrid (only available with the standard Escalade), and you'll benefit from a 2-mode hybrid system featuring an electrically variable transmission and a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride energy storage system. The electric propulsion system works alongside a 332-hp V8, displacing 6.0 liters. Both drivetrains are seamless in their operation with prodigious torque, instant off-the-line response and sleep-inducing over-the-road cruising pace. Despite the three tons of mass and the barn-door-like aerodynamics, both the Escalade and the Escalade ESV deliver an EPA-estimated 14-mpg city and 18-mpg highway with rear-wheel drive; with all-wheel drive, it's an estimated 13/18 mpg. With the Hybrid, you'll enjoy roughly 50 percent better efficiency in stop-and-go driving and an estimated 23 mpg on the highway.
For a vehicle based on a pickup-truck chassis, the Escalade and Escalade ESV are remarkably composed with steering, braking and cornering capabilities that generally disguise the body-on-frame Escalade's agrarian roots. We would, however, wish for better on-center steering for better control.
When confronted with a collision scenario, size does matter. At almost three tons, the Escalade will be bigger than most things it collides with. It offers head curtain side air bags with rollover protection for all seating rows, dual front side impact airbags and pretensioners to minimize passenger movement during a collision.
Helping to avoid collisions are StabiliTrak with rollover mitigation technology, standard 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and the safety of a responsive, albeit thirsty, V8 powertrain.
From his or her elevated perch, the Escalade driver enjoys a commanding view of what's going on around the vehicle. But visuals will have to mostly suffice, as the steering communicates little of what's happening at road level, aside from the road imperfections transmitted up through the oversized wheels. The ride and handling balance of the 2012 Escalade is arguably better than it deserves to be (even without the available Magnetic Ride Control), but it lags behind that of several more contemporary competitors.
Other Trucks to Consider
Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: It's certainly more contemporary than the Cadillac, and the available BlueTec diesel makes it significantly more efficient.
Lincoln Navigator: Navigator follows the same (old) school of thought as the Escalade.
Infiniti QX56: Despite its whale-like proportions and similar body-on-frame architecture, the QX sports a King Kong powertrain and delivers a generally more responsive driving experience than the Cadillac.
We recommend the slightly more compact standard-length Escalade over the ESV. It's easier to maneuver in tight spots but still provides ample room for people and cargo, provided you don't mind removing the third-row seat when you need to carry something large. We like the Premium package and its rear-seat entertainment package, which makes the miles fly by for passengers on long road trips. With rear-wheel drive, the 2013 Cadillac Escalade Premium is priced at $72,670. For those in cold climates who prefer all-wheel drive, the Premium comes at just over $75,000.