Underscored and highlighted — and controversially boldfaced.
by Eric Peters
The 2002 Cadillac Escalade SUV is clearly distinctive, stylistically and functionally, from the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon upon which it is based. This addresses the problem of the previous Escalade, which was almost indistinguishable from the GMC Yukon Denali, GM's other high-end, full-size SUV.
However, the problem with the '02 Escalade is that it may be, er, "distinctive" in the same way the Pontiac Aztek — one of GM's most colossal missteps of the past 25 years — turned out to be. Both vehicles are wild exercises in styling license, bold departures from anything humdrum or conventional. You either like the brooding, toothy look of the new Escalade, outsized grille, blocky styling and all, or you find it monstrous. There is no in-between.
I personally prefer the Yukon Denali; it has classy, clean lines, and a much less overwrought front-end theme. GM still has "issues" with cross-brand, in-house competition. It frankly seems silly to have a high-end SUV (the Denali) as well as a premium-luxury SUV fighting for sales internally before focusing on the real competition — models such as the $44,115-$47,865 Lincoln Navigator, $61,855 Lexus LX470, $68,000 Land Rover 4.6 HSE, $44,845 Mercedes ML 430, and so on.
Cadillac is counting on some Escalade-exclusive equipment to lure potential Denali buyers away from GMC. Among these are an Escalade-only version of GM's 6.0-liter "Vortec" V-8 that develops a class-leading 345 hp, which is 25 more advertised horsepower than the Denali's 6.0-liter, 320-hp V-8. However, you have to belly up to the bar and specify the more expensive all-wheel-drive version of the Escalade ($50,285) to get the 6.0-liter V-8. Two-wheel-drive Escalades ($47,290) come through with the smaller, less powerful 5.3-liter V-8 that's rated at 285 hp.
Regardless, either engine is strong as a rutting bull moose, massively overpowering the standard engines of the pricey LX470 (just 245 hp), Land Rover 4.6 HSE (a wheezy 222 hp), and the ML430 (270 hp). Even the Lincoln Navigator's 300-hp, 5.4-liter mill seems almost puny when compared to the fulsome Escalade.
Power is clearly the Escalade's strongest suit and GM touts this loudly in its advertising. However, advanced technology also abounds, from the latest generation OnStar concierge system (which allows hands-free, voice activated cell phone service as well as provides roadside assistance) to the StabiliTrak active handling/traction control system. All 2002 Escalades also come equipped with an automatic/self-adjusting suspension system (RSS) that cannot be ordered on the Denali, as well as a unique instrument/gauge cluster that's attractively done and includes a very useful transmission temperature gauge (hot-running transmissions will fail in short order, but most vehicles have neither a gauge nor an idiot light to warn you of high temperature conditions in time for you to do anything about it.)
There's no question that the Escalade is both well-equipped and well-engineered. It's a decent value in its segment, too — right there with the $44,115-$47,865 Navigator and a positive steal compared to the outrageous stickers plastered on the windows of the LX470 (a rebadged Toyota LandCruiser) and the oh-so-British Land Rover 4.6 HSE.
But there's that styling thing to deal with. Maybe it'll work. Perhaps the Cadillac guys know something about premium SUV buyers that isn't immediately apparent to ordinary folks, let alone dull-witted, paint-fume-addled automotive scribes such as yours truly. I nonetheless retain my doubts.
Had GM put the Escalade's "stuff" — the 345-hp V-8, StabiliTrak and RSS, etc. — in the shell of the Denali, and called that the new Escalade, it would be a no-brainer. The resultant SUV would be a home run, superior in every way to its major and minor competitors.
Meantime, if you are like me and like the basic truck but can't abide the jarring way it looks, give serious thought to the excellent GMC Yukon Denali as a backup. It's $46,150 with the 320-hp version of the 6.0-liter V-8 and all-wheel-drive. That's cheaper than all of the luxury SUVs mentioned above, excepting the Mercedes ML 430, which is a much smaller SUV anyhow. Buy the GMC and you also get leather trim, the same 250-watt, 11-speaker Bose premium CD player audio system as found in the Escalade, dual zone, heavy-duty air conditioner, Autoride suspension, and power everything — in a word, most of the luxury stuff that makes the Escalade "luxurious."
The Denali could be the best premium full-size SUV on the market — even if it doesn't say "Cadillac" on the fender.
2002 Cadillac Escalade
Base price range: $47,290-$50,285
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8, 285 hp (2WD), 6.0-liter V-8, 345 hp (AWD)
Transmission: Four speed automatic, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 116 in
Length: 198.9 in
Width: 78.9 in
Curb Weight: 5306 lb (2WD); 5554 lb (AWD)
EPA (city/hwy): 14/17 mpg (5.3 V-8, 2WD); 12/16 mpg (6.0 V-8, AWD)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, traction and stability control, ABS, child seat tethers, rear center lap belts
Major standard features: Stabilitrak stability/traction system, auto-leveling suspension, 10-way power/heated/leather driver/passenger seats, front and rear climate controls w/Micron air filtration system, leather and wood trim, 250-watt/11-speaker Bose audio with CD and tape player, power windows, door locks, outside mirrors, GM OnStar concierge system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
© 2001 The Car Connection