Big luxury, big size, big style.
by Sam Moses
Base Price (MSRP) $47,290
As Tested (MSRP) $52,535
Cadillac Escalade is all-new for 2002. This full-size luxury SUV makes a strong statement with sharp, chiseled styling. Built on GM's newest truck platform, the Escalade is available with a high-performance 6.0-liter V8, all-wheel drive, and GM's latest technology. While the 1999-2000 Escalade was essentially a warmed-over Denali, this new one offers unique engineering and features to go with its unique styling.
All-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive versions of the Escalade are available, using different engines and transmissions.
2WD Escalades use GM's new Vortec 5300, a 5.3-liter overhead-valve V8 with an iron block and heads, producing 285 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque, tied to a four-speed automatic transmission (code-named 4L60-E).
AWD Escalades use a high-performance version of GM's 6.0-liter Vortec 6000. With special high-compression aluminum heads on the iron block, this engine produces 345 horsepower and 380 foot-pounds of torque. To handle all that power, it's connected to a heavy-duty version of the same automatic transmission (4L60-HD).
Cadillac is GM's technology leader and the Escalade comes loaded with the latest. All Cadillacs come standard with the OnStar communications system and the Escalade's system includes 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.
The list of standard equipment is as long as the Escalade itself (okay, not quite 199 inches). It includes 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, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, computer-controlled road-sensing suspension (RSS), Heavy Duty Trailering Package (the works), URPA (Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, a warning beeper); removable lightweight third-row seats, and more.
Conversely, the list of options is short, almost nonexistent: White Diamond paint ($995) and power glass sunroof ($1550).
The 2002 Escalade offers the first look at the future of Cadillac design, with bold, progressive, sharp, chiseled, vertical styling, and a grille inspired by the Evoq concept car. Cadillac says the Escalade is “the first Cadillac to reflect the division's fusion of art and science philosophy by blending forward-thinking technology with an expressive new design.” One thing's for sure. Cadillac is not backing away from the future. The Escalade definitely has presence, looking far more modern than the GMC Yukon Denali. (Cadillac Escalade rides on the same platform as the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe.) Surprisingly, though, the new styling has been accepted in stride, without making waves.
The front end is massive and looks it, with its 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, conspicuously made of plastic. Chrome trim is used on the nameplate, running boards and roof rack. The cladding on the bottom halves of the doors might also be described as sharp and chiseled, though never finely so. There's so much of it that when you stand on the running boards to reach the roof rack, it bulges into your legs. 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.
The exterior door handles are easy to grab. The liftgate raises with a surprisingly light touch, but it doesn't come down so lightly, despite a leather loop to help pull it down.
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.
A big center console serves as a front armrest and opens in a couple of different ways to reveal storage areas. Two power outlets, two large cupholders, CD rack and coinholder are all in there. 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.
The instruments are stylish and look sort of retro high-tech, with Zebrano wood trim. Too many marks on the six little gauges (including transmission temperature), and the larger tachometer and speedometer, make it difficult to determine what numbers need the most attention.
A message center reports the status of 19 vehicle functions, including total hours on the engine, and, excellent for parents checking up on teens, a measure of the top speed reached and miles driven during each of the previous seven days. For example, we can report that three days before we got our Escalade, somebody reached a speed of 98 mph (10 mph below its electronically limited top speed of 108) during the 348 miles they drove it. A computer in the center dash allows the driver to program such things as whether the locks operate automatically, how locking or unlocking with the key fob is confirmed (horn, lights or both), 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.
The Escalade is no airport shuttle. With all three rows of seats in place, the Escalade can, in theory, accommodate eight people, but they won't be terribly comfortable. Nor will they be able to bring along much more than a briefcase; with the third row in place there's only a foot of storage in the back. Four or five people with the third row removed is much better, offering comfort and cargo capacity. Fortunately, removing the third row is easy; each of the two third-row seats weighs 40 pounds. With the third row removed and the middle seat down, there's 108.2 cubic feet of cargo space.
The second row of seats comes with all the conveniences, starting with seat heaters, climate control, audio system controls, map lights, and adjustable vents. The center seatback 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. There are no pockets in the doors, but there are pockets in the front seatbacks. Big hanging loops make climbing in and out easier.
The third row is a pair of seats split 50/50. Getting in and out of the third row is awkward. 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 the left side has its own private glovebox with only a few fuses stored in there. Both sides have deep cupholders built into the wheel wells. Three seatbelts are used, something not found on many SUVs, and child-seat tethers are in place.
The 345-horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec engine that comes on the AWD Escalade delivers good throttle response, making it easy to control speed when tooling around town. Punch it and the Vortec's 380 foot-pounds of torque provide terrific passing on two-lane roads. It's one of the quickest SUVs on the road, nearly 1.5 seconds (which is a lot) quicker than a Lincoln Navigator. Still, with 5800 pounds to motivate, it's not that quick off the line by sports car standards, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. The smaller and lighter (by 1000 pounds) BMW X5 4.4i, equipped with a 282-horsepower V8, is a full second quicker than the Escalade (though the Escalade can pull a bigger boat).
The four-speed transmission shifts smoothly, particularly around town. But it didn't seem programmed to take advantage of the humongous torque. Its features include something called passive shift stabilization, which delays upshifts, and Cadillac claims it does not induce downshifts. However, something does; ours frequently kicked down out of overdrive, in places and at speeds that other powerful new cars and trucks buzz right through, such as uphill on a 65-mph freeway at a steady cruise-controlled 70.
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.
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. There's a switch on the dash that allows a suspension setting for towing or off-road. 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, for that matter-but at least there isn't a lot of body roll.
The Escalade feels very stable when driven hard through on-ramps and off-ramps. In back-to-back driving with a Lexus LX 470, the Escalade felt more stable in corners and in braking-and-turning maneuvers.
The 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 weighing the maximum 8500 pounds 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 2002 Cadillac Escalade is one of the most luxurious SUVs available. It's distinctive with flashy styling. It has lots of horsepower, but lots of weight to move. It feels more stable than other full-size SUVs. It comes with three rows of seats and is rated to carry up to eight people, but it's much more comfortable with two rows of seats and four people aboard.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.