2011 Cadillac Escalade Road Test

2011 Cadillac Escala White Exterior Front Passenger Side View

About a decade ago, the Cadillac Escalade made General Motors’ stodgy old luxury brand cool once again, becoming a pop-culture icon after appearances in multiple music videos. In the intervening years, the luxury SUV has received two additional variants – the long-wheelbase ESV and the “sport utility truck” EXT – as well as a complete redesign for 2007. Despite being a hit in the past, the Escalade is beginning to show its age and its future is somewhat uncertain.

Most Escalade models are powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 with 403 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and customers can choose between all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive flavors. Cadillac also offers a hybrid model of both the Escalade and the Escalade ESV, which provides considerable fuel-economy benefits – 20/23 mpg city/hwy compared to 13/18 mpg -- at a relatively modest premium over comparably-equipped gasoline-only models.

We recently sampled the range-topping Escalade ESV AWD Platinum, which checks in at a hefty $88,295. We found that one of the Escalade’s biggest shortcomings is its solid rear axle suspension, which has a negative effect on the SUVs ride quality despite Cadillac’s best efforts to the contrary. Though not noticeable on smooth roads, once the pavement gets rough, the ride gets bumpier, shakier, and more truck-like. Additionally, it forces a design compromise with the third row of seats, which do not fold flat into the floor but instead have to be removed and stored to fully expand cargo capacity (though this is a non-issue in the two-row EXT). Taller drivers will wonder about the lack of a telescoping steering wheel.

The engine is adequate for moving this big, three-ton SUV, but is likely to labor if its brawny towing capability is to be used. Depending on the model, non-hybrid Escalades can tow between 7600 and 8300 pounds. Hybrids are limited to a maximum of 5800 pounds.

The ESV is more ungainly-looking than its shorter brother thanks to its extender rear-end, but it’s also far more versatile and utilitarian. Third-row passengers receive an extra 9.3 inches of leg room while maximum cargo room with all three rows in place goes up from a miniscule 16.9 cubic feet to a cavernous 45.8. The ESV costs $2605 more, which is a small price to pay for the extra space – provided you have a big-enough garage or driveway to park it in. If you’re going to be using all three rows often, the stretched model is definitely the one to get.

Regardless of which flavor of Escalade you opt for, you will be getting a masculine, eye-catching vehicle with a distinct style that can’t be mistaken for anything else on the road. The interior isn’t as modern or eye-catching, unfortunately. The design and navigation/multimedia system are both dated at this point and much of Cadillac’s cutting-edge technology that’s found in the SRX and CTS is absent. Interior materials are high-quality and soft to the touch, with the aluminum trim in the center stack and console adding a modern touch.

All Escalades come with GM’s StabiliTrack stability control system and a bevy of airbags – dual front, front-occupant side impact, and side curtain for all rows. There is also an available back-up camera. Cool miscellaneous features include heated and cooled cupholders in the front center console (on Platinum models) and power fold-out steps.

Overall, if you’re looking for a cutting-edge modern SUV with all the latest gadgets and techno-wizardry, the Escalade is not the vehicle you’re looking for. But if you’re in the market for a luxury SUV that can do all the things that SUVs used to be able to do when the segment was still growing, such as serious towing and some off-roading, and you don’t mind some compromises, the Escalade is not a bad choice.

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