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PG on Wheels: Cadillac's SUV as big as Texas

Friday, May 11, 2001

By Don Hammonds, Post-Gazette Auto Reviewer

"Oh, thar's a yall-er rowse of Take-sus that I'm-a gonna seee"

Howdy, y'all! Now that I've broken every window between the Point and the USX Tower with my horrid singing and hit enough sour notes to make your knee socks roll up and down, let me tell you why I'm a-singin' about "Take-sus." This week, we're going to take a look at the newest pride and joy of the Lone Star state, the Cadillac Escalade for 2002.

2002 Cadillac Escalade

It's just a big ol' thang!

Seriously, though, if ever there was a vehicle that personified the flash, dash and cash of Texas, baby, it's the new Escalade. The 2002 has been totally redone and is a very important car for its makers. It is considered to be the first of a new wave of edgy looking vehicles coming from Cadillac.

The 2002 is chock-full of new stuff worthy of its name. The engine is probably the fastest in its class if you get the all-wheel-drive version -- a 345 horsepower Vortec 6000 V-8.

Would you believe a 5,800 pound SUV that goes from 0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds? That's what Motor Trend says, and after driving this thing, I don't think they were just bumpin' their gums.

In the past, the Escalade, introduced in the fall of 1998, was virtually indistinguishable from lesser GM products, and though it was a nice enough product, that wasn't enough to "get it" in the marketplace.

As former Texas Gov. Ann Richards says, "That dawg won't hunt." But not this new one. .No, siree. She'll be huntin' plenty in the marketplace -- mainly after Lincoln's Navigator.

  The Bottom Line

Cadillac Escalade

This one's for you ... if you want flash -- and plenty of it -- in your next SUV. Better have a big garage, too -- the Escalade isn't a dainty little thing! This one is targeted at the style- and status-conscious, and it scores well on both counts. It also is better equipped and more stable on the road than Lincoln's Navigator.

What's the buzz? Top notch! Car and Driver said, "Cadillac backs a daring design with the right stuff."

But like me, they said they disliked the "awkward rear seat access" [and] "abrupt transmission kickdown."

Motor Trend concluded, "Cadillac has taken the luxury SUV movement to the pinnacle of the form. It's loaded with fresh, innovative technology, pampering comfort, and exceptional performance in anybody's book." Expect 12 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway.

In a family way? It's classy. It works. It's big. It's got room. It's safe. Need anything else? I didn't think so.


When I first tried to get into it, the Escalade felt so big that the smart aleck in me almost dropped to my knees so that I could crawl into the cab like a 2-year-old attacking his first set of steps. After all, the tires were just about up to my kneecaps!

The grille is something to be seen, with this huge cross checkered pattern and Cadillac emblem that you couldn't miss if you tried. Better grab your shades.

Maybe that's why the Escalade is getting mentioned in some rap songs these days.

Our test model was Sable black with a base price of $49,290. Adding a power glass sunroof to the enviably long list of standard features brought the bottom line down to big numbers worthy of this Texas-sized car: $51,540.

The interior of the Escalade outdoes the Lincoln Navigator, it's strongest competitor. The Cadillac emblem -- boy, it's everywhere -- is stitched right into the headrest bolster. The carpeting is thick enough to make your toes cry out "have mercy," and the wood that graces the dash and the doors is the genuine article. No fake veneer here, kids!

The dashboard is worth a word or two because of the wonderful retro look it has with aluminum "halos" around the dials. The wood and leather steering wheel recalls the past, too. And there's a message center that monitors and reports on as many as 19 vehicle functions.

Now, once I was comfortable in my Escalade, I wasn't in the mood to haul my backside out of the seat, march around to the rear of the car, as I've done in other luxury SUVs, and fiddle with a CD system.

Cadillac, sensibly, accommodates my case of acute "lazy-itis" by including an in-dash six-disc CD changer that is the height of simplicity.

Other stuff in the interior was oversized, too. You could open the console lid, fall into it and not be heard from again, it's so deep. Plenty of room in there for six CD cases to be stacked.

The Driver Information Center can recall the positions of the seats at a touch of a button, automatically tilt the driver and/or passenger side exterior mirrors when the car is shifted into reverse, and bring them back to a normal position when the vehicle's shifted out of reverse. Now isn't that special?

Though the front compartment is roomy, I was surprised that, though Cadillac touts the Escalade as being roomier than the older version, the leg room in the second row of seats was, surprisingly, only average, maybe even a bit below. I also fault GM for not giving this truck a more obvious way to get into the third row.

My children couldn't figure it out and neither could I, so they ended up crawling over the middle seat to get to the third.

It also would be nice if Cadillac would light the spot where the parking brake resides. At night you end up groping around trying to find it because it's hidden way at the bottom of the dashboard.

The real treat is driving the Escalade.

This truck out-handles, out-accelerates and out-maneuvers everything in its class except perhaps its fellow GM products, and it has a bigger engine than those do.

The only weak spot in handling for the Escalade is that the steering is too imprecise. I think it requires too much correction when coming out of a turn, and there's a bit too much "play" in the steering wheel to make the driver feel as completely confident as he or she might like while driving it.

Visibility also will give some smaller drivers pause. The Escalade is so big that once vehicles come upon you from behind, they virtually disappear, making it impossible to see what's behind you.

Fortunately, the Escalade comes with a parking assist feature that includes a bell to tell you when you've come too close to something behind you. Although you can shut it off by means of a control from the dashboard, I strongly recommend you leave it on -- it's there for a very good reason.

If you like your cars as big as a Texas prairie, but with some panache and cosmopolitan style to go along with it, Cadillac's got your number.

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