The Cadillac Escalade EXT

Review Notes: Cadillac Escalade EXT
Personality Work truck in genteel wrapper
Quirks Door handle, brake release placement; heavy truck under Cadillac coating; cruise control
Unusual features Stability system, backup warning system, fold-down rear seats with removable window glass, storage compartments in bed-sides
Above Average: Handling, braking, capacity
Needs Work In: Gas mileage, liftgate weight

Cadillac's Escalade has not shaken the world with its sales, but it did survive even though the Lincoln Blackwood came and went in the blink of an eye. Since the basic engineering of the truck was already done, the Escalade is most likely a profit leader for GM, taking a Chevrolet truck and, with some refinements to the interior and suspension, making it into a substantially more expensive Cadillac. Hence the Escalade eXT, following on the success of the Chevrolet Avalanche - which is, in essence, what the Escalade EXT is, albeit with some major improvements.

First, the Escalade EXT has Stabilitrak, a very effective automatic stability system which provides startling improvements in handling. The Escalade doesn't feel like a sports car, but it takes turns no truck has the right to try, and does it without screeching tires or feelings of imminent loss of control. We hope drivers will use it responsibly - but it certainly makes the Escalade handy around tight, fast turns.

Second, the Cadillac version has a road sensing suspension and automatic level control, which, with Stabilitrak, keep the truck well-composed regardless of environmental conditions

Third, and very handy, is the ultrasonic rear parking assist system, which beeps when an obstruction is sensed behind the vehicle, and lights up one, two, or three LEDs to tell roughly how much free space is behind the vehicle. That really helps in parking this behemoth, making it easier to back in the Cadillac than most small pickups.

These, along with every other feature discussed in this review, are all standard - included in the $50,000 recommended retail price. (The only option our test vehicle had was a $1,550 power glass sunroof.)

What else do you get for your top of the line price? First, it's a Cadillac, which means you get roadside assistance for the life of the vehicle, along with a year of OnStar service and a four year, 50,000 mile warranty; not to mention premium wood trim, leather seats, an excellent stereo with a CD changer and cassette deck, along with rear seat controls and earphones; electronic climate control; and power windows, locks, and heated mirrors. Not bad, and, indeed, a good deal next to the Chevrolet Avalanche, which is much less expensive but has a shorter warranty, no standard stability systems, and no rear parking assist, which can save you from bashing in a Mercedes grille someday.

Safety features include all-wheel drive with automatic adjusting torque split, a more practical system for most on-road driving than four wheel drive; four-wheel antilock disk brakes; driver and passenger front and side airbags; a manually adjustable rear center lap belt for child seats; and Stabilitrak to avoid accidents.

Since it's also basically an Avalanche at heart, it has that system that lets you take the window out and fold down the rear seats, extending the bed a little. That's the Convert-A-Cab™ system with the "magical midgate™" panel. The rear window can be safely stashed in a convenient pocket so it can actually stay in one piece, and not get left behind.

The bed is covered by a series of three covers, each easy to remove and reinstall. They protect the contents of the bed from thieves and the elements, while making the truck more aerodynamic. The designers even put glow-in-the-dark handles on the levers that lock and unlock the bed cover, so you can work at night if needed. Putting the bed cover on is easier than with a soft tonneau cover, and the cover itself provides better security - and presumably a longer life. We do miss the Avalanche's molded-in foot-holds, which help people to climb into the high bed. The bed itself is covered by a removable rubber mat, which keeps things firmly in place, but can be hard to wash thoroughly. Our main gripe with the function of the Escalade EXT, actually, was the weight of the liftgate itself - it was far heavier than needed, and on a Cadillac, that weight (and the awkwardness entailed in opening it) seemed out of place.

Another Avalanche feature not on our Escalade was the drink heater/cooler, a surprising omission given all the other gadgets. It did come with the clever oil life sensing system, which can triple the time between oil changes.

Owners can also customize various aspects of how their vehicle works - for example, whether one door or all doors automatically lock and unlock. There are two profiles available, and the preferences can be changed via the key fob or the door switch, along with the driver's seat memory. There is also a trip memory showing high speed and distance travelled for each day, and a depressing gas mileage computer, in a center-mounted console. Outside temperature and compass reading are in the mirror, while OnStar is in the dashboard.

The instrument panel is different from those used in Chevy trucks, more sporty, with emphasis on the speedometer and tachometer. There are still a full complement of gauges, including a transmission temperature gauge. Controls are mostly sensible, though we have our differences with the corporate GM cruise control, and the on-wheel radio controls are too far in to do much good. The automated climate control provides easy manual overrides and is easy to figure out and use.

The front has the new Cadillac styling, not unlike the CTS. Side body cladding is tasteful and in the same color as the steel.c

The engine is GM's corporate 345 horse 6.0 liter V8, providing truck-like performance with high torque at relatively low engine speeds. Acceleration is good if unspectacular from a stop, and very impressive at highway speeds. The air conditioner is powerful, but has little effect on engine performance. Gas mileage, as one might expect, suffers from the heavy truck and huge engine, with an EPA estimated 12 mpg city, 15 highway.

The Escalade EXT is an interesting vehicle, providing Cadillac gadgetry and luxury trim with Avalanche brute force and function. For most people, this truck is overkill and impractical - if you're just looking for a large interior, luxury appointments, and a high riding position, we suggest you try a Chrysler Town & Country minivan instead. It's larger inside than a Ford Expedition, can have all wheel drive, and gets over 20 miles per gallon, with a price tag far below the Escalade.

On the other hand, if you want to tow a heavy trailer in style, or need a five-passenger pickup for some work-related reason, the Cadillac Escalade EXT is quite desirable. The price is not inflated considering what it comes with, and there really aren't any competitors to "the most powerful luxury sport utility truck."