Powerful and unapologetically American, the Cadillac Escalade ESV is the Big Kahuna of the Escalade luxury SUV family. Everything about it is massive, from its extended wheelbase to its V8 engine and Bose sound system. Introduced in 2003 as a variant of the regular Escalade, the ESV broadens the Escalade's appeal by offering the absolute maximum in passenger room and cargo space.
A second-generation Escalade ESV is now available. It's about the same size as the first-generation model but features enhanced maneuverability, a larger, more powerful engine and a significantly upgraded interior. For either generation, this big SUV's appeal lies mainly in its bold attitude and large and luxurious interior. As such, it's a popular choice for many consumers, though shoppers interested in something a little less ostentatious might prefer one of the ESV's import-brand competitors.
Current Cadillac Escalade ESV
No wonder celebs, athletes and moguls are enticed by the Cadillac Escalade ESV. Available in a four trim levels (base, Luxury, Premium and Platinum), the luxury SUV pampers like few vehicles can. Even the base version provides luxuries such as leather upholstery, heated first- and second row seats, triple-zone climate control, a Bose 5.1 surround-sound audio system with 10 speakers, navigation and rear park assist (with a rearview camera). Moving up from there (depending on trim) gilds the lily with features such as 22-inch chrome wheels, power-retracting running boards, a rear DVD entertainment system (with multiple monitors) and even heated/cooled cupholders.
Regardless of trim level, the Escalade ESV is vast and plush. As the upscale sibling to the Chevrolet Suburban, the identically sized ESV offers three rows of seating and can accommodate up to eight people. To facilitate access to the third row, Cadillac offers an optional power fold-and-flip function for the ESV's second-row seats. With this kind of seating capability, the Cadillac Escalade ESV is understandably popular with family buyers as well. There are some low-grade plastics here and there, but in general, the Escalade ESV's cabin feels suitably upscale for a vehicle with a $60K price tag. In addition, even with all this technology on board, the control layout remains simple and user-friendly.
Unfortunately, the third-row seats don't fold flat into the floor. Although cumbersome to lift, the third-row bench's 50/50 sections are removable. With them removed, the ESV provides 90 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold and flip the second-row chairs out of the way and there's a maximum capacity of 137 cubic feet. With all the seats in place, there are still 46 cubic feet available in this extended-length Escalade.
Power for the Cadillac Escalade ESV comes from the same 6.2-liter V8 engine found in the standard Escalade. It churns out 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. A heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission is standard, with rear- and all-wheel drive available.
In road tests, we found the ESV performs very much like the standard Escalade, even with its extended wheelbase. As big SUVs go, it's a gratifying driving package. Given the ESV's size and mass, you'd expect some difficulty in the handling department, but the Escalade ESV's rack-and-pinion steering is light and precise. By no means is it a nimble vehicle, but it's stable and controlled and provides a comfortable ride. With its big-time V8, power comes on in a deluge under full throttle, despite the fact that the ESV weighs nearly 6,000 pounds. As you would expect, however, the resulting gas consumption is quite poor.
Used Cadillac Escalade ESV Models
The current (second) generation Escalade ESV was introduced for 2007. Initially, just one loaded trim level was offered, but the following year saw the debut of the ultra-swank Platinum trim level. For '09 the ESV received E85 fuel capability, standard navigation (with real-time traffic) and available high-tech features such as a blind-spot warning system, LED headlights (Platinum), Bluetooth and the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension (for versions with 22-inch wheels). The '10 Escalade received cylinder-deactivation technology, so those models produced earlier achieve 1 fewer mpg. That year also saw a new USB connection for portable audio devices and a pair of new trim levels -- Luxury and Premium -- that filled the gap between the base and Platinum versions.
The first Escalade ESV generation sold from 2003-'06. It lacked the current model's sophistication and polish, but had all its brashness. It was powered by a 345-hp 6.0-liter V8 mated to a four-speed automatic, and AWD was standard. Like the current model, this Escalade ESV came equipped with plenty of standard luxury and safety features. At the time, our editors were impressed with the vehicle's V8 power, plush ride quality, cargo capacity and features. Downsides were few but included poor fuel economy and unimpressive braking distances. Much like the current Escalade ESV, this one was hampered by its bulk in tight spots -- a problem exacerbated by the first-gen model's numb recirculating-ball steering setup.
Through its four years of production, the first-generation ESV received minimal changes. The ritzy Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum Edition, which featured 20-inch wheels, a lowered suspension, dual screens for its rear entertainment system and heated/cooled seats in the first and second row, debuted late in 2003 and was offered for the remainder of the run.
Read the most recent 2013 Cadillac Escalade ESV review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Cadillac Escalade ESV page.