What's New for 2008
For 2008, two-wheel drive becomes available on the Cadillac Escalade ESV (late availability). A new Platinum trim level also debuts.
For the first half of 2007, overall sales of full-size SUVs were down relative to the previous year's figures, but it was a different story for a subset of this group. Full-size luxury SUVs, a glamorous bunch that includes the Cadillac Escalade ESV, saw a slight sales increase. Apparently, not even high gas prices and changing consumer tastes can slow the demand for rides that are big on flash and prestige.
Benefiting from a redesign last year, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV is the extended-wheelbase sibling of the Escalade, with a 130-inch wheelbase that eclipses the Escalade's by 14 inches. This attribute contributes to its huge cabin; the SUV easily seats up to eight passengers, offering enough room for the neighborhood flag football team, or perhaps a hip-hop mogul and his entourage. Of course, schlepping eight people means toting their gear, and with 46 cubes of luggage capacity behind the third-row seats, the Escalade ESV is up for this challenge.
Power is another of this SUV's strengths. The ESV, like the regular Escalade, comes with a 403-horsepower V8. Of course, with a curb weight approaching 3 tons, the Escalade ESV is most definitely a plus-sized model, and you'll never find yourself bragging about fuel economy. Still, acceleration is vigorous, and there's enough towing capacity to make short work of most hauling tasks.
Given its deluxe price tag, you expect lots of luxury from this Caddy, and for the most part, it delivers. Its interior scores high marks for comfort. Overall materials quality is respectable and ergonomics are spot on, with user-friendly controls -- particularly the large, optional navigation touchscreen. Though the 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV is awash with convenience features (standard amenities include a power liftgate, surround-sound audio and three-zone climate control), it's missing one very useful feature: fold-flat third-row seating.
This is something the ESV's main competitor, the Lincoln Navigator L, happens to offer. But given the Escalade's superiority in terms of engine performance and handling, we think it's a better choice overall. Luxury SUVs still might run counter to America's changing consumer tastes for 2008, but for this group, the Cadillac makes plenty of sense.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV is a full-size SUV that's offered in two supremely loaded trim levels. Explore its standard features and you'll find xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power-adjustable heated front seats with memory settings for the driver, and tri-zone automatic climate control. Additional standard amenities include a 10-speaker 5.1 surround-sound Bose audio system with a CD/DVD changer and satellite radio, a power rear liftgate, power-folding mirrors and a remote start feature. Second-row passengers will never be less than toasty in the Escalade ESV, thanks to its heated second-row captain's chairs. A second-row bench seat is also available.
Choose to upgrade with the V8 Ultra Luxury Collection Package and you'll get adaptive headlights, 22-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, multilevel cooling for the front seats, a navigation system with a rearview camera, a rear DVD entertainment system, a sunroof and power-folding second-row seats. Of these, only the rear DVD entertainment system and sunroof are available as stand-alone options. Power-retractable running boards are also available, but only when the Ultra Luxury Collection Package is ordered.
Much of the base model's optional equipment comes standard on the new Escalade ESV Platinum. Ponying up for this special-edition trim level gets you unique 22-inch chrome wheels, a CTS-inspired front grille, upgraded interior leather upholstery and a special rear-seat entertainment system with additional video monitors. It's also GM's first SUV to sport Magnetic Ride Control, a suspension system that utilizes electronically controlled fluid-filled shocks to continually adjust the damping. Platinum-edition Escalades produced after the summer of 2008 will feature LED headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
The Escalade ESV is available with either two-wheel drive (late availability) or all-wheel drive. All models are powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that boasts 403 hp and 417 pound-feet of torque. The standard six-speed automatic transmission features both a tow/haul and a manual shift mode. According to revised EPA fuel estimates, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV gets 12 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway -- figures that are right in step with those offered by others in its segment. This Cadillac tows up to 7,800 pounds.
Standard features in this area include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, full-length side curtain airbags and the OnStar communication system. Airbags inflate not just in side-impact collisions and rollovers, but in major frontal-impact collisions as well. The Cadillac Escalade ESV employs a sensor that identifies rear impacts and activates the seatbelt pre-tensioners to help front-seat occupants avoid whiplash. All Escalade ESVs come with rear parking sensors, and those equipped with the optional navigation system also feature a rearview camera system. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, this Caddy scored a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact categories.
Interior Design and Special Features
Within the Escalade ESV's doors lies a sleek two-tone dash with a large, colorful navigation screen. Faux walnut inlays are attractive enough, but given its price range, there should be some real wood in evidence. Working with the nav screen is easy, thanks to its user-friendly touchscreen interface, and all controls are ergonomically placed and a snap to operate. Soft-touch surfaces proliferate, but the picture is sullied by a few low-grade plastics.
The Escalade may accommodate six, seven or eight occupants, depending on the configuration of second- and third-row seats. A power fold-and-flip for the second-row seats is offered, to enhance access to the third row. Fold-flat third-row seating isn't available; removing the third-row seat's 50/50 sections boosts capacity, but these sections are large and heavy to work with. At 137 cubic feet, cargo capacity is class-leading, and there are a generous 46 cubes up for grabs behind the third row.
The 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV weighs nearly 3 tons, but with prodigious torque on tap, acceleration is effortless in pretty much all situations. Its six-speed automatic transmission offers shifts that are crisp and well-timed, and when traversing slick or winding roads, the manual mode proves quite useful. The SUV's suspension endows it with a ride that's controlled and smooth over all but the most compromised surfaces, though selecting the optional 22-inch wheels reduces the suppleness somewhat. Handling and steering are predictable around corners, and at 39 feet, the Escalade ESV's turning circle is among the tightest in its segment. Nevertheless, care has to be taken when parking this vehicle, even when it's equipped with the rearview camera system, as the Escalade ESV's size and heft causes it to fall short of feeling nimble.