What's New for 2012
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV gets minor enhancements to its navigation system.
There are big SUVs, and then there's the 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV. There are luxury SUVs, and then there's the Escalade ESV. Even if you can buy something more practical or more luxurious, it would be impossible to perfectly match this extended-wheelbase Escalade's ability to carry and coddle eight passengers while simultaneously hauling their luggage and towing a boat for good measure.
Whereas the regular Escalade makes little rational sense compared to more modern, less cumbersome competitors, the ESV's extra third-row seat space and cargo capacity make it stand out above almost everything else. If you have a bunch of kids and need to lug around the immense amount of stuff that comes along with them, a big SUV like the ESV is almost a necessity.
Inevitably, you need to ask this question before buying an Escalade ESV: Do I really need all this space? If the answer is yes, and you furthermore want the added luxury Cadillac provides over a Suburban, then it's a no-brainer. The Lincoln Navigator benefits from a fold-flat third row seat, but it's underpowered and its interior design is dated. However, if you'll rarely need the Escalade's people- and stuff-carrying abilities simultaneously, you'd be better off spending your money on one of those more modern, less cumbersome luxury SUVs like the Infiniti QX and Mercedes GL-Class.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV is the extended-wheelbase version of the regular Escalade, or put another way, the Cadillac version of the Chevy Suburban. Available trim levels are base, Luxury, Premium and Platinum Edition. The ESV seats seven people with the standard second-row captain's chairs, while an optional second-row bench available on all but the Platinum ups capacity to eight.
Standard equipment on the base Escalade includes 18-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, rear parking sensors, power-folding and heated mirrors with driver auto-dimming, a roof rack, automatic xenon headlights, foglamps, a power liftgate, running boards, remote ignition and keyless ignition/entry. Inside you get tri-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated 10-way power front seats with four-way lumbar adjustment and driver memory functions, power-adjustable pedals, a power tilt-only steering wheel, heated second-row seats (both captain's chairs and optional bench) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Electronic features include a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity, OnStar emergency communications, a navigation system, real-time traffic, voice controls and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, iPod/USB audio interface, rear seat controls and two wireless headphones.
The Luxury adds 22-inch wheels, an upgraded magnetic automatically adaptive suspension, automatic high beams, a blind-spot warning system, a sunroof, a power-folding and -tumbling second row and a heated steering wheel. Power-retracting running boards and a rear seat entertainment system are optional on the Luxury and included on the Premium, which further adds unique exterior trim and special 22-inch wheels. LED headlights are optional on the Premium and standard on the Platinum Edition, which further adds its own unique exterior trim, 22-inch chrome wheels, leather-trimmed dash and door tops, contrasting stitching, heated and cooled cupholders, upgraded leather upholstery and unique interior color choices. The Platinum's entertainment system also gets dual display screens mounted in the front headrests.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive are standard, but all-wheel drive is optional.
Accelerating from zero to 60 mph should take a bit more than 7 seconds, which is pretty quick for such a large SUV. Estimated EPA fuel economy is about what you'd expect from a big truck: 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined for RWD models; AWD versions are a bit thirstier at 13/18/14. When properly equipped, the rear-drive ESV can tow 8,000 pounds. The all-wheel-drive version is 7,700 pounds.
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV includes standard antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Other standard safety features include rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and OnStar emergency communications. All ESV trim levels except the base model also feature a blind-spot warning system.
In Edmunds brake testing with the regular Escalade, we found that stopping distances were excessive, so it's likely that the larger, heavier ESV will fare even worse.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Escalade's cabin, highlighted by supple leather upholstery and attractive faux-wood and alloy trim, looks and feels more luxurious than what you'd find in a Suburban. The gauges and controls are well placed and intuitive in their operation, and even the base Escalade is crammed full of luxurious features to keep you and your passengers comfortably entertained.
The Escalade ESV can accommodate seven or eight occupants, depending on the second-row configuration of either bucket seats or optional bench seating. A power fold-and-flip feature for the second-row seats eases access to the third row. Unfortunately, a more convenient foldaway third-row seat isn't available, so owners must remove and store the heavy and cumbersome 50/50 seat sections in order to boost rear cargo capacity. Still, with all seats in place, there's still 46 cubic feet of room for groceries, luggage or pets. Only Ford and Lincoln's extended-wheelbase SUVs and the Escalade's Suburban/Yukon XL relatives can match that ability to carry people and stuff simultaneously. With the rear seat sections folded and removed, the Cadillac Escalade ESV offers a cavernous, class-leading 137 cubic feet of maximum cargo space.
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV is a massive vehicle, so the laws of physics are always apparent -- especially while braking. Maneuvering in tight spots can require extra caution and planning as well. That said, the ESV's powerful V8 delivers surprisingly quick acceleration, and its adaptable suspensions are well-mannered and calibrated to strike a satisfying balance between a smooth, comfortable ride and decent handling. Road impacts are noticeably harsher with the larger 22-inch wheels, however.