What's New for 2008
Still fresh from its full redesign last year, the few changes to the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT include a new key fob design, cupholders for the second row and equipment revisions.
If crossover is the term for SUVs that think they're cars, what label applies to the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT? Some see this 3-ton hunk of metal as a pickup truck with an SUV's cabin; others see a luxury SUV that happens to have a cargo bed instead of a cargo bay. Perhaps it's better to forget the labels and let the Escalade EXT stand for what it is: an innovative, nicely appointed utility vehicle with a have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too combination of truck and SUV attributes.
The secret lies in the EXT's unique "Midgate," a removable panel serving as the rear wall of the cabin. When in place, the Escalade EXT essentially functions as a five-seat crew cab pickup with a 4-foot-long cargo bed. In times of heavy hauling, however, the Midgate can be removed and the rear seat folded down, allowing the EXT to utilize its cabin to match the carrying capacity of far larger trucks. As a result, its ability to haul both people and cargo surpasses most vehicles of similar size.
Even judged purely as a luxury SUV, the Escalade EXT has its appeal. Like the rest of the Escalade family, the EXT benefited from a vastly more modern design in 2007 that endowed it with more precise steering, fairly able handling and a gentle ride. A 6.2-liter V8 sending 403 horsepower through all four wheels moves it down the road with gusto, and passengers enjoy a roomy, leather-lined cabin.
Such a generous package of space, muscle and luxury is not without its compromises, of course, and the Escalade EXT's considerable girth poses a few problems on the road. It's hard to fit in tight city spots, and rear visibility is compromised. A more pressing issue is the EXT's braking distances, which are longer than they should be for a vehicle wearing a premium badge. In addition, the quality of some interior materials and electronics doesn't live up to the Escalade EXT's $55,000 price, which stands a whopping $13K above that of its closest competitor, the Lincoln Mark LT.
Still, the Lincoln suffers from a 103-hp deficit, and is far less interesting to look at as it rolls through the suburbs. And although it offers two bed lengths, the Mark LT's conventional pickup truck body is devoid of any Midgate-type innovation. Considering that performance, presence and exclusivity constitute much of a luxury truck's appeal, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is arguably worth the premium.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is best described as a premium, full-size crew-cab truck. Standard equipment includes an adaptive suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, roof rack, heated and power-adjustable front seats, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, wood-grain trim, tri-zone automatic climate control, an eight-speaker Bose audio system with an MP3-capable CD/DVD changer, rear parking sensors, remote start and OnStar.
Many of the most desirable extras for the Escalade EXT are grouped in the V8 Ultra Luxury Collection Package, which carries a hefty seven-grand price tag. Included in this package are 22-inch chrome wheels, automatic high-beam headlights, a navigation system, a rear back-up camera, cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. A sunroof is also included in the package, but you can also get it as a stand-alone extra. Other individual options include power-retractable running boards and a rear DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
Unlike the regular Escalade, the Escalade EXT comes only in an all-wheel-drive configuration. Its sole power plant is a muscular 6.2-liter V8 that develops 403 hp and 417 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard and includes a tow/haul mode. It also includes a manual mode, though manual shifting is a tad awkward with the Escalade's column shifter. Thanks to standard trailering preparation, the EXT can tow a maximum of 7,600 pounds.
Standard are antilock disc brakes, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags. Front seat side airbags are not available. In addition to offering protection in side-impact and rollover incidents, the curtain bags can also inflate in serious frontal-impact collisions to provide additional protection. In rear-impact collisions, the front seatbelt pre-tensioners automatically activate to help front-seat occupants avoid whiplash. Rear park assist, adjustable pedals and GM's OnStar communications system are also standard.
Interior Design and Special Features
Removing the Escalade EXT's Midgate allows the pickup bed to extend into the cabin, providing a maximum of 101 cubic feet of cargo capacity. A locking removable tonneau cover for the main bed is standard. One possible downside to the EXT's setup is that using the Midgate opens the rear of the Caddy's cab to weather, plus it keeps you from locking the truck.
The cabin has a mostly elegant ambience thanks to finely stitched leather and accents of wood and metal, though some plastics feel cheap. Large instruments with blue needles allow a quick read of vital stats, while a trip computer provides secondary information like average fuel mileage. The navigation system has a user-friendly touchscreen interface, and all controls are easy to find and use. Our biggest complaint is with the Bose audio system, which has been prone to glitches in the test vehicles we've examined, sometimes freezing up or clipping the first few seconds of CD tracks.
The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT may weigh almost 3 tons, but with this much horsepower and torque, acceleration is swift. During our instrumented testing, Caddy's pickup reached 60 in 7 seconds flat. Shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission are crisp and well-timed, and the ride is comfortable over all but the worst bumps. Steering and handling are also predictable, though the Escalade EXT's sheer bulk keeps it from ever feeling truly nimble. More bothersome are the brakes. Pedal feel is reassuring enough, but at our testing facility the EXT needed more than 140 feet to stop from 60 mph -- not a great performance from an expensive luxury vehicle.