What's New for 2009
Minor changes are in store for the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT. Additions include E85 compatibility for the V8 engine, a side blind-spot alert system, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, a power tilting steering wheel and adaptive dampers for models equipped with 22-inch wheels. The navigation system, previously optional, is standard this year and includes real-time traffic information.
The Cadillac Escalade EXT has an identity crisis -- but not in a negative way. Rather, its unusual versatility is perhaps its most impressive feature. Like all Escalades, the EXT functions as a full-size luxury SUV, with a lavishly appointed cabin wrapped in an aggressive, non-apologetic body. However, the EXT can also serve as a competent crew-cab pickup truck that is able to do the heavy lifting expected of conventional large pickups.
The Escalade EXT (as well as its less expensive sibling, the Chevrolet Avalanche) owes this split personality to its innovative "midgate" design. In normal operation, the midgate serves as the cabin's rear wall, separating the plush five-passenger interior from the truck bed. When more cargo room is needed, the midgate can be lowered and the rear seats stowed, allowing the 5-foot-long truck bed to extend 3 more feet into the cabin.
Since 2007's major face-lift for the Escalade family, which also refined its handling and ride, the EXT's updates have mostly consisted of minor cosmetic alterations and added conveniences. For 2009, the EXT's changes are limited to minor feature changes The navigation system is standard this year, for instance, and there's a new sensor to alert the driver to objects in his or her blind spots. Also new this year is Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension option, which utilizes specialized shock absorbers that automatically and quickly alter their damping resistance to suit road conditions and driving style, thereby improving handling and ride quality.
Overall, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT is our top pick for a luxury-themed pickup. It does have a few drawbacks, such as lackluster braking performance and some interior plastics that fail to meet expectations at this price point. Moreover, the EPA hasn't exactly lauded the 'Sclade EXT for its superior fuel efficiency. But with its main competitor, the Lincoln Mark LT, discontinued due to lackluster sales, and the upcoming redesigned Ford F-150 Platinum an unknown quantity, the Escalade EXT stands victorious for now.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT is a premium full-size crew cab pickup truck. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, a roof rack, a road-sensing adaptive suspension, a fold-down midgate, heated seats for all occupants, power-adjustable front seats with driver memory settings, leather upholstery, wood grain trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote engine start and hands-free Bluetooth via OnStar. Also standard are a navigation system with real-time traffic and an eight-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD/DVD/MP3 player and satellite radio.
Though the standard EXT is already well-appointed, plenty of options are available for those who desire further opulence. Most of the popular add-ons are included in the V8 Luxury Collection package, which consists of 22-inch chrome wheels, an upgraded adaptive suspension featuring Magnetic Ride Control, automatic high-beam headlamps, a sunroof, heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. Other available options include power-retractable steps, 18-inch chrome wheels and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
Overall, the 2009 Escalade EXT remains mechanically unchanged from last year. Unlike the standard Escalade, the EXT is offered only as an all-wheel-drive model. Driving all four wheels is a potent 6.2-liter V8 producing 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. Power is fed through a six-speed automatic transmission with a tow/haul mode. A manual mode is also featured, but gearchanges are awkward since the controls are mounted on the column shifter.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 14 mpg in combined driving. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph requires about 7 seconds in the EXT, though you'll likely see the fuel needle dropping before your eyes if you attempt to replicate this feat.
The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags with rollover protection. For added safety, a passenger-sensing system determines airbag operation and side curtain airbags will deploy in serious frontal impacts. Rear parking assist, adjustable pedals and OnStar are also standard. New for 2009 is the addition of the Side Blind Zone Alert, which delivers a visual and auditory signal when objects are detected in blind zones. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the EXT its highest rating (five out of five stars) for frontal and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the Escalade EXT, occupants are treated to a typical Cadillac cabin. Delicate stitched leather framed by wood and metal trim creates a stately atmosphere, though some chintzy plastics detract from what is otherwise a successful execution. Gauges are easily legible and the touchscreen interface is intuitive, with easy-to-use controls.
The Escalade EXT's defining characteristic, of course, is the ingenious midgate, which makes the transition from luxury SUV to pickup a simple and elegant procedure. Folding away the rear seats and removing the midgate extends the pickup bed into the interior, providing 101 cubic feet of cargo volume. This flexibility proves handy on the rare occasion when more storage is needed beyond the main bed. Much like a convertible, when the EXT is in cargo mode, the interior is opened to the elements, though a locking removable tonneau cover for the main bed is included.
News flash: The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT is big and heavy -- really big and heavy. At almost 3 tons, the assumption would be that this SUV performs more like a fully loaded container ship than a modern luxury vehicle. Surprisingly, though, the EXT feels fairly quick, thanks to the abundance of hp and torque under the hood. Though you would never consider using words like "agile" or "nimble" to describe any Escalade, the EXT's steering and handling are nonetheless predictable and well-mannered. In previously tested versions, braking distances were disappointing -- a lengthy 140 feet was required to stop from 60 mph. It's possible that this year's optional MRC suspension will improve braking performance.