What's New for 2010
For 2010, the Cadillac Escalade EXT loses a handful of formally standard features, such as the rain-sensing wipers and the rear-mounted indicator lights for the park assist feature. However, it also picks up a USB port for the audio system and the 6.2-liter V8 now has Active Fuel Management, which means it can shut down up to four cylinders under light demand conditions. Lastly, there are now three trim levels, as Luxury and Premium versions debut this year.
You could say that the 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT suffers from multiple personality disorder. In some ways it's an SUV, and in others it's a crew cab pickup truck. As expected of an Escalade, the EXT provides all the benefits of Cadillac's luxury-class full-size SUV, including bold, unabashedly American styling, a roomy and handsome cabin, plenty of luxury features and a powerful V8 engine. But behind the rear compartment in lieu of a wagonlike cargo area, the EXT has a pickup truck bed.
If this combination sounds familiar, it's because it's the same one utilized in the related Chevrolet Avalanche. Both trucks have a "midgate" feature that allows the rear window and wall that separate the cab from the bed to fold down into the cabin, thereby extending bed length from 5 feet to 8. The Cadillac differs mainly in its styling, interior accommodations, features and bigger engine.
Although last year brought a few newly standard features, this year brings the inverse as the power tilt for the nav screen, the rain-sensing wipers and the park assist indicator lights have all been dropped. In all honesty, none of these except perhaps the automatic wipers will be missed, as the park assist system still provides both a rearview camera and audible alerts. The audio system, meanwhile, picks up a USB port, and the burly 6.2-liter V8 now has Active Fuel Management, which means it can shut down four cylinders under light load conditions (such as level or downgrade freeway cruising) to promote better fuel mileage.
The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT does have a few drawbacks, such as lackluster braking performance and a few interior plastics that aren't up to the quality expected at this price point. And of course, nobody will be showering praise upon this 6,000-pound truck for its fuel economy (despite cylinder deactivation technology). But realistically, if you're looking for a luxury-brand pickup, this is the only game in town. Only the Ford F-150 Platinum offers virtually all of the same luxury features as the Caddy, but it doesn't measure up to it in terms of prestige or power. For a luxury pickup, it seems, having a multiple personality disorder can be a good thing.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT is essentially a premium full-size crew cab pickup truck that's available in three trim levels: base, Luxury and Premium.
Standard features on the base version include 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, a roof rack, a road-sensing adaptive suspension, a fold-down midgate, power-adjustable heated front seats, driver memory settings, power-adjustable pedals, rear park assist (with rearview camera), leather upholstery, wood-grain trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote engine start, OnStar and Bluetooth. Also standard are a navigation system with real-time traffic updates and an eight-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system (with a CD/DVD/MP3 player, satellite radio and a USB port).
Stepping up to the Luxury trim adds auto-dimming high-beams, 22-inch chrome-clad wheels, an automatically adjusting (Magnetic Ride Control) suspension, a sunroof and a heated steering wheel. The top-of-the-line Premium adds power-retracting side steps and a rear-seat entertainment system. A few of the upper trim features, such as the Magnetic Ride Control suspension and the DVD entertainment system, are available on the base model.
Powertrains and Performance
Unlike the standard Escalade, the EXT is offered only as an all-wheel-drive model. Driving those 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.
As of this writing, 2010 EPA fuel economy estimates were not available. Last year they stood at 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 14 mpg in combined driving, and this year's adoption of cylinder deactivation technology will likely add 1 or 2 mpg to the highway estimate. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph for such a large, heavy truck is downright swift at about 7 seconds flat.
The 2010 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.
In Edmunds brake testing, the EXT's stopping distances were disappointing -- a lengthy 140 feet was required to stop from 60 mph. In crash testing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded last year's 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. When the EXT is in cargo mode, the interior (though only from the rear) is open to the elements. However, a locking removable tonneau cover for the main bed is included.
News flash: The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT is big and heavy -- really big and heavy. At just about 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 is fairly sprightly thanks to the abundance of power under the hood. The EXT's steering and handling are also predictable and well-mannered, but this is still a large vehicle, and maneuvering in tight spots can be a hassle.