What's New for 2012
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT returns unchanged save for an updated navigation system.
There are plenty of luxury-lined pickups out there. Each of America's Big Three automakers produces one, boasting abundant features, loads of leather and special trim names like King Ranch, Laramie and Denali. Yet none of those names carries the weight of Cadillac, nor is a "luxury-lined" pickup the same as an honest-to-goodness luxury pickup. If you're looking for one of those, you have only one choice: the 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT.
One of three different Escalade models, the full-size EXT combines a five-passenger SUV-like interior with a rugged covered cargo bed. The key to making these two disparate elements work together is an innovative "midgate" behind the rear seats that extends the truck bed into the cabin. You won't want to be hauling around loads of manure, of course, but large items that wouldn't normally fit suddenly will with the midgate lowered.
Compared to its mechanically similar and significantly more affordable cousin, the Chevrolet Avalanche, the Escalade EXT comes fitted with all-wheel drive and a more robust (and thirstier) V8 engine. Of course, you also get flashier styling and a unique-to-Cadillac passenger cabin done up in higher-quality materials and filled with desirable standard features.
Unfortunately, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT shares both the Escalade and Avalanche's shortcomings. Like the regular Escalade, it has one of the highest theft rates in the country. And like the Avalanche, it has a huge footprint and limited rearward visibility that adversely affect maneuverability in close quarters. Those aren't exactly foreign complaints among truck buyers, but the EXT also falls short in terms of maximum towing and hauling capability.
As such, if you intend to use your pickup truck as, well, a pickup truck, then the Ram 1500 Laramie, Ford F-150 King Ranch or GMC Sierra Denali will likely be better choices. They can all be pretty luxurious when loaded with amenities. Even so, if a cross between a full-size luxury SUV and a pickup truck is what you want, then there is literally only one choice to be had.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT is a full-size luxury pickup offered in three trim levels: Base, Luxury and Premium.
Standard features on the entry-level Base model include 18-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive air suspension, automatic xenon headlights, foglamps, heated power-folding outside mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, rear privacy glass, a roof rack, side steps, a fold-down midgate, lockable three-piece cargo cover, rear parking sensors, remote ignition and keyless ignition/entry. Inside there's tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 10-way power front seats (with heating, cooling, driver memory settings and four-way lumbar adjustment), heated rear seats, power-adjustable pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a tilt-only steering wheel and remote ignition. Electronic features include OnStar, Bluetooth, a navigation system, real-time traffic, a rearview camera and an eight-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD/DVD/MP3 changer, satellite radio, rear seat audio controls, rear seat headphone jacks and an iPod/USB interface.
The Luxury model adds 22-inch chrome alloy wheels, Magnetic Ride Control adjustable suspension (optional on Base), automatic high beams, a sunroof and a heated steering wheel. Springing for the top-of-the-line EXT Premium trim gets you different wheels, a body-colored grille and other exterior trim pieces, power-retracting assist steps and a rear-seat DVD/MP3 entertainment system (the latter two items are optional on the Luxury). LED headlamps are optional on the Premium.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission, full-time all-wheel drive and a heavy-duty locking rear differential are all standard. The automatic transmission features a tow/haul mode and manual-shift capability, but gearchanges can be awkward using the controls on the column-mounted shifter.
In Edmunds performance testing, the EXT went from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds, which is very quick for a truck. Despite cylinder-deactivation technology, EPA fuel economy estimates are a dismal 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined. When properly equipped, the EXT can tow 7,600 pounds, a few thousand pounds less than a traditional crew cab pickup.
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Other standard safety features include rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and OnStar emergency communications.
In Edmunds brake testing, the EXT came to a stop from 60 mph in a lengthy 140 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Escalade EXT sets itself apart from the other luxury-lined pickups with a genuinely upscale cabin in terms of design, materials and features. Leather upholstery set off by tasteful wood and metal trim gives the passenger cabin a definite rich feel, though cheap plastic trim in a few spots detracts from the overall effect. The cabin's biggest downside -- limited visibility to the rear and sides -- is offset somewhat by the standard rearview camera and rear parking sensors.
Both rows of seats offer good head- and legroom, with the front buckets' heating/cooling making it especially easy for occupants to get comfortable. We do wish the steering wheel telescoped, however. Folding the rear seats forward and opening the lower half of the midgate expands the 5-foot bed into a huge enclosed cargo area that stretches 8 feet from just behind the front seats to the lockable tailgate. For larger cargo, removing and stowing the rear window and the three-piece tonneau cover creates a traditional pickup bed large enough for the biggest antique store finds.
From behind the wheel, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade EXT is a bit like a gilded sledgehammer -- sparkly and powerful but with a distinct lack of finesse. For starters, the sheer size of this colossus, combined with the limited visibility out the back and sides, makes it a good idea to wield it with a fair amount of restraint. Making that task just a little harder is the surprisingly quick acceleration produced by the 6.2-liter V8 under the hood. The adaptive suspension manages to deliver a decent balance between a smooth ride and confident handling, though there's only so much you can expect in either department from a 6,000-pound truck rolling on 22-inch wheels.