What's New for 1999
The 1999 Cadillac Escalade is really more a GMC Yukon Denali than it is a Cadillac. (And GMC's Yukon Denali is really more Yukon than anything else -- except, perhaps, a Chevrolet Tahoe, but that's another story). Regardless of its origins, think of the Escalade as a big four-wheel-drive Cadillac limo for well-heeled outdoorsy types. Loaded with luxury touches and every possible convenience (even GM's OnStar mobile communications system), Escalade comes in four special colors and lacks only one thing: an options list. Why? It's got it all.
Cadillac dealers weren't too happy watching thousands of new luxury sport/utility customers walk into rival Lincoln showrooms and snap up the big Navigator SUV. General Motors had been working on a new, full-size Cadillac sport/utility project, but it was still a ways off, and those Caddy dealers were getting mighty antsy. So GM brand managers came up with an idea to clone GMC's new-for-?99 premium SUV, the Yukon Denali, and rebadge it as Cadillac to give those dealers something to sell until GM's next big SUV project is ready.
Enter the 1999 Cadillac Escalade. The first truck-based vehicle in Cadillac's 96-year history, Escalade is meant to combine the best features of a luxury car with those of an all-weather, all-terrain vehicle. Exterior styling differs from the donor Denali by the use of a more distinct grille with bright chrome bezel and the Cadillac wreath-and-crest logo affixed smack dab in the middle.
Reflector-optic halogen headlamps and recessed projector-beam fog lamps reside in a smoothie-style front fascia. Body-color cladding and integrated running boards spruce up the flanks, with textured body-color door handles, outside rearview mirrors and color-keyed rails on the flush roof rack completing the monotone look. Out back, a functional step bumper conceals a standard trailer hitch.
The Escalade's interior features upper and lower consoles packed with storage cubbies and other conveniences such as reading lamps, cupholders, a rear power point and audio controls. Instrumentation is backlit in blue with white pointers and includes a tachometer. Luxury touches abound, with Zebrano wood trim, leather-trimmed front and rear heated seats, and a premium Bose sound system with six-CD changer and single-CD in-dash player. GM's OnStar mobile communications system is standard, as are dual front next-generation airbags and keyless remote entry with an adjustable, shock-sensing anti-theft system.
Powering all this opulence is 5.7-liter pushrod V8 packing 255 horsepower. The Vortec 5700 puts its 330 foot-pounds of torque to the ground via a four-speed automatic transmission and the AutoTrac full-time four-wheel-drive system. When activated, the AutoTrac transfer case will automatically shift from two-wheel drive to 4WD when it senses wheel slippage. Escalade rides on unique six-spoke chromed aluminum wheels wearing Firestone 265/70R-16 touring tires designed especially for sport/utility applications on- and off-road in both wet and dry conditions.
The Escalade provides a "look-at-me'' driving experience around town and a king-of-the-road feel out on the highway. There's no question that the big Caddy SUV has gobs of curb appeal, but understand that it is all riding atop a 10-year-old pickup truck design, with all the flaws inherent to its humble underpinnings. The steering is vague, brakes are on the numb side and the ride quality is not as highly tuned as the price tag. What's worse, use of standard GM interior plastics is not in keeping with the Escalade's image.
If you need to be the first one on your block with the latest the luxo-SUV world has to offer, there's no doubt the Escalade is made for you. But if you happen to think, as we do, that the price walk from an optioned-out GMC Yukon to the dolled-up Cadillac Escalade is rather steep, then maybe you should be shopping elsewhere. For our money, the Escalade model will lose much of its luster every time you see a GMC Yukon Denali pass by. We prefer to wait and see what the next-generation big luxury SUV GM is working on will be like.