2002 Cadillac Escalade First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2002 Cadillac Escalade SUV

(5.3L V8 4-speed Automatic)

An About Face

Not too long ago, we had the chance to drive the new 2002 Cadillac Escalade. But at the time, we could only provide you with a look at the vehicle and its extensive list of features.

That Preview is a comprehensive examination of the Escalade and since this new SUV is such an amazing improvement over its predecessor, a quick review of the highlights seems appropriate.

One of the most notable features is the new engine. When introduced in 1999, the Chevy Tahoe-spinoff Escalade shared most of its mechanicals with other Chevy and GMC trucks and SUVs. No more. The new Caddy ute has its own 6.0-liter (364 cubic inch) version of GM's Gen III V8 that's not available in any other Chevy/GMC truck or SUV.

Even further exclusive to all-wheel-drive Escalades (two-wheel drivers get a 5.3-liter engine), the high-compression Vortec 6000 V8 makes 345 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and an impressive 380 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Boasting the same basic architecture as the LS1 V8 found in the Corvette, this engine is an update of the current 6.0-liter used in three-quarter- and 1-ton full-size Chevy and GMC trucks. But those engines make only 300 horsepower. The Cadillac mill has special cylinder heads that produce a 10:1 compression ratio, a larger 75 mm throttle body, and a cam with more lift and duration to allow the engine to take full advantage of the increased air flow the cylinder heads provide. Behind the engine, a version of GM's top-notch 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission, dubbed the 4L60-E HD, finds its way into the Escalade and is extensively modified for duty behind the big 6.0-liter motor.

The all-wheel-drive Escalade has a viscous coupling transfer case that continuously adjusts the torque to the wheels smoothly and imperceptibly, so the driver never feels wheel slip as traction is being maintained.

Moving inside the Escalade's cabin, you'll find the extensive redesign didn't stop with the unique exterior styling that no longer shares its front clip with the GMC Yukon Denali. Brimming with luxury all around, the Escalade's cabin has exclusive bits like an all-new gauge cluster. An integrated floor console, heated seats, an 11-speaker Bose stereo with a single-point loading six-disc CD changer, a new driver information center, and a lightweight third-row seat are also part of the mix.

As we noted in our First Look, we had the chance to drive the Escalade's main competition on the same day, including the Lexus LX 470, Mercedes ML 430 and Lincoln Navigator. Also on hand was a previous-generation Escalade that, as we've said, is not much more than a Cadillac-badged Chevy Tahoe.

Read the several stories we have posted about the first Escalades and it's plain to see that it was getting much too long in the tooth to stack up against the likes of an LX 470 or Navigator. After our brief drive in this new Caddy, we know this is no longer the case.

In short, the new Escalade drives like a dream — especially in comparison to the Chevy/GMC SUV-based first-generation version. While our seat time in the new Escalade consisted of only about 50 miles, it was enough to see how much better it is than the old version. One area where the difference is dramatic is in outright performance. The new version with the big 6.0-liter motor is quicker, faster and generally much more beefy than the older one. For example, we tested the earlier model against its luxury SUV competitors and it needed 9.5 seconds to get to 60 mph. Cadillac claims the new Escalade will get to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. The old one needed 17.2 seconds to cover the quarter-mile and the new version does it in 16.6.

Of course, this dramatic increase in performance comes from an equally dramatic increase in power output. The old version with its Gen II small-block Chevy made 255 horsepower, which, for the time, was decent enough. But today, the new Gen III motor makes a whopping 90 more horsepower! With 345 ponies on tap it also covers the Navigator by a generous 45-horsepower margin.

But worrying if a luxury SUV goes fast or not is relatively pointless. However, the power means everything in the world for another type of activity — towing. While we didn't tow during our drive, it's worth noting the Escalade will haul up to 8,500 pounds with no sweat. Mighty impressive when you consider the 2000 version could tow only 6,600 pounds.

We also got the chance to try two new services that are now included with the standard OnStar communications system. First, there's the ability to make and receive hands-free, voice-activated phone calls without the need for an additional cellular contract. Second, the OnStar virtual advisor can deliver to the vehicle personalized, Internet-based information such as news headlines, sports scores, stock quotes and weather conditions. We were given the choice to pick a favorite sports team and a city for weather info. Once this information was programmed into the system, we were able to retrieve updates on our choices out on the road. It worked quite well and is a testament to GM's commitment to make OnStar more useful as time progresses.

For the most part, the new Escalade drives well enough that we actually didn't want to relinquish our position behind the wheel. High-speed cruising on the freeway is effortless and passing power when the transmission drops down to third gear is impressive. We also drove the Escalade on some rather small two-lane back roads in Central California. For something as big as this thing is, we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for us to make our way through tight curves and around hairpin turns. Of course, don't expect any big (Navigator, Escalade) to huge (Suburban, Excursion) SUV to handle like a sport sedan or even a regular sedan. But after driving the Cadillac and its competitors on similar roads all in one day, we can certainly say that the Escalade is at least as pleasant to drive as any other luxo-SUV on the market.

In fact, looking back it's fascinating to realize how well the Escalade would've done if this version was the one holding up the GM banner in our Luxury SUV Comparison Test. The players in that comparo were a Navigator, an LX 470, an ML 430, a Range Rover and the hopelessly outclassed previous-generation Escalade. While the LX 470 excels in many ways and today is still a tough customer to beat, we'd predict that this new Escalade would've likely wound up in second place among this group of five luxo SUVs, if not possibly winning the contest outright. Clearly the new Escalade opens the door for a possible rematch. The time has come for you to watch out, Lincoln, Lexus, Mercedes and Land Rover.

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