Full 2008 Cadillac Escalade Review
What's New for 2008
Changes to the 2008 Cadillac Escalade are light, restricted to a reorganization of some of the vehicle's option packages as well as a new premium (and premium-priced) Platinum trim level that debuts midyear.
The following review will not utter the word bling. Nor its many derivatives like blinged up, blingification or blingtastic. They're dreadfully overused and increasingly cliché, especially in reference to the 2008 Cadillac Escalade, which helped put the word into the American lexicon. In its second year since a complete redesign, the Escalade is now so much more than just a rolling canvas for tacky gold badges, customized paint jobs, TV screens and wheels so large the Amish could stick them in a river to power a grain mill.
At its core, the Escalade is the ultimate realization of GM's full-size truck and SUV platform, sharing much with the lower-line Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Unlike the previous two 'Slades, though, the current one differs greatly from its lesser cousins, particularly under the hood and inside the cabin. A 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 attached to a six-speed automatic provides tremendous acceleration for a vehicle that weighs about 5,500 pounds. Inside, the stylish design is more in sync with the latest Cadillac products rather than a quick redress of a Tahoe. Materials are quite good and ergonomics are spot on with user-friendly controls -- particularly the large, optional navigation touchscreen.
Much of the Escalade's appeal comes from its in-your-face styling. It actually looks somewhat subdued in comparison to its archrival the Navigator, given Lincoln's decision to install a chrome sewer grate for a front grille. Still, Cadillac finally realized it was missing out on some Benjamins and now offers its own set of "dubs," 22-inch chrome wheels that are definitely more appropriate than the standard 18-inchers. After all, an Escalade without rims is like Li'l Jon without his pimp cup. It's possible, but it just doesn't look right.
Overall, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade is very refined and one of the top choices among full-size luxury SUVs. We like it more than the Navigator, and it fares well against import-brand choices like the Infiniti QX56 or the Mercedes-Benz GL 450. True, the GL, another excellent choice, is quicker, easier and more rewarding to drive, and blessed with a more opulent interior that includes a fold-flat third-row seat. But when it comes to sheer presence, street cred and, the "b" word, the Escalade cannot be topped.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Cadillac Escalade is a full-size luxury SUV available in two trim levels: base and Platnium. In addition to the usual array of features, the base Escalade has xenon headlamps, a power liftgate, an adaptive suspension, park assist and even a heated windshield washer fluid feature. Inside, one will find triple-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals, heated first- and second-row seats, remote starting and OnStar. A Bose surround sound audio system with 10 speakers, satellite radio and an in-dash six-CD changer is also standard.
The V8 Ultra Luxury Collection package adds a navigation system, a rearview camera, Intellibeam adaptive headlamps, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, power-release second-row seats, a sunroof and 22-inch chrome aluminum wheels. Of the equipment in this group, only the sunroof is available as a stand-alone option, although finding different 22-inch wheels for an Escalade shouldn't be much of a problem. Additional options include nifty power-retractable running boards, a rear-seat entertainment system and less ostentatious 18-inch chrome wheels (as an alternative to the plain alloy finish on the standard 18s).
Much of the base model's optional equipment comes standard on the new Escalade Platinum. Ponying up for this special-edition trim level gets you unique 22-inch chrome wheels, a CTS-inspired front grille, upgraded interior leather upholstery and a special rear-seat entertainment system with additional video monitors. It's also GM's first SUV to sport Magnetic Ride Control, a suspension system that utilizes electronically controlled fluid-filled shocks to continually adjust the damping. Platinum-edition Escalades produced after the summer of 2008 will feature LED headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 Cadillac Escalade comes standard with a 6.2-liter V8. It pumps out 403 hp and 417 pound-feet of torque and is one of the most powerful engines available in a luxury SUV. Making the most of the new engine's broad power curve is a six-speed automatic transmission that offers a manual-shift mode (that is unfortunately operated by counterintuitive buttons on the column-mounted shifter). The Escalade is available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive versions feature a default 40/60 front/rear power split. Escalades aren't meant for off-roading (don't want to scratch those dubs), so there is no dual-range transfer case. Towing capacity for a properly equipped AWD model is 7,400 pounds.
Stability control with a rollover sensor is standard, as are antilock disc brakes, traction control, side curtain airbags for all outboard occupants and the OnStar telematics system. Front seat-mounted side airbags are not available. In NHTSA testing, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade earned a top five-star rating for protection of front occupants in head-on collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the last-generation Escalade's interior was nothing more than a Chevy pickup tarted up with wood trim and an analog clock, the 2008 Escalade bears little resemblance to its plebian GM full-size siblings. Tasteful alloy trim, faux walnut inlays and good-quality plastics provide an attractive, luxurious environment befitting the Cadillac name. The large, tilting touchscreen that comes with the optional navigation system is mounted high and is very easy to use, while other buttons and controls are a model of ergonomic correctness.
Depending on its second- and third-row configuration, the Escalade can seat six, seven or eight people. To improve access to the third row, power fold-and-flip second-row seats are available that can be controlled via a button on the forward headliner. However, the third-row seat doesn't fold flat into the floor like in a Lincoln Navigator or Mercedes-Benz GL 450, which limits cargo capacity and requires owners to remove the very heavy 50/50 sections if more space is needed. Still, the Escalade leads the class in cargo capacity with those seats removed -- 60.3 cubic feet -- and it balloons to 108.9 cubes with the second row folded.
With all that power on tap, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade is quick for a big SUV. We've timed the all-wheel-drive version at 7.5 seconds to 60 mph. And with six gears in the transmission, there is always a surge of power underfoot for swift passing and merging maneuvers. Tuned for a luxurious ride, the Escalade makes no pretense at being sporty. The handling is composed, but this truck's reflexes are muted. Around town, a relatively tight 39-foot turning circle makes parking a bit easier, but its size still necessitates extreme care even with the optional rearview camera. When aimed for the horizon on an interstate, though, there aren't many better cruisers, as the ride is notably quiet and the supple suspension smothers the bumps without feeling sloppy when the turns come up. Keep in mind that selecting the giant 22-inch wheels will make the ride noticeably less supple and increase braking distances (due to their extra weight).