What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Cadillac Escalade's standard navigation system has been upgraded from DVD-based to SD-card-based, while the six-disc CD/DVD changer has been dropped in favor of a single-disc unit.
There are luxury SUVs and then there's the 2011 Cadillac Escalade. There are full-size SUVs and then there's the Escalade. You could buy any number of big, luxurious vehicles instead, but there's just no true substitute for Cadillac's celebration of power, brashness and wheels in a package so large the Amish could stick one 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. A beefy 403-horsepower V8 is standard and provides excellent acceleration for a truck that weighs nearly 3 tons. An adjustable suspension that's standard on all but the base Escalade optimizes ride and handling. Most notably, the Escalade's interior is of higher quality and looks entirely different from what you'll find in a related Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon. Truly, the Escalade lives up to its Cadillac badge.
Even if you love the Escalade's distinct style, there are some factors to consider before you throw your money down. For one, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed the Escalade to be the most stolen SUV in America by a considerable margin -- an onboard Doberman might be a good idea. Also, the Escalade's third-row seat is less practical than that of other full-size luxury SUVs, since it both lacks legroom and must be removed in order to get a flat cargo area.
As a result, the Infiniti QX56, Land Rover LR4 and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class are better suited for frequently carrying a full load of cargo or passengers, and they are also easier and more responsive to drive. Should you want a more driver-focused SUV, the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport are both in the 2011 Cadillac Escalade's price range. Of course, a Land Rover LR4 with 22-inch rims just doesn't look right and a Mercedes GL doesn't have nearly the same in-your-face presence. Sometimes, the only vehicle that'll do is an Escalade.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Cadillac Escalade is a full-size luxury SUV available in four trim levels: Base, Luxury, Premium and Platinum Edition. Seating for seven passengers is standard, but an optional center bench seat available on all but the Platinum Edition bumps it up to eight. There are also hybrid, extended length (ESV) and pickup-style models (EXT) addressed in separate model reviews.
The base Escalade comes standard with 18-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, power-folding and driver-side auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a power liftgate, automatic xenon headlights, foglights and running boards. Other standard amenities include tri-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-only steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, and heated and ventilated 10-way power front seats with adjustable lumbar and driver memory functions. Heated second-row captain's chairs, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, OnStar, a voice-operated navigation system with real-time traffic, and a 10-speaker Bose surround sound system with a CD/DVD player, satellite radio and an iPod/USB interface round out the lengthy standard features list.
The Escalade Luxury adds chromed 22-inch cast-aluminum wheels, automatic headlight high-beams, a blind-spot warning system, a suspension with an active damping system (optional on the base model), a sunroof, power-folding and tumbling second-row seats and a heated steering wheel.
The Escalade Premium adds power-retractable running boards and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a single roof-mounted display (optional on Luxury). The Escalade Platinum Edition adds different chromed 22-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, upgraded leather upholstery, leather-trimmed dash and door tops with contrast stitching, heated and cooled cupholders, and a headrest-mounted dual-screen DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Cadillac Escalade is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 good for 403 hp and 417 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with a manual-shift feature is standard. Rear-wheel drive is standard on the Escalade, but all-wheel drive is optional.
In Edmunds performance testing, an all-wheel-drive Escalade took just 7.5 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph, a relatively impressive number for a vehicle this size. Properly equipped, two-wheel-drive versions can tow a healthy 8,300 pounds.
The Escalade features cylinder deactivation technology for improved fuel economy. Note that we said "improved" and not "good," as the big Escalade manages just 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 13/18/15 with all-wheel drive.
Standard safety features on the Escalade include stability control, antilock disc brakes, traction control, front side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and OnStar emergency telematics. A blind-spot warning system is standard on all but the base model.
In the government's new, more strenuous crash testing for 2011, the Escalade earned four stars out of a possible five, with five stars for overall frontal crash protection and four stars for overall side crash protection, but just three stars for rollover safety.
In Edmunds brake testing, the 2011 Cadillac Escalade came to a stop from 60 mph in a disappointing 144 feet. In government crash testing, the Escalade received a perfect five stars for frontal crash protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Escalade's cabin, highlighted by supple leather upholstery and attractive faux wood and alloy trim, looks and feels more luxurious than what you'd find in a Tahoe or Yukon. The gauges and controls are well-placed and intuitive in their operation, and an upgraded navigation system for 2011 gives the Escalade the latest electronics at GM's disposal.
In its standard seven-passenger configuration, the big Caddy features second-row captain's chairs and a three-person third-row bench seat. Adding the available second-row bench raises total seating capacity to eight. The 50/50-split third-row seat doesn't provide much legroom and doesn't fold neatly into the floor as in most other SUVs. Instead, owners looking to carry bulky items are forced to either fold and tumble the entire assembly forward -- eating up precious cargo space -- or remove the heavy seats entirely.
If you choose to lose the third-row seat, you'll end up with a cavernous 60.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats. Fold those second-row seats down and the cargo capacity grows to an impressive 108.9 cubic feet.
On the road, the 2011 Cadillac Escalade delivers swift acceleration at all speeds thanks to its big 403-hp V8. Its handling inspires confidence, especially with the active Magnetic Ride Control suspension, though you'll never mistake the Escalade for anything other than a truck-based SUV. You will appreciate the ride quality, though, as it remains comfortable even with the larger 22-inch wheels. A relatively tight 39-foot turning circle helps with overall drivability, but maneuvering in tight quarters can be a hassle even with the aid of the standard rearview camera.