Large and in charge: That's what we think when we see the Cadillac Escalade ESV. An extended-length version of the full-size Escalade, the ESV can seat up to eight people, stow up to 120.9 cubic feet of cargo and tow up to 8,100 pounds. Despite its blue-collar work ethic, this is a white-collar vehicle brimming with luxury features and fancy technology.
GM's 6.2-liter V8 powers the Escalade ESV, giving it 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. This engine has power to spare. We haven't timed the ESV to 60 mph, but the shorter (and slightly lighter) Escalade does it in 6.4 seconds, and we expect the ESV is only a few tenths of a second behind that. EPA fuel economy estimates are 17 mpg combined for both rear- and four-wheel-drive versions. The rear-wheel-drive version is rated at 15 city/22 highway and the 4x4 at 15 city/20 highway.
Posh as it may be, the Escalade ESV is still a full-size body-on-frame truck and it drives accordingly. The interior is quiet, but despite the use of GM's Magnetic Ride Control suspension, it still rides harder than a car-based SUV. Handling response is better than we expected, but given its weight and bulk, it's no surprise that the Escalade ESV's limits of traction are relatively low and its braking distances are long. What did surprise us was the steering — though it's very precise, it's also very heavy.
Another surprise was the third-row accommodations. In a vehicle this size, we expect plenty of stretch-out space, so why is the Escalade ESV's third row so cramped? With a massive 39.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, surely those in the way, way back could have better accommodations. Head- and legroom in the first and second rows are generous, though all three rows feel narrow at the shoulders. And the front seats are a disappointment: They are stiff and wide and don't provide the comfort or support we want for long drives. As for the rest of the interior, it's just OK. Though the basic driving controls are easy to find and use, the Cue infotainment system is difficult and slow to respond, and cabin build quality isn't up to the standards we expect in a vehicle this expensive.
The Cadillac Escalade ESV is available in base, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Platinum trim levels. All, including the base model, are lavishly equipped. The Luxury offers a long list of premium equipment, and yet the Premium Luxury model launches the Escalade ESV to an entirely different level while the Platinum offers every feature you could possibly want and a few you didn't know you needed. Edmunds can help find the perfect 2017 Cadillac Escalade ESV for you.
Powerful and unapologetically American, the Cadillac Escalade ESV is the Big Kahuna of the Escalade luxury SUV family. Everything about it is massive, from its extended wheelbase to its V8 engine and Bose sound system. Introduced in 2003 as a variant of the regular Escalade, the ESV broadens the Escalade's appeal by offering the absolute maximum in passenger room and cargo space.
The second-generation version was about the same size as the first-generation model but featured enhanced maneuverability, a larger, more powerful engine and a significantly upgraded interior. The latest, third-generation Cadillac Escalade ESV is more refined and features a power-folding third-row seat, a huge improvement over the previous versions' manually removable third row.
Regardless of generation, this big SUV's appeal lies mainly in its bold attitude and large and luxurious interior. That said, shoppers interested in something a little less ostentatious and easier to park might prefer one of the ESV's import-brand competitors.
Current Cadillac Escalade ESV
Redesigned for 2015, the Cadillac Escalade ESV is a longer-wheelbase version of the standard Escalade. It seats seven (with second-row captain's chairs) or eight (with an optional second-row bench seat). There are three trim levels: base, Luxury and Premium.
The standard-wheelbase Escalade is covered in a separate review.
All Escalades come with a 6.2-lilter V8 engine that produces 420 horsepower. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered and drives the rear wheels. Four-wheel drive is optional.
Even the base Escalade is generously equipped, with highlights including magnetic ride control, automatic LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, a hands-free power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, tri-zone automatic climate control, a heated power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated power front seats, heated rear seats and split power-folding third-row seats. Also standard are a rearview camera, a navigation system and a 16-speaker audio system with five USB ports. The Luxury trim adds 22-inch wheels (versus 20-inch), a sunroof, power-folding second row seats, a head-up display and electronic driver aids. The Premium's perks include a rear entertainment system, adaptive cruise control and forward and reverse collision mitigation with automatic braking.
Within the Escalade ESV's handsome cabin there's an abundance of premium materials and space for full-size adults to get comfortable in the front and middle rows. With 14 more inches between the front and rear wheels than the regular Escalade, the ESV provides a lot more third-row legroom and cargo capacity. The latter stands at an impressive 120 cubic feet, and configuring the ESV for such duty is much easier thanks to a third-row seat that now power-folds flat into the floor. But while that new third-row design is nice, it still has a low seat cushion and also results in a rather high cargo floor. The hands-free power liftgate is handy but that high load floor means a higher lift-over height as well.
In reviews, we've been impressed by the Escalade's effortless acceleration, whether around town or powering up an on-ramp, as well as its composed, planted attitude while negotiating curvy roads. However, as you'd expect, this extra-large Escalade is cumbersome to maneuver in tight parking lots. Regardless of speed or road surfaces, the cabin remains blissfully quiet, but unlike past Escalades, the ride isn't plush over broken pavement. In fairness, we noted this somewhat stiff-legged ride in a model equipped with the available 22-inch wheels, so those with the 20s may ride softer. Regardless of wheel fitment, we suggest seeking out bumpy roads while on your test-drive to determine whether or not the ride is satisfactory.
Used Cadillac Escalade ESV Models
The second-generation Escalade ESV was introduced for 2007 and was produced through 2014. Being the upscale sibling to the Chevrolet Suburban, the identically sized ESV offers three rows of seating and can accommodate up to eight people. The standard-length Escalade, the quasi-pickup truck Escalade EXT and gasoline-electric Escalade Hybrid are reviewed separately.
This Escalade's powertrain consisted of a 6.2-liter V8 packing 403 hp and 415 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive was standard, while all-wheel drive was optional. Acceleration was brisk despite the truck's nearly 3 ton mass. A stiff, fully boxed frame and a coil-spring front suspension provided a smoother ride than the previous generation, while handling was more controlled and predictable. As before, there was no option to get four-wheel drive with low-range gearing, as Cadillac equipped the Escalade for duty in the urban jungle rather than the one with tigers.
Inside, there's a much nicer environment than its near twins from Chevrolet and GMC. Even the "base" model came with heated first- and second-row seats, triple-zone climate control, remote starting and a Bose surround-sound audio system. Moving up from there to the Luxury, Premium and Platinum trims piled on more niceties such as 22-inch chrome wheels, power-retracting running boards, a rear DVD entertainment system (with multiple monitors) and even heated and cooled cupholders. There are some low-grade plastics here and there, but in general, this Escalade ESV's cabin feels suitably upscale for a used SUV of this vintage.
Unfortunately, the third-row seats don't fold flat into the floor. Instead, the third-row bench's heavy 50/50 sections are manually removable and must be stowed outside the vehicle for maximum cargo space. The latter stands at an impressive 137 cubic feet with those seats out and the second-row chairs flipped and folded forward. With all the seats in place, there are still 46 cubic feet available in this extended-length Escalade.
In road tests, we found the ESV performs very much like the standard Escalade, despite its extended wheelbase. As big SUVs go, it's a gratifying driving package. Given the ESV's size and mass, you'd expect some difficulty in the handling department, but the Escalade ESV's steering is light and precise. By no means is it a nimble vehicle, but it's stable and controlled and provides a comfortable ride. With its big-time V8, power is plentiful and acceleration fairly brisk, despite the fact that the ESV weighs nearly 6,000 pounds. As you would expect, however, the fuel economy is quite poor.
Since its introduction, changes throughout this generation were minimal and typically consisted of equipment shuffling. Initially, just one loaded trim level was offered, but the following year saw the debut of the ultra-swank Platinum trim level. For '09 the ESV received E85 fuel capability, standard navigation and available high-tech features such as a blind-spot warning system, LED headlights, Bluetooth and the magnetic ride control adaptive suspension. The 2010 Escalade received cylinder-deactivation technology, which boosted fuel economy by a single mpg. That year also saw a new USB connection for portable audio devices and a pair of new trim levels -- Luxury and Premium -- that filled the gap between the base and Platinum versions. Â
The first Escalade ESV generation sold from 2003-'06. It lacked the next generation's sophistication and polish, but had all its brashness. It was powered by a 345-hp 6.0-liter V8 mated to a four-speed automatic, and AWD was standard. Like the current model, this Escalade ESV came equipped with plenty of standard luxury and safety features. At the time, our editors were impressed with the vehicle's V8 power, plush ride quality, cargo capacity and features. Downsides were few but included poor fuel economy and unimpressive braking distances. Much like the current Escalade ESV, this one was hampered by its bulk in tight spots -- a problem exacerbated by the first-gen model's numb recirculating-ball steering setup.
Through its four years of production, the first-generation Escalade ESV received minimal changes. The ritzy Platinum Edition, which featured 20-inch wheels, a lowered suspension, dual screens for its rear entertainment system and heated/cooled seats in the first and second row, debuted late in 2003 and was offered for the remainder of the run.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.