Used 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV Review

Edmunds expert review

With a formidable presence, the 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV is the odds-on favorite for luxury shoppers who need an extra-large SUV to accommodate lots of people and cargo.

What's new for 2011

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV receives a number of upgrades including complimentary required maintenance for four years/50,000 miles, noise-reducing laminated glass and a new audio system with navigation refinements.

Vehicle overview

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV is the largest model within the Escalade family of luxury SUVs, offering the most space for passengers and cargo. With its extreme expression of power, size and utility, its appeal depends on your perspective. Environmentalists might consider it a brash and wasteful road hazard. Suburbanites could see it as a sweet way to roll with lots of friends on a big Saturday night. Large families with something to tow could use it as their go-to vacation mobile. Our take? The Escalade ESV is indeed all these things.

Sharing much of its DNA with the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL, the Escalade ESV is 21 inches longer than a standard Escalade, seats up to eight and is able to haul up to 137 cubic feet of cargo with the second-row seats folded and the third row removed. The ESV offers the same basic layout and features as its shorter brother, but adds more luggage room behind the rear seats and the option of a third-row flip-down DVD entertainment screen. In addition to unmistakable Cadillac styling, the ESV also boasts a quiet, finely trimmed cabin, sophisticated adjustable suspension and a brawny but smooth 6.2-liter V8.

Yet there are downsides. Its maneuverability, braking performance and fuel economy are most comparable to ocean liners. You might expect this from such a big vehicle, but you might not expect the need to physically remove the third-row seat should your load require the ESV's huge, available cargo space. Almost every other large luxury SUV has a fold-flat third row. Of course, the Escalade ESV costs more than its brethren, too.

For those who would prefer something less ostentatious and who don't require the Escalade ESV's extra-large capacity, the 2011 Infiniti QX56, 2011 Land Rover LR4 and 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class are less cumbersome to drive and great luxury SUVs in their own right. If you do need something extra-large, the Lincoln Navigator L is an alternative, though it lacks the power and prestige of the Cadillac. There's also the subtler but equally capable 2011 GMC Yukon XL Denali. But for those who want it all, it's hard to go wrong with the 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV's unique combination of presence, pampering and performance.

Trim levels & features

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV is an extended-length full-size SUV offered in four trim levels: base, Luxury, Premium and Platinum Edition.

The base-model ESV comes standard with 18-inch wheels, an adaptive suspension, automatic xenon headlamps, power-folding and driver auto-dimming mirrors, rear parking sensors, foglamps and a power tailgate. Inside, it has leather upholstery, 10-way power front seats with heating, ventilation and driver memory settings, power-adjustable pedals, power tilt-only steering wheel, heated second-row seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, remote ignition, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a navigation system, real-time traffic, OnStar, and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD/DVD changer, satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.

The Luxury trim adds 22-inch wheels, the more advanced Magnetic Ride Control suspension (optional on base), automatic high beams, a blind-spot warning system, a sunroof, a heated steering wheel and power second-row seat release. Next up, the Premium trim adds power-retractable assist steps and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with pull-down screens for the second and third rows (optional on Luxury). And finally, the top-of-the-line Platinum Edition brings it all with exclusive 22-inch wheels, LED headlamps, upgraded full leather trim, unique wood and aluminum accents, heated and cooled cupholders and DVD screens for second-row passengers. A second-row 60/40-split bench seat (eight-passenger seating) is available on all models except the Platinum Edition.

Performance & mpg

Every Escalade ESV is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 generating 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. Power is transferred through a six-speed automatic transmission and either rear-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive. The automatic transmission features a tow/haul mode and manual-shift capability.

Accelerating from zero to 60 mph should take a bit more than 7 seconds, which is pretty quick for such a large SUV. Despite cylinder-deactivation technology for the V8, estimated EPA fuel economy is about what you'd expect from a big truck: 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined for RWD models; AWD versions are a bit thirstier at 13/18/14. When properly equipped, the ESV can tow 8,000 pounds.


The 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV includes standard antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, front side-impact airbags and full-length head curtain side-impact airbags with rollover protection. Other standard safety features include rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and OnStar communication. All ESV trim levels except the base model also feature a blind-spot warning system.

In Edmunds brake testing with the regular Escalade, we found that stopping distances were excessive, so it's likely that the larger, heavier ESV will fare even worse.

The Escalade EXT has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to the new ones)were a perfect five out of five stars for frontal-impact protection. The regular Escalade also received five stars for side-impact protection.


The 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV is a massive vehicle, so the laws of physics are readily apparent when you approach its limits -- especially while braking. Maneuvering in tight spots can require extra caution and planning as well. That said, the ESV's powerful V8 delivers surprisingly quick acceleration, and its adaptable suspensions are well-mannered and calibrated to strike a satisfying balance between a smooth, comfortable ride and decent handling. Road impacts are noticeably harsher with the larger 22-inch wheels, however.


The Cadillac Escalade ESV's luxurious cabin rises above its more pedestrian GM relatives through the use of supple stitched leather accented with wood and metal trim and other higher-quality materials, which combine to form a unique contemporary atmosphere. However, some low-rent plastics make the Escalade fall short of other luxury brands.

The ESV's instruments are easy to check at a glance, and its controls are straightforward and intuitive. A new audio system with advanced navigation offers real-time traffic, expanded voice prompting and 3-D imaging of major landmarks. Out back, the available rear DVD entertainment system features pull-down screens for both rows, which should keep everyone happy on long trips.

The Escalade ESV can accommodate seven or eight occupants, depending on the second-row configuration of either bucket seats or optional bench seating. A power fold-and-flip feature for the second-row seats eases access to the third row. Unfortunately, a more convenient foldaway third-row seat isn't available, so owners must remove and store the heavy and cumbersome 50/50 seat sections in order to boost rear cargo capacity. With all seats in place, there's still 46 cubic feet of room for groceries, luggage or pets. With the rear seat sections folded and removed, the Cadillac Escalade ESV offers a cavernous, class-leading 137 cubic feet of maximum cargo space.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.