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Published: 05/08/2006 - by Erin Riches, Deputy Editor
We're driving a 2007 Cadillac Escalade, which means we've enjoyed a week's worth of middle-aged office guys asking us about Nelly, Snoop and other hip-hop artists they'd never listen to with the windows down. Yet they wouldn't even crack a smile when we invited them to suit up in Fubu and take a ride down the Sunset Strip.
We should go easier on them. Snoop may set the image for Cadillac's full-size luxury SUV, but according to company officials, it's our office buds who are buying most of them. And what they really want is a big, brash Caddy that's powerful, refined and easy to drive. And for 2007 that's exactly what Cadillac has given them.
Boxed in, bored out
Just like the Tahoe we tested a few months ago, the '07 Escalade rides on an all-new frame. It's fully boxed and much stiffer than the old one, which allowed Cadillac's engineers to fine-tune the chassis dynamics. They also brought in more sophisticated hardware, including coil-over-shock front suspension, rack and pinion steering and aluminum lower control arms, which Cadillac says reduces unsprung weight by almost 20 pounds. Doesn't sound like much, but with massive 22-inch chrome wheels now available as factory equipment, any savings in this department is a good thing.
Overall, the '07 Escalade weighs 130 pounds more than its predecessor, a relatively modest gain when you take into account the new frame and 3.5 inches of additional length, now at 202.5 inches. The wheelbase length is unchanged at 116 inches.
To shave weight, GM's powertrain engineers used aluminum to cast the engine's block instead of iron. To deliver the off-the-line shove Escalade buyers crave, they bored last year's overhead-valve, 6.0-liter V8 out to 6.2 liters and added variable valve timing on both its intake and exhaust valves. The results are hardly disappointing, as the small block delivers 403 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 417 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Putting it to the ground
A new six-speed automatic transmission makes better use of the V8's fat powerband than last year's four-speed unit, channeling torque to all four wheels on all-wheel-drive Escalades or just the rear wheels on 2WD models. Upshifts are crisp and downshifts are impeccably timed.
In addition to a tow-haul mode that optimizes shift points for lugging trailer loads of up to 7,700 pounds, the new transmission has a manual mode. It's a little awkward to work the button on the old-school column shifter, but it's the real deal: No computer's going to upshift for you, even if you find the 5,900-rpm rev limiter.
EPA ratings aren't out yet, but Cadillac is estimating 13 mpg city, 19 mpg highway on the AWD Escalade. Our AWD test vehicle averaged 12.5 over a week of testing. Cylinder deactivation technology is coming, says Cadillac, but company officials wouldn't get more specific than "soon." A hybrid version is promised for 2008.
Blindsided by a Benz
On public roads, our Escalade tester moved out briskly, unruffled by higher altitudes and larger passenger loads.
At the test track, though, it took almost a second longer to hit 60 mph than the '07 Mercedes GL450 we tested recently, timing 7.5 seconds to the Benz's 6.7. The Caddy went through the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds compared to 15.1 for the GL450. The GL makes just 335 hp from a smaller V8 but is 400 pounds lighter.
Although the Mercedes can't match the Escalade's gentle roar under full throttle, that's small consolation when you've been sucker-punched by your neighbor's Benz.
To make matters worse, the Escalade can't stop anywhere near as short, either. Cadillac has fitted the '07 model with larger rotors and stiffer calipers, and the rear brakes have a dynamic proportioning feature to improve performance during towing. Problem is, you get the same braking system whether your Escalade has the standard 18-inch wheels or the optional 22s, which significantly increase the burden on the brakes.
Cadillac says braking distances are unaffected by the weight of the larger wheels, but our Escalade used 144 feet to stop from 60 mph at the track. Not only is that 17 feet longer than the GL's braking distance, it's only one foot shorter than an '03 Escalade. Although we suspect our tester might have performed a little better with a few more miles under its belt (it had just over 300 at the time), a luxury vehicle should always be able to break 140 feet. Our '07 Tahoe also had brand-new brakes and it stopped in 133.
On the plus side, pedal feel is greatly improved over the previous-gen Escalade.
Handling's so refined
Its brakes may have disappointed, but the Escalade's ride and handling did nothing but impress. Ride quality rivals a luxury sedan for smoothness and serenity, as only the most severe ruts remind you there's a solid axle in back.
Throw in a few sweeping turns and the Escalade doesn't flinch, thanks to its adaptive Road Sensing Suspension. It's the same thing as Autoride on the Tahoe and consists of electronically controlled shocks that are either "on" or "off," rather than being infinitely adaptable like other setups. Sounds less sophisticated but it controls body roll just as well.
In tighter corners, you begin to feel the Cadillac's 5,700 pounds, but it's still easy to control. The steering rack feels like it was yanked from an import-brand SUV. Weighting and precision are excellent.
Instrumented testing yielded 0.71g on the skidpad and a 58 mph slalom speed, but the inability to shut off the stability control system prevented us from fully exploiting the Escalade's capabilities. This was also true of the GL450, which performed about the same but wore smaller 18-inch tires.
Off pavement, the Escalade's lack of an available low-range transfer case or even a locking center differential is a huge disadvantage. However, we took the Caddy for a romp in wet snow and it tracked fine through the gunk, which is all most buyers will require.
More luxury but missed details
For the first time, the Escalade's interior isn't completely out of whack with its high asking price. With its tastefully applied faux wood and aluminum trim, double-stitched leather and blue-needled electroluminescent gauges, the Escalade feels like a luxury vehicle. At least up front. There are low-grade plastics in the cargo area where Cadillac evidently thinks no one will look.
An AWD Escalade starts at $57,280, a sum that gets you leather, a 5.1 Bose sound system, heated first- and second-row seats, full-length side curtain airbags and numerous power-operated accessories, including the liftgate. Our fully optioned tester was also equipped with an entertainment system, a navigation system, a rear camera, cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel for a total of $66,110.
Even with all these electronics on board, the '07 Escalade provides a simple control interface. The central touchscreen actually adds to day-to-day functionality rather than compromising it, and getting started with the nav system couldn't be easier. Unfortunately, as you'll read in the stereo evaluation, our test vehicle's Bose audio system had numerous electrical glitches.
Adjustable pedals are standard, but the steering wheel doesn't telescope and offers only three tilt settings. Still, most people will be able to find a comfortable driving position, and with audible rear sensors and a camera watching your back, the risk of running over co-workers is greatly reduced. Meanwhile, the risk of having to buy flowers from street vendors is increased by the Caddy's lack of auto-up windows.
Ample room unless you're thirsty
Adults will also find the second-row hospitality acceptable: Captain's chairs are standard, and although the seat-bottom cushions are a tad short, legroom is ample and the seatbacks recline.
Compared to last year, the third row offers a little less legroom but a little more head- and shoulder room. The seat bottom is still too low to the floor to keep adults quiet for longer than half an hour, but it's fine for children. An optional power-fold feature for the second-row chairs is a good idea if you're dealing with passengers who don't understand the concept of fold-and-flip.
While there's plenty of room for families of six to get comfortable, road trips are likely to be messy. None of the cupholders can hold anything larger than a regular-size coffee, which doesn't make sense in the land of the Biggie Coke. And there's no storage at all in the second row, even though a console would fit between the seats.
Additionally, when you need to clear out the third-row seats to make way for cargo, you still have to muscle them into your garage. That's because the Escalade lacks the independent rear suspension typically required to package fold-flat seating. It does, however, offer a generous 109 cubic feet of capacity, thanks to its lower cargo floor.
Roca Wear or Levis
These interior fumbles might go unnoticed if the QX56 and Lincoln Navigator were the Escalade's only competition. But with the Mercedes GL450 on the scene and matching the Caddy on price, they're as glaring as those shiny 22s. Same goes for the weak brakes.
Even so, the 2007 Cadillac Escalade is easily the most refined domestic SUV on the market. It's satisfyingly quick, reassuringly agile and surprisingly quiet and luxurious. Now we understand why Snoop sees eye to eye with the guys in Accounting.
System Score: 6.0
Components: The new Escalade comes with a Bose audio system as standard equipment. It includes separate rear audio and an in-dash six-disc changer that plays CDs, MP3 CDs, and both DVD-audio and DVD-video discs. There are 10 speakers and XM radio is also included.
Performance: We don't really know what to make of the Escalade's audio system performance because it is, on the one hand, brilliant in its operation but at the same time fraught with glitches and hiccups that can be downright maddening. We'll explain.
When everything works as it's designed, the audio/entertainment/navigation system integrates many features into one easy-to-use and easy-to-understand package. DVDs are loaded up front into the dash and the menus of those discs can be navigated by the driver directly from the touchscreen in the dash — no more contorting to see if the movie is playing, or reaching your arm into the backseat to fumble with a remote control. This is invaluable for playing movies on long trips when the rear seat occupants are too young to operate a remote control. Turns out having the nav screen double as a movie viewing screen (only when the vehicle is in park) is less about bling and more about convenience.
We also like the favorites list that can integrate XM, AM and FM stations all on the same screen — well done, GM. Other thumbs-up features include the ability to delete XM radio categories and the system's ability to list all loaded discs and even display DVD titles. Each hard and soft button performs a logical and easy-to-understand function. We never had to bust out the owner's manual once.
But all the good the engineers have accomplished is undermined by simple flaws that are either software based or sample defects in our test car. However, we examined a second Escalade and it exhibited nearly all the same problems.
For example, when the CD changer is loaded with six CDs and the last song on the last disc plays, the changer automatically skips to disc 2. Every time we tried it, disc 1 was skipped. Also, when navigating a CD track by track using the "up" or "down" arrow the first second of each song is cut off. Think of James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand-New Bag" without the opening horn or Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" without the killer drums right off the top or Eminem's "My Name Is" without the intro scratching and that dorky "Hi." The list could go on and on, but the point is that sometimes the first few notes make the song and without them, it just doesn't sound right. However, let the CD play through and you'll hear each song in its entirety — intro and all. It just doesn't make sense.
We also found it frustrating that the audio system would sometimes freeze and refuse to load or eject discs. Also, when playing MP3-coded CDs it took an unacceptably long time to display the folder for that disc. When it finally worked, it worked wonderfully, with tracks sorted by your choice of "Artist," "Album" or "Song."
And none of this even addresses the sound quality, which is very good. The bass is sharp enough and separation is very good. The system can play DVD-Audio discs and, of course, those sound great because the disc itself has been remastered or was recorded in true 5.1 surround sound. However, the Bose system will also duplicate or electronically mimic surround sound for two-channel stereo CD (if you choose) and those sound almost as good as a real DVD-A. DVD-As are getting harder to find and several local retailers told us that they will not be restocking DVD-As because there is little demand. New in-car systems like this Bose could be one reason for that.
Best Feature: User-friendly menus for XM, FM and AM.
Worst Feature: Prone to hang-ups and glitches.
Conclusion: If the Escalade's audio system worked the way it was designed to work, it would easily be one of the best around. As it is, its funky operation and unreliable behavior often make it frustrating to use. — Brian Moody
Inside Line Editor in Chief Richard Homan says:
I wanted to write this second opinion without using "bling," but it turns out that I can't. Turns out, I'm reminded of the flashy, mouthy middle linebacker on my high school's football team, Bling Harwood. Bling H. had a lot of things in common with the new GMT900-based 2007 Cadillac Escalade — flashy physique, solid platform and a ton of horsepower; both were fairly nimble for such muscular beasts with not an ounce of subtlety about either of them; and both were always drinking (one gasoline, the other beer). One is a full-size SUV, the other was a full-sized SOB. And I expect that if you stuck 22-inch chrome alloy wheels on big Bling Harwood, he'd eclipse those monster dubs the same way the Caddy does.
What none of us in high school saw, however, was inside Bling Harwood. Inside the '07 Escalade, there's a nicely laid-out set of modern sensibilities and a lot of room in the first two rows. Subtle? No. But stylish? Yeah. Same story, it turns out, with Bling Harwood. These days, he's a power player, pulling down six figures. His cheerleader girlfriend (now wife) Debbie had it all figured out: "You all want your elegant lifestyles and bragging rights at the Club, but I just want my Bling."
So if all you want is your Bling (and 403 horsepower), you should definitely marry the new Escalade.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody says:
I think the one thing we can all agree on is that the new Escalade is much better-looking and is now one of the sharpest-looking SUVs around. Based on exterior styling alone I might pick it over, say, a Range Rover. The new interior is obviously a step up over the previous Escalade as well.
I also like this big Caddy's ride but I was disappointed by how much smoothness seems to be taken away when the 22-inch wheels are ordered — really, I don't need to be noticed that badly. I love the smooth power delivery, and the exhaust note is perfectly tuned to sound a little aggressive without being annoying. I have no doubt this Escalade will be very successful and most buyers will be pleased with their purchase.
However, our optioned-out truck carried a price tag of $66,000. For that price I cannot, nor should I have to, overlook irritating problems like a finicky audio/DVD entertainment system, the lack of one-touch up and down windows (the VW Jetta has it on all four windows), lack of fold-flat third-row seats and the fact that one of the armrests in the second row of seats felt like it would fall off at any moment. That kind of thing is simply unacceptable when you're talking about Cadillac's all-new flagship vehicle.
I noticed a lot of people giving the new Escalade some pretty hard looks. Then I noticed an entirely different set of people coming up to me and asking very specific questions about features, price and options — these people were Escalade owners and they liked what they saw. As it turns out, there's a big difference between those who want an Escalade and those who can actually afford one.
Great-looking and comfortable, this new Escalade is impressive in many ways but please, Cadillac, put someone in charge of nothing but details. Iron out those little things and there'd be no good reason to pick any other luxury SUV.
"Cadillac has done a nice job of restyling the Escalade but unfortunately they have a ways to go to beat their Japanese competitors. The outside is beautiful and the inside looks good, but looks can be deceiving. There is almost no storage room in the back, the rear windows only open partway, the sideboard windows not at all. The upgraded stereo is marginal and little things like the cupholders are still cheap and not what you would expect on a vehicle at this cost. Gas mileage to date is terrible, around 11-12 miles per gallon in mixed (city/hwy) traffic. There are a number of rattles in the vehicle as well. All things considered, I would have expected more from a vehicle at this price." — Alan Ross, April 10, 2006
"This new rebuild of the Escalade is awesome. They have made many improvements from their older models. The new dash layout is fantastic, especially if you get it with the info package. The touchscreen navigation is easier to navigate than with buttons and knobs. The instrument panel competes with many other luxury vehicles as well. And one great feature is the intellibeam system that puts the high beams on when it is pitch black; this is great for turnpike driving when there are oncoming vehicles. Overall, I think General Motors outdid themselves, and I would recommend this truck to anyone." — Mark, March 25, 2006
"This is my third Escalade. Have had an '02 and '04 and now '07. This is the best yet. They solved most all of my issues with previous models. Dash is lower and well laid out, visibility better both fore and aft. Seats are a little smaller but still very comfortable. New 6-speed tranny is much better on response through the full range and seems to get better mileage than my '04. Navigation system is a vast improvement. Ride is much more controlled. Plush without giving up responsiveness. Power fold and tumble seats are nice, but having to manually put them back up is a waste. Power lift and close rear gate is a wonderful feature. Suggested Improvements: Third-row seating seems a bit oddly laid out with two cupholders on only one side. Storage compartments in the rear (luggage) area are needed. Would also like to see a 110-volt outlet in rear. Glovebox is not very accommodating. Can't even fit the manual in it. Front-passenger seat memory would be nice." — Chas, March 13, 2006
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