Used Cadillac Escalade: Introduction
While Cadillac’s CTS gets all the love for turning the Cadillac brand around in the minds of consumers, the Cadillac Escalade’s appeal to urban youth is what really put the wreath and crest logo squarely on the map with contemporary culture.
Before Cadillac’s Escalade came along, Lincoln’s Navigator was the de facto luxury urban assault vehicle. As nice as the Navigator was, it was doing well primarily because it had no competition in the large luxury domestic SUV segment. Yes, GM had similar offerings in its GMC branded vehicles, notably the Yukon Denali, but buyers didn’t look upon the GMC offerings as being on the same plane as the Lincoln.
Meanwhile, Cadillac dealers, watching Lincoln dealers drawing all them dollars, weren’t sitting quietly by. After several strong appeals to GM corporate, a plan was set into place to get a Cadillac suv on the road — quick. Obviously intended as a conquest vehicle from the onset, Escalade’s very name means the act of scaling defensive walls or ramparts with the aid of ladders. The tactic was a prominent aspect of siege warfare in medieval times.
And siege is exactly what this 20th century Escalade accomplished. Within a year of its launch, the Lincoln’s defenses were breached; its sales plummeted. The all-important urban cachet factor of hip and cool had gone strongly over to the Cadillac. Suitably anointed king of the streets, Escalade has virtually owned the domestic large luxury suv market ever since.
There have been three generations of the Escalade (sort of) since the first truck-based vehicle ever to be badged a Cadillac was launched in 1999.
Used Cadillac Escalade: 1999 – 2000
As we alluded to in the intro, with the parenthetical “sort of”, the first Cadillac Escalade wasn’t really a Cadillac at all. It was a badge-engineered GMC Yukon Denali, put into place as a Cadillac, while Cadillac’s product engineering team put the finishing touches on the 2002 Escalade, which was finally introduced in 2001, as a 2002 model. Because of this, if a used car dealer offers you an excellent deal on a 2001 Escalade, call the Better Business Bureau immediately; a 2001 Cadillac Escalade does not exist.
Park the 1999 Escalade next to a 1999 Yukon Denali and you’ll see immediately where the extra money the Cadillac commanded went. Basically, for Cadillac badges on a more ornate grille, Cadillac’s signature Zebrano wood-grain trim (not real wood, to this day no trees have ever been harmed in the adornment of a Cadillac Escalade’s interior), Cadillac-ish leather upholstery for the seats, and Cadillac script on the rear hatch and in the door sills. Those elements are pretty much all that set the first generation Escalade apart from its more utilitarian GMC sibling. However, that said, every option available for the GMC was standard equipment on the Cadillac.
Power was courtesy of GM’s corporate 255-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 (aka the Vortec 5700), generating 330 ft.-lbs. of torque. A four-speed automatic managed the engine’s output and fed all four wheels. As off-road capable Escalades go, this one is the most likely candidate to seriously do dirt, as the versions of the Escalade that followed were decidedly street oriented.
Inside, Escalade treated occupants to heated seats at all seating positions in addition to Bose audio, fed by a six-disc CD changer as well as a single-disc in-dash CD player. OnStar, dual front airbags and keyless remote entry tied to a shock-sensing anti-theft system rounded out the menu.
Reviewers of the day mostly panned the driving dynamics of that first Escalade. Based as it was on what was essentially the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck of the day’s platform, the 1999 Cadillac Escalade didn’t really feel so luxurious going down the road.
Used Cadillac Escalade: 2002 - 2006
The first ‘”true” Cadillac Escalade was the company’s largest (size-wise) application of its angular “Art and Science” design theme. Although frankly, if you looked closely, you’d see all the styling was done to the front end of the Escalade. If you looked aft of the front fenders, the basic shape of the Suburban and the Yukon remained. Still, in the minds of the buying public, it translated into a uniquely bold vehicle, and it immediately won over any of the remaining holdouts still leaning toward the Lincoln Navigator.
Bold played very well in the urban environment of the first decade of the 21st century.
Offered in rear- and all-wheel drive iterations, the ’02 Escalade’s base engine was a 285-horsepower, 5.3-liter V8, generating 325 ft.-lbs. of torque. However, those who opted for a four-wheel drive Escalade got the big ‘un. Sharing its basic DNA with the engine from the Corvette of the day, the four-wheel drive Escalade’s 345-horsepower V8 displaced 6.0-liters and made 380 ft.-lbs. of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission directed power to the drive wheels, regardless of the engine or drivetrain choice. With the 5.3, the Escalade would tow 6,000 pounds. The 6.0 would pull 8,500.
Just as on the outside, the look of the interior was mostly uniquely Cadillac too. The instrumentation was no longer shared with any other vehicle, nor was the overall design of the interior. However, some of the equipment was the same as the Yukon Denali’s. Chief among them was the 250-watt, 11-speaker Bose audio system. The Caddy also boasted hands-free phone calls (courtesy of OnStar).
Late in 2002, another variant of the Escalade debuted, the Escalade EXT. Part pickup truck, part SUV, Escalade EXT was essentially a luxurious version of Chevrolet’s Avalanche. Both vehicles featured a pickup bed attached to an enclosed four-place cabin. The front wall of the pickup bed was collapsible, and the rear seats folded, enabling larger items to be transported. This genre of vehicle was labeled SUT, or sport utility truck.
The Escalade was the only large GM SUV to offer StabiliTrak, which basically was an enhanced version of traction control, designed to keep the car on its intended path of travel if something tried to make it slide off its line. Other exclusives included a Road Sensing Suspension System, an early smart suspension system capable of adjusting its responses to the nature of the pavement it was traversing in an effort to maintain a smooth and stable ride over a multitude of surfaces. Among the notable missing features was a rear-seat video entertainment system.
Which was fixed in 2003, along with the addition of options like XM Satellite radio, a navigation system, captain’s chairs for the second row, and a tri-zone climate control system. Remote controls for the audio system were mounted in the steering wheel for the first time, and the StabiliTrak system was both updated and made standard equipment on both versions of the Escalade (rear- and four-wheel drive). An extended wheelbase version, designated ESV was also introduced in’03.
For 2004, Satellite radio became a fixture, as it was included as standard equipment (sans subscription — that was extra), tire pressure monitoring found a permanent home in the huge Caddy as did second row bucket seats and a tow package. All were included in the Escalade’s standard specification. Unfortunately, those who opted for a rear seat video entertainment system in the ’03 model had to live without a sunroof. This was rectified with the ’04 model.
Going into 2005, the Escalade flaunted a new instrument cluster; a more intuitive driver information system and the nav system went touch-screen. The 5.3-liter V8 was dropped and similarly Zebrano wood-grain trim was kicked to the curb in favor of Burled Walnut wood-grain trim. The Escalade Platinum debuted, featuring heated and cooled cup holders, 20-inch chrome wheels, a moon roof, three DVD screens, and chrome (“Platinum”) accents on the steering wheel and grille. With an all-new model in the works for 2007, the ’06 model was basically a sell-down proposition, with no significant changes.
Used Cadillac Escalade: 2007 – 2010
Riding on the all-new GM large truck platform, which was pulled forward in production because large trucks were pretty much all GM had making money for it back then, the 2007 Escalade was really the first all-new Escalade in the model’s history. Both previous versions of the vehicle were designed to ride pre-existing platforms. Yes, the third generation Escalade shares its platform with Yukon and Suburban, as before, but when this platform was being designed, it was understood it would underpin the Cadillac too.
After being dropped in 2005, the 5.3-liter V8 would not make a return appearance. The only engine offered with the 2007 redesign was a 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8, twisting up 417 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission routed the output to the drive wheels. As before, Escalade could be had with either rear- or four-wheel drive. The long wheelbase ESV version as well as the semi-pickup truck EXT also returned.
Being a Cadillac, a long laundry list of features was standard fare. This included a power liftgate, an automatic road-sensing suspension system, remote starting, park assist, and heated windshield washer fluid. Triple-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, heated first- and second-row seats, remote starting, and OnStar grace the interior as well.
On the keep-your-mind-off-of-external-things front, a Bose 5.1 surround sound audio system with 10 speakers, XM satellite radio and an in-dash six-CD changer was also standard kit.
For options, Cadillac product planners specified cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, power-folding second-row seats, a touch-screen navigation system, a rearview camera, a moonroof, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Buyers who went for Escalade Platinum, reintroduced in 2008, got DVD entertainment, navigation, heated and cooled cupholders, a rearview camera, cooled front seats, upgraded leather upholstery, and power-retractable running boards as part of the package. And finally, the Hybrid Escalade was introduced at the Miami Auto Show in 2008, as a rear-drive only, 2009 model.
Model year 2009 ushered in flex-fuel capability for the Escalade’s V8, along with blind spot warning and Bluetooth. Instant traffic updates were piped into the nav system to help drivers avoid traffic jams, and GM’s magnetic suspension system was made standard equipment.
Cylinder deactivation was fitted to the 6.2 for 2010, to improve fuel economy, and a USB port finally put in an appearance in an Escalade. On the safety front, side impact airbags were installed and the door structure was redesigned. Four different trim levels were offered; Base, Luxury, Premium, and Platinum, each with an ascending level of opulence.
Used Cadillac Escalade: Current Model (2011)
After all of that, there really wasn’t much left to do for 2011, other than upgrade the nav system to an SD card platform from DVD. With the proliferation of portable audio devices — and an interface to control them in place, the CD changer was deemed obsolete.
Used Cadillac Escalade: Summary
How much longer Americans will continue to buy vehicles this large and heavy remains to be seen. However, for what it represents, the Cadillac Escalade is the ne plus ultra of the breed. Packed with outstanding luxury features, endowed with more than enough horsepower and capable of transporting a veritable multitude of individuals (OK, like eight in a pinch) the Cadillac Escalade is singularly American in all its aspects.
Naturally, with all the different electronic systems the Escalade has, there is ample opportunity for older models to have problems. Don’t let the wreath and crest fool you, take the Escalade to a trusted professional mechanic, just as you would any other vehicle for a rigorous pre-purchase inspection. Similarly, you’ll want to research the recall rolls to ensure any designated reconfigurations of the model year of your interest have been conducted.
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