Hip-hop culture helped to market the Escalade and Navigator by featuring them in music videos, and the two oversized brute-utes came to symbolize the bling lifestyle with an under-25 generation that could only dream of owning one. Incredibly, Cadillac, and to a lesser extent, Lincoln, became aspirational. Smiles all around for Detroit and Dearborn.
Then Detroit and Dearborn let their cash cows age like so much sushi sitting in the sun, stuck in their traditional “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. Then gas prices skyrocketed. Then Al Gore got on the big screen to start educating the masses about the perils of global warming. By the start of the summer of 2006, driving an Escalade or Navigator was about as jiggy as downloading “Blingtones” for your cell phone or listening to a Will Smith CD, and the profit margins were drying up. Frowns all around for Detroit and Dearborn.
Cadillac thinks a complete redesign of the Escalade for 2007 can restore the SUV’s luster, but in a world gone hella mad for crossover suvs, this might be tougher than GM’s marketing gurus think. The new 2007 Cadillac Escalade adheres closely to the recipe that made it a hit, based on the same platform as the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. That means it’s got truck-tough underpinnings, even though it’s used mainly for commuting from the suburbs to the city. That also means that many of the same upgrades found in the Escalade, like a much stiffer boxed frame, rack-and-pinion steering, and four-wheel-disc brakes, can be had on the Chevy or Jimmy.
Cadillac buyers do, however, get an exclusive engine. Fortified with a 6.2-liter, all-aluminum V8 with variable valve timing, the Escalade delivers 403 horsepower and 417 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear or all four wheels. Unfortunately, this V8 doesn’t come with Active Fuel Management like the standard engine in the Tahoe and Yukon, so the EPA rates fuel economy at 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. As usual, our real-world number was south of the EPA’s city rating at 11.9 mpg. Other exclusives to the Escalade include a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting and a tow/haul feature, and a road-sensing front suspension with real-time damping. Cadillac buyers can also upgrade from the stock 18-inch alloys to massive, chrome-coated 22-inch wheels wearing 285/45 Bridgestone Dueler tires.
Of course, the Cadillac Escalade comes with far more standard equipment than the baseline Tahoe and Yukon, including the usual luxury amenities like leather, wood, brushed aluminum, and premium-grade materials. However, key features like a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, as well as one-touch operation for all four windows, are conspicuously absent. On-board entertainment is courtesy of a Bose 5.1 surround sound system, and Cadillac provides heated washer fluid, heated side mirrors, and heated rear seats for cold-weather climates. Other goodies include rain-sensing wipers, a power tailgate, and a rear parking assist system.
On the safety front, front and front-side airbags come standard, along with side-curtain airbags that include a rollover protection feature that allows them to remain inflated for an extended period of time. The stability control system also works to combat rollover accidents with mitigation technology that recognizes conditions when the Escalade could tip and applies appropriate braking to help keep the truck from going toes up. Other safety features include what Cadillac calls a 360-degree seatbelt pretensioner system, and a free 12-month subscription to OnStar telematics which is also available with a new Turn-by-Turn navigation feature.
Extra-cost options can quickly drive the Escalade’s $54,725 base price (including an $875 destination charge) higher. Key among them is a Climate Package with heated and cooled front and rear seats as well as a heated steering wheel; an Information Package with a touch-screen navigation system, a reversing camera, and adaptive headlights; power fold-and-tumble second-row seats; a rear seat DVD entertainment center; and an oversized power sunroof. Our test truck had all of them: the $2,995 22-inch wheels, the $2,495 Information Package, the $1,295 rear DVD entertainment system, the $995 power sunroof, the $625 Climate Package, and the $425 power second-row fold-and-tumble seats. The sticker price for our sample Escalade with all-wheel-drive was $66,110.
Cadillac says the new Escalade’s design emulates the Sixteen Concept car from a couple of years ago, especially in the grille. We would agree, and sneak peeks of the upcoming Cadillac CTS redesign prove that this is the direction GM’s luxury brand is headed. But for the Escalade, which is intentionally flashy, the grille is upstaged by chrome – and lots of it. Inside, Cadillac focused on delivering premium interior materials and an instrument panel design that shared little with lower-priced Chevys and GMCs.
We drove our black Escalade all around the Los Angeles area, including a valet test at The Stinking Rose restaurant in trendy west L.A. Though the Escalade didn’t get front-lined, most of the diners clogging the portico glanced the Cadillac’s way. Maybe they’d already heard that the new Escalade is a substantial improvement over the old model, featuring greater comfort, outstanding interior materials, and a tight, controlled ride and handling mix that has been heretofore missing from a huge SUV like this one. The question remains, however: Can Cadillac transcend the short shelf life of a pop culture icon, or is the party over?