First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review and phtos by Laurance Yap

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The Cadillac Escalade was not a vehicle I was predisposed to like.

Nor, did it seem, was it a vehicle that some teenagers in Mississauga were predisposed to like either. You would have thought that these young guys outside a local high school, who probably have seen a rap video or two, would love the Escalade, with its 22-inch chrome wheels and its big side air extractors and sparkling pearlescent-white paint job. You would have thought they would have fawned all over its dark tinted glass, its three-storey front headlight design and its LED rear lamps and its dinner-plate-size Cadillac logos.

But no. Instead, one of them launched a firecracker straight at the Escalade as it drove through an intersection. Hey!

Man, I wondered. Has Cadillac timed the introduction of the Escalade all wrong? If you can’t count on teenagers in hip-hop regalia to go crazy over it, what’s the rest of the world going to think? In almost a week with the 2007 model, I got a lot of nasty stares from other drivers. Here I was, a tiny guy in a huge truck, sucking up gas to the tune of 19 L/100 km, and tooling around town on the biggest, shiniest wheels ever fitted to a production SUV.

For someone living in an urban setting – or even a suburban one in the GTA – the Escalade is major-league overkill, in terms of its exterior size, its weight, and its in-your-face presence. To drive one, especially one in pearlescent white, requires confidence which is as massive as the truck itself; you will either blow off the detractors without thinking twice, or will wither under their critical gaze.

First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD. Click image to enlarge

Upon returning to the office – one wouldn’t want to get out of the car after such an assault to investigate – I was worried about the paint being singed or pitted, but I needn’t have worried: the Escalade survived unscathed. If nothing else, it’s big, tough, and definitely gives off a sense of imperviousness to the perils of the world outside. Driving the Escalade is as close as you’re likely to get to driving a really luxuriously-equipped main battle tank – without the guns and stuff to defend you from attacks by errant teenagers.

Like a tank, the Escalade is big on the outside, but not actually that big on the inside. The seats are mounted up high, and the roof is low, making for less headroom than you would expect for a full-size SUV; legroom is adequate but not generous in the second, and the third is for children only. Cargo space is adequate with the third row folded, and marginal with it up; if you regularly carry a lot of people and a lot of cargo, the Escalade ESV with its stretched body deserves a look.

First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD. Click image to enlarge

While it’s not that big, the cabin is incredibly plush. Indeed, the Escalade now sets the standard for Cadillac interiors: the quality of the materials used and the overall level of fit-and-finish is superior to the DTS and STS, and well ahead of the CTS and XLR. The wood-grain trim looks great, the plastics are soft to the touch, and there are neat little touches everywhere. The gauges, for instance, have cool blue needles that float in front of the numbers; the ergonomics are excellent, and the Nuance leather looks and feels great.

Given how nice the interior is, its faults are all the more egregious. What is up with the steering column? Not only does it have the same old tilt mechanism as GM has been using on its trucks for years – five positions with three of them being pretty much useless as they’re pointed right at the ceiling or towards the ground – but the wheel actually is angled towards the driver’s door. Given the effort that GM has gone to in creating an all-new large truck platform, you would think they would have pointed the wheel straight. The third row of seats on my tester would fold flat at the touch of a button, but raising the seats (the hard half of the equation) required manual intervention. And the grab handles and sun visors look like they were pulled straight out of a Chevy Cobalt.

First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD. Click image to enlarge

While the new Escalade shares its basic architecture with the other new large GM SUVs – the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe – it has a powertrain all its own. The engine is a unique 6.2-litre V8 producing 403 horsepower and 417 lb-ft of torque, and runs on regular gas. Combined with the six-speed automatic transmission – another Cadillac exclusive – it gives the Escalade a livelier, more responsive feel than the whopping 2,700-kg curb weight would lead you to imagine. Initial throttle tip-in is quite progressive, so it’s easy to drive smoothly, but the transmission is always ready to kick down into a lower gear to provide additional passing power.

First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD. Click image to enlarge

Despite its size and weight, the Escalade actually feels nimble in most everyday driving situations, an illusion that’s fostered by the engine’s big power and light, quick steering. But hit some frost-heaved pavement, or a bump in the middle of a corner, and you quickly realize that you’re still driving a big, heavy truck as the suspension struggles to juggle the massive, heaving wheels and the sturdy frame. Where Cadillac has made great strides is in the Escalade’s braking performance: stops are short and sure-footed, and the brake pedal actually has very good feel.

My Escalade, with almost $20,000 worth of optional equipment added on top of its $75,595 base price certainly had a lot of toys to play with. The seats were heated and cooled, and you could even choose which parts of the seat you wanted to climate-control (nice, if you’re wearing a jacket). There were power assists for everything from the windows to the doors to the mirrors to the rear liftgate. And the thumping great Bose stereo featured XM satellite radio in addition to the regular array of AM, FM, and six-disc CD. The big screen for the navigation system – it’s one of the biggest in the industry and has spectacular resolution – also served as a display for a rear-view camera that made backing the big beast into parking spots a cinch.

First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
First Drive: 2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD luxury cars first drives cadillac
2007 Cadillac Escalade AWD. Click image to enlarge

That big screen is definitely worth noting, as it serves up Cadillac’s excellent new interface for its navigation and entertainment systems. Not only has its speed and response time greatly improved from the previous-generation system, but it also sports a redesigned interface that may well be the nicest to use of any such system. The high-resolution screen is really bright, the controls are logically laid out, and the screen graphics are just gorgeous. A couple of additional bonuses: the ability to play DVD video discs on the navigation screen when you’re stopped (a rear-seat DVD system is available, and it of course works all the time), and a screen that has a power-tilt function to help reduce glare.

It’s actually a little bit of a shame that the Escalade is hitting the market at a time when gas prices are so high because it really is a very impressive large SUV. Had this particular vehicle been introduced a few years ago – say, when the original, and much creakier, Escalade went on sale – it would have been even more impressive. As it stands, while the 2007 is a big achievement in terms of engineering and design, it’s not as relevant for our automotive reality as it once was.

General Motors, of course, would argue differently, and the new Escalade’s sales figures would back them up. Fuel prices may be up in North America, but sales of the new truck are up in a major way over last year’s model. Maybe Cadillac’s timing isn’t so bad after all: some teenagers many not like the new Escalade, but it’s not like they can afford one; those that do seem to like the ’07 just fine.


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