November 27, 2006
Back when bumper stickers were at their height of popularity, you’d often see one on pickup trucks that read, “Cowboy Cadillac”. It was meant as a joke, of course, but GM did the one thing no one really expected: for 2002, it actually built a Cadillac pickup, the Escalade EXT.
For 2007, with the introduction of GM’s revamped full-size SUVs, the Escalade EXT moves into its second generation. Sure, it’s still a big truck, overdone to the point that it’s goofy, but if bling’s your thing, this version certainly delivers, and throws in a good measure of performance, improved quality, comfort and lots of luxury.
The EXT is based on the Chevrolet Avalanche, which means it’s not so much a pickup truck, as a Suburban with the back part of the roof cut off. Box and body are a single unit, with four full-size doors and correspondingly generous interior size, both for front and second-row passengers.
The new truck sports a more in-your-face chrome grille, which made my tester’s optional 22-inch chromed hoops look more appropriate. Taste being subjective, I’ve never really considered the Escalade EXT or Avalanche to be all that handsome, but there’s considerable improvement now that last year’s body side cladding is gone. The truck looks smoother and less bulky, even though it’s virtually the same size as the model it replaces; curb weight is reduced by 22 kg.
The 2007 version rides on a new, fully-boxed frame that the company says is 49 per cent stiffer; the windshield is raked back 57 degrees, for a drag coefficient of 0.363, for better fuel economy and less wind noise. Still, my tester often tended to whistle in the wind at highway speeds, and although the Escalade has a combined fuel rating of 14.6 L/100 km (19 mpg Imp), I got a dismal average of 19.3 L/100 km (15 mpg Imp). Premium fuel is recommended, but not required.
Much of my time with it was spent on the highway for an 800-km round trip, and this is where the Escalade really shines: its seats are well-cushioned but still provide a great deal of support, there is room to stretch out, and the ride is soft enough to be comfortable but not so light that it’s wallowy. Get off the smooth asphalt, and the Escalade is just as easy-going: even on a washboard road, there was almost no intrusion of noise or vibration into the cabin.
Replacing last year’s cast-iron 6.0-litre and four-speed automatic is an all-aluminum 6.2-litre V8 with variable valve timing, mated to a six-speed autobox; horsepower increases from 345 to 403, while torque jumps from 380 to a healthy 417 lb-ft. It’s the only engine available in the Escalade, and isn’t found on the Avalanche. Later this model year, the Chevrolet version will sport a new all-aluminum 6.0-litre V8 with Active Fuel Management, which shuts off half the cylinders under light load for better fuel economy, but the Cadillac’s 6.2-litre is all cylinders, all the time. (The engine is used exclusively across the entire Cadillac truck line-up, which includes the Escalade and Escalade ESV sport utility vehicles.)
The improved engine is appreciated here: it’s very strong, and responds immediately to throttle pressure, with a throaty growl on acceleration. The six-speed is a good match, with seamless gear changes that keep the engine in its sweet spot. A tow mode allows for manual sequential up- or downshifts via a button on the shifter.
The Escalade EXT also comes equipped with all-wheel drive as standard equipment, which delivers 60 per cent of torque to the rear wheels, 40 per cent to the front, with StabiliTrak stability control program.
Speaking of standard equipment, the Escalade is loaded with it: it comes in a single trim line, and includes remote starter, OnStar, automatic Xenon headlamps, power-folding auto-dimming mirrors, roof rack, rain-sensing wipers, premium six-CD stereo with XM satellite radio, power-adjustable pedals, and running boards that, unlike so many others, are actually wide enough that they can be used as real steps, so that short folks (read: me) can get up into this big truck. Most are simply too narrow for stepping, and too wide for easy exiting.
My tester was further optioned with a rear-seat DVD player, heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, and a DVD navigation system with backup camera (although the disc kept skipping, and we had to call OnStar a couple of times to get us through the wilds of Detroit when our map suddenly vanished).
Overall, everything is laid out very well, with only a few minor quibbles. The auto-dimming driver’s exterior mirror darkens too much, and a few times it was hard to see exactly where other vehicles were when I wanted to change lanes. The speedometer features a blue needle on a black background, which glows beautifully at night but is difficult to see in the daytime. Ditto the analogue clock, an elegant watch face set high in the centre stack that becomes invisible in sunlight. The HVAC buttons are small and hard to distinguish quickly, too.
Another standard feature is heated windshield washer fluid, but it isn’t exactly as it sounds: you don’t just pull the stalk and get a stream of hot liquid. Instead, you turn on the system from the centre stack, and wait about 45 seconds for the fluid to heat. Once it does, the washers and wipers automatically come on, and spray and wipe until the hot charge is done. It then turns off the wipers and starts the heating cycle all over again, and will do so until the system is shut off (or, I would imagine, it runs out of fluid). It’s useful, especially for that first shot in the morning when the windshield is frosty or if you have caked-on grime, but be aware of its limitations. (The system is independent of the regular wiper action; use the stalk, and wipers and cold-fluid washers work as usual.)
This being an Avalanche, the Escalade EXT also comes with that model’s famous “midgate”, made possible because of the single body/box unit. The gate – actually the rear of the cab – can be opened, making it possible to load items right to the front seats. It’s relatively easy, but it’s fussy: first, you flip up the rear seat cushions and then fold the seatback down. Then, you unlock two latches – if you’re doing it yourself, you’ll probably have to walk around the truck to reach them both – hit the safety catch, and remove the rear window, which can then be stored on the gate. Once more around the truck to flip two more latches, and the midgate drops flat.
You can also put the window back into its place; since the Escalade has a three-piece hard tonneau with a power-locking tailgate, you can drive around with the midgate down but the window up, so that the truck sealed against weather or intruders. The tonneau also comes off, but the pieces must be strapped to the side of the box; it’s surprising no one’s come up with a recessed floor where they could be stored.
All in all, between the midgate and the tonneau, there are a lot of combinations, including open rear window, closed storage compartment, and wide-open for big items. I don’t imagine too many buyers are actually going to be crawling in and out and regularly putting this gate up and down (and don’t most Cadillac owners get their bulky stuff delivered, anyway?), but it’s part of the Avalanche architecture and so goes with the package.
Also borrowed from the Avalanche is a pair of side “saddlebags”: unlock the plastic lid on top of the box, and items can be securely stored in the pockets over the wheel wells. Small items will fall forward and be difficult to reach, but it’s a great spot, as one GM representative told me, to put one’s fishing rod and boots when going out for the day.
That’s a good place to take it, too. The Escalade is a big, tall truck, and the thick triangular buttresses create huge blind spots: this vehicle is a handful in the city. It’s a suburban truck, happiest on back roads, where it can make the most of its big engine and its all-day-comfortable stance. It’s big and goofy, but if you like a luxury truck, it’s probably the best big-and-goofy you’ll find. And you don’t even need a bumper sticker to tell people what it is.
Pricing: 2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT
Base price $71,495
(Navigation system $3,640; 22-inch wheel package $2,995; rear seat entertainment centre $2,295; cooled front seats $625; rearview camera system $235; Intellibeam headlamps $215; heated steering wheel $180)
A/C tax $ 100
Freight $ 1,350
Price as tested $83,130
Manufacturer’s web site