By Jeremy Cato
For the 1999 model year, Cadillac introduced the first truck-based vehicle in what was then its 96-year history. It was the Escalade and by any measure, the 1999-2000 version was a stop-gap measure until an all-new Escalade arrived for the 2002 model year (there was no official 2001 Escalade).
Truth is, the 1999 Escalade was one of the great about-faces in the history of the car business. Just a bit more than a year before the ’99 Escalade arrived, Cadillac officials were insisting that General Motors’ luxury brand would not sell a sport-utility wagon, that GM’s luxury division did not need “an industrial-strength Cimarron.” (You remember the Cimarron, don’t you? In the ’80s, it was a dressed up Chevrolet Cavalier subcompact that wore a Cadillac badge.)
The ’99 Escalade turned out to be a luxuried-up GMC Yukon Denali and it was at that time Cadillac’s answer to the Lincoln Navigator. That is how Caddy managed to bring the original Escalade to market in just seven months.
All the 1999-2000 Escalade’s mechanical bits and pieces are pure Denali, although the suspension was tweaked for a softer ride and the steering was adjusted to give the same type of feedback you’d get in a Cadillac DeVille. Styling cues included a Caddy crest on the grille and headrests and the taillamps are a traditional Cadillac vertical design. The outside was also loaded up with thick lower body cladding, colour-keyed mirrors and door handles.
This truck also came from the factory with loads of luxury features: rich leather seats that heat both back and backside, front and rear, wood trim and a custom Bose sound system with an in-dash single CD and a six-disc CD changer in the centre console. Cupholders? Eight of ’em, all designed to hold anything from a foam cup to a Big Gulp. One obvious missing feature is a third row bench seat.
The standard four-wheel-drive system for this truck was always a set-and-forget type that allows the driver to dial up 4WD “auto” for running in two-wheel drive until there’s slippage. Then four-wheel engages on its own.
Power? The only engine choice was a big 5.7-litre V8, the same engine in the Denali. Takeoffs are smooth and confident. Just remember to have a credit card with a high limit when it’s time to fill up the gas tank.
Anti-lock brakes and traction control will help to keep you out of trouble, but in the worst case there are dual front airbags for crash protection.
Make no mistake, this is a big truck and while the ride engineers have done their best, it still bounces around on bad pavement or gravel roads. There’s plenty of roll in the corners, too. The Escalade sits about six cm (two inches) lower than the ’99 Navigator, so it should fit into most parking garages. Nonetheless, this BIG truck is a challenge to parallel park.
This version of the Escalade never suffered a recall and in general quality issues appear to be relatively minimal. Be alert to some drivetrain issues, among other things (see Buyer’s Alerts). There were no recalls for 1999 and 2000. It is worth noting, however, that the latest auto issue from Consumer Reports rates the Escalade among it least reliable sport-utility vehicles.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Jeremy Cato is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist. He is a columnist and feature writer for the Globe & Mail newspaper and his articles are syndicated to a variety of other publications.