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Originally, this road test’s subhead would have read “What would Satan Drive?” but our friends at Automobile beat me to it, darn ’em.
The 2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV is the largest full-size luxury SUV available—and the largest Cadillac ever produced. At a tick over 18 feet, three inches, it’s 22 inches longer than Escalade, with more than 20 extra inches of interior length; it provides seating for eight and segment-leading cargo-carrying capability. It weighs 161 pounds shy of three tons, has the wonderful 6.0-liter Vortec V-8 pumping out 345 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque and gets appropriately abysmal fuel mileage. It was easy to imagine the Prince of Darkness behind the wheel of our Sable Black tester, smoking on a big cigar.
If you simply needed all this capability, you’d be less conspicuous driving the Chevy Suburban upon which the ESV is based. But Cadillac’s rendition only costs another ten percent or so over a kitted-out Suburban, so I say go for the luxury (unless you need the Suburban’s off-road ability and superior tow rating) and thumb your nose at the politically correct. You’ll feel like royalty piloting the ESV, secure in your knowledge that Arianna Huffington, the intellectually skittish harpy pundit propelling the anti-SUV movement, apparently supports terrorism through the heating and cooling needs of her 9,000-square-foot home—if you buy into her stillborn understanding of the oil market.
Seriously, though, the fuel appetite of this beast is insatiable. As I dropped my first $47 of premium into the 31-gallon fuel tank, I realized that there is absolutely no way that TCC’s standard road test renumeration was going to cover the nut this week—praise Allah my rolling expenses are deductible. You can switch the LED-based driver information center to an instant fuel economy setting, which is quite edifying. As long as you’re rolling downhill, you’re a true-blue American, getting nearly 55 mpg. Fight gravity, particularly while utilizing the ESV’s considerable passing capability, and you’re all but stuffing C4 into the sneakers of crazed true believers as you watch the display plummet to 4 mpg. The Caddy averaged 14.7 mpg during its stay, well within its proclaimed range.
In terms of luxury, power and ride, the ESV is a Cadillac through and through. This would be a fine executive limo; the Road Sensing Suspension provides a quiet, floating ride yet with amazing roll control, and the ride height is so tall you can gaze onto the roofs of minivans as you motor along. The front independent suspension uses torsion bars and a 32-mm stabilizer bar, in back is a five-link, coil-spring design with a 30-mm stabilizer bar.
This is an amazingly maneuverable truck for its bulk. StabiliTrak and full-time 4WD keep the ESV pointed straight no matter what you throw at it. Our only anxious moment came when a wet left bend was taken too quickly, but when we lost lateral grip the slide was completely uniform and easily corrected. The Vortec is torque personified and the heavy-duty Hydra-Matic four-speed always picked the correct gear, effortlessly maintaining momentum on any road you care to drive.
The single trim level available for the ESV covers all the creature comforts. Climate controls cover three zones, there’s the aforementioned driver information center and second-row captain’s chairs, OnStar, power-adjustable pedals, a premium Bose stereo and GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability and traction control system. Our tester’s options included a rear-seat entertainment system with a pair of infrared headphones, a remote and a Panasonic DVD player mounted from the roof (watch your head!), 17-inch chrome wheels, XM satellite radio and a tow package. You can swap out the second-row captain’s chairs for a bench seat for no charge. If you forego the DVD player, you can order a sunroof. Leather and wood trim are everywhere, although the dash template is all-too recognizable as a generic GM truck piece, and the quality of interior plastics still lags behind the competition.
The adjustable pedals and multi-adjustable electronic front seats make finding a comfortable driving posture a breeze. With its fine stereo and ride isolation, the ESV is less a conveyance and more a luxurious listening room. Personally, I’m a little large for sitting in either the second or third rows of the ESV, but even the third row provides enough comfort for short trips, as long as you don’t actually try to put three adults back there.
I like to think that I’m a reasonable, responsible person and a progressive thinker. Our own driveway holds a ’95 Honda DX hatchback and a ’98 Ford Ranger 4x4 pickup. Still, I kept having this fantasy during my week with the ESV, imagining its big Cadillac grill filling the rear-view mirror of Huffington, poking along in a Volvo wagon 20 mph under the limit, and watching her eyes fill with terror and loathing as we roar by.
The devil made me do it.
2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV
Base price: $55,370; as tested $58,765
Engine: 6.0-liter OHV V-8, 345 hp
Drivetrain: Four-speed electronically controlled heavy-duty automatic with overdrive, full-time four-wheel drive, single-speed transfer case
Length x width x height (in.): 219.3 x 78.9 x 75.7
Wheelbase: 130.0 in.
Curb weight: 5,839 lb.
EPA City/Hwy: 12/16 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual-level front airbags, side impact airbags, front passenger sensing system, ultrasonic rear parking assist, four-channel StabiliTrak stability enhancement system with ABS-based all-speed traction control, high-intensity headlamps
Major standard equipment: 12-volt auxiliary power outlet, variable intermittent speed windshield wipers, leather seating with first- and second-row heating controls, flip-and-fold third-row seat, Bulgari analog clock, Bose premium audio system with six-CD changer, tri-zone climate control, steering-wheel radio controls, power adjustable pedals, rear-seat audio, OnStar communications system, heated power folding mirrors, automatic level control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles