2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 27, 2008

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT stands out as the world's only transforming luxury truck/SUV.

TheCarConnection.com’s editors read the latest reviews on the new 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT to write this comprehensive review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove the EXT, as well as other members of the Escalade family, to offer you a definitive opinion on this full-size SUV. This review also compares the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is a truck that works to combine the best attributes of a pickup with an SUV--with a heavy helping of bling thrown in for good measure. If you're considering the 2008 EXT, it's important to note that the entire line of Cadillac Escalade models was completely overhauled in 2007. The Escalade family of trucks (the short-wheelbase SUV, the long-wheelbase ESV, and the EXT) now rides on General Motors' GMT900 new-for-2007 truck platform.

But it's important to note that the Escalades are more than just gussied-up Chevrolet Tahoes. For Cadillac, 2008 is another year where its Escalade trucks continue to define the upper echelon of this category with Cadillac-specific styling, features, engineering, comfort, and refinement.

Cadillac says its 2008 Escalade EXT model is based on a unique sport-utility truck (SUT) body style, giving it a part-SUV, part-pickup profile and function. Once you look past the EXT's lower-rent sibling (the Chevrolet Avalanche), there isn't anything else currently available that transforms quite like the Escalade EXT.

Review continues below

What makes the SUV/truck transformation possible is GM's industry-exclusive Midgate panel. Here's how it works; owners can easily convert the EXT from a five-passenger SUV into a two-passenger pickup with 8 feet of protected and secured storage using the Midgate located behind the rear seat. The Midgate can be folded into the cabin, enabling the cargo area to expand from 5 feet to 8 feet, for a total of 101 cubic feet in secured volume. A lockable, standard tonneau cover protects items in the cargo bed or can be removed entirely for added space.

While the styling of the 2008 EXT is certainly unique among trucks, editors at TheCarConnection.com wonder about the truck's genuine usefulness. Some buyers will like the versatility the design offers, but most might never use the Midgate beyond showing friends and family how it works. Regardless, the window in the Midgate should be power-operated instead of only being removable, because driving with it out is a pleasant open-air experience, especially when the sunroof is open.

Editors from TheCarConnection.com feel that the EXT's interior, like the other Escalade models, is among the best in the entire Cadillac lineup--right up there with the new Cadillac CTS. Though there's still a bit of that chintzy black plastic in the center stack, the overall look is refined and elegant, just the right mix of wood and chrome to give meaning to the Cadillac badge in the center of the steering wheel.

The 6.2-liter V-8 found in the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is impressive for several reasons. The engine's construction is all aluminum and benefits from several bits of high technology, including variable valve timing to produce 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. This power is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission that performs very well, with virtually no gear hunting. This combination makes the big EXT hustle and helps it feel lighter than its curb weight of nearly three tons. Its exhaust note at idle has the cadence of a musclecar blended with a substantial richness.

The EXT is available in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations.

Experts from TheCarConnection.com have had the opportunity to drive several different Escalade models, some with the standard 18-inch tires and wheels, and others with the optional 22-inch wheels. While the 22s have that look so many people are down on, there is a reduction in ride quality, but not as bad as on other vehicles.

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2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Styling

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is bigger, bolder, and more posh than ever.

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is the upscale variant of the second generation of GM's innovative pickup truck/SUV models, sharing the same platform as the Chevrolet Avalanche.

Kelley Blue Book writes, "Those who liked the original Escalade EXT will love the 2008 model, beginning with its styling. Slightly larger and heavier due to added structure and features, it appears perhaps somewhat smaller thanks to its more sleek and crisp new body," and points to its "large, finely-crafted Cadillac signature grille, front fender vent ports and tasteful chrome accents." The 'Slade, as it's called, has always been about getting noticed and making a statement, and Cadillac's 2008 model will do that job easily. ForbesAutos calls Cadillac's Escalade EXT, 2008 version, "a large and imposing-looking vehicle," with "a massive grille flanked by high-intensity headlamps up front and a multitude of chrome accents around the vehicle." It's a favorite of rappers, pop stars, and professional athletes for a reason, and the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT's styling will ensure that they continue to turn heads as they roll by.

The Cadillac Escalade EXT, 2008 edition, still sports the triangular C-pillar extensions of GM's first-generation SUV-pickups, which are in keeping with the pointy design theme of Cadillac's 2008 look; "Cadillac's art-and-science design theme, which debuted with the 2002 Escalade's rectangular headlights, is in full swing on the 2008 Escalade. Updated elements include a more angular face that closely mimics the rest of Cadillac's lineup," says Cars.com.

"The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT's interior is luxury-plush, surprisingly quiet and raises the luxury and refinement bars another couple of notches. The instrument panel, set lower and farther forward to improve real and perceived room, houses quad round gauges with white needles, blue-light inlays and white LED backlighting," reports Kelley Blue Book, adding that "leather covers the seats, doors, steering wheel and center console, while the interior pillars wear rich-looking fabric." This sentiment is echoed by ForbesAutos, whose review states that the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model's "leather-clad, five-passenger cabin was recently upgraded and feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials and a more attractive design."

There seems to be very little to fault with the styling of the Cadillac Escalade EXT, 2008-spec interior. The only real quibble found by TheCarConnection.com comes from ConsumerGuide, whose report states that the gauges "are large but have blue pointers that can be hard to see in some light conditions."

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2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Performance

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT accelerates as quickly as some sportscars, and has respectable handling for such a large, utilitarian vehicle.

If the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is no shrinking violet in terms of styling, it's certainly no slouch when it comes to performance, either.

The 2008 Escalade's powerplant is a brute, delivering 403 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 417 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm, which makes for stunningly quick acceleration in such a massive vehicle: 6.1 seconds to 60 to be exact, says ForbesAutos. "Powering every 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is a new 6.2-liter all-aluminum V-8 with variable valve timing (VVT), which optimizes camshaft timing to improve low-rpm torque and high-rpm power, along with emissions and fuel economy," Kelley Blue Book reports, adding, "This engine does not yet have GM's Active Fuel Management (AFM), which deactivates half of the cylinders under light load." That second part is unfortunate, because the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model isn't shy when it comes to consuming fuel, either; Kelley Blue Book goes on to list the big Cadillac's EPA city/highway fuel economy at a dismal 12/18 mpg. Or, to use the words of ForbesAutos, "Don't expect to break 20 miles per gallon, even in highway cruising." If the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008-spec engine had the ability to use just four of its eight cylinders while coasting along or idling, it would probably mean fewer trips to the gas station. But in current form, "As one would expect, gas consumption is quite poor," says Edmunds.

However, in the case of Cadillac's 2008 edition of the Escalade, "The six-speed automatic transmission shifts more smoothly and boosts fuel economy compared to the four-speed gearbox in the previous model," says ForbesAutos, adding that, "manual gear selection is possible with a button on the column shifter. ConsumerGuide has almost equally good things to say, stating that the "transmission changes gears smoothly, though some testers cite an occasional reluctance to downshift for passing."

ConsumerGuide also finds the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model's handling to be "stable and confident in low- to moderate-speed changes of direction," but goes on to report that the optional chrome 22-inch wheel/tire package has "little impact on steering or handling." But that is unlikely to stop buyers from shelling out the extra cash for the extra bling. Edmunds describes the steering as "light and predictable" and the handling "stable and controlled over all but extremely rough surfaces," while ConsumerGuide describes the steering as "vague and overassisted," and reports, "Strong brakes have reassuringly firm pedal feel, but fast stops trigger lots of nosedive."

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2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Comfort & Quality

TheCarConnection.com finds the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT to be of generally high build quality and comfort levels--especially for a pickup truck.

The folding Midgate distinguishes the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT from other Escalade models, but also presents some design challenges where interior space is concerned.

"Two rows of seats accommodate five occupants," says Cars.com. ConsumerGuide elaborates, reporting that the Cadillac Escalade EXT's 2008 edition has "big-rig space on wide, comfortable seats, though the tallest drivers may want more headroom and legroom." This is fine for the vast majority of folks, but in order to fold down the Midgate and utilize the full length of the pickup bed, the front seats must be moved forward slightly, which diminishes front seat legroom further. On the topic of dealing with moving the front seats back and forth, ConsumerGuide notes, "Power-adjustable pedals are standard, but the absence of a telescopic or power-adjustable steering column are surprising at this price level," and notes that, when the Midgate is not folded down, "comfortable seats furnish good headroom and legroom" in the rear. They do warn, however, that the Escalade EXT "is a tall truck, so some climbing is needed to get in."

Still, the Midgate is what makes Cadillac's 2008 EXT version of the Escalade special, and it affords the owner many possibilities when it comes to increasing usable cargo space. Cars.com points out that folding the Midgate down and the rear seats forward gives the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model a very useful "54.3 cubic feet of cargo space." And ConsumerGuide notes that, with the rear seats in the "up" position, the hard tonneau and locking tailgate make the pickup bed "essentially a deep, 40-cubic-foot trunk." ForbesAutos sees more possibilities still, reporting, "The rear window and the bed cover also can remain in place with the Midgate folded to create a huge enclosed trunk, perfect for protecting long, flat objects from the elements."

According to Edmunds, Cadillac's 2008 Escalade EXT's "five-passenger cabin has an elegant, upscale ambiance thanks to the use of finely stitched leather and accents of wood and metal. Most surfaces are of the soft-touch variety, though a few cheap plastic trim pieces can still be found." ConsumerGuide agrees, also saying, "a few plastic pieces disappoint at these prices." But ForbesAutos is more positive, reporting that the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 "feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials."

ConsumerGuide rates the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT as "quiet enough, but only midpack for the premium-large-SUV class," indicating that its mighty V-8 is "subdued at highway speeds but roars loudly during rapid acceleration," and that "Wind rush is noticed from the large door mirrors and around the front doors from 65 mph on up."

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2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Safety

TheCarConnection.com finds the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT to be outstandingly well equipped in terms of safety, and crash tests support that conclusion.

Today's luxury automobiles are usually the vanguard when it comes to safety innovations, and the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT is an excellent example of that leadership.

If there's a single American make of car with a long-standing reputation for building safe, solid cars, it's Cadillac; 2008 sees that tradition continued. The Cadillac Escalade EXT, 2008 version, includes as standard safety equipment "advanced front air bags with passenger sensing, head-curtain side air bags for both rows [of seats], four-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS), Stabilitrak stability control, rain-sensing wipers and heated washer fluid," according to Kelley Blue Book. The Stabilitrak system is not exclusive to Cadillac; in 2008, it comes as standard equipment on many different models produced by GM. It "uses rollover mitigation technology that senses impending rollovers and attempts to avert them by applying individual brakes," says Cars.com.

In addition, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT system is designed with "technology that deploys the vehicle's standard head-curtain airbags before a crash occurs, if it determines a rollover is imminent," according to ForbesAutos. This is especially important on tall vehicles like SUVs, which are more likely to roll over. The only National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) test where the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model scored less than a five-star rating was the rollover test, where it scored only three stars.

Another safety issue on a vehicle of the size of the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 is whether there are large blind spots. ConsumerGuide reports, "Visibility astern and to the right-rear is hindered by the roof design, but standard rear obstacle detection and the available rearview camera compensate."

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2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Features

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT brims with cool technology in its standard form, and for significantly more money, even more can be had.

The Escalade EXT has only been offered in one trim level by Cadillac; 2008 sees that unchanged, but with its complement of standard equipment, only one is needed.

The 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price starting at $55,000 and topping out near $68,000 when fully loaded, according to Kelley Blue Book. That's a pretty expensive pickup truck, but it does cover a lot of stuff. Kelley Blue Book goes on to list standard equipment as including "all-wheel drive, road-sensing suspension, automatic rear leveling, Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist, a three-piece rigid cargo cover and remote vehicle starting. Interior features include leather-covered 14-way power heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, steering wheel radio controls, rear audio controls, power adjustable pedals, DVD/MP3/CD-changer with Bose Surround Sound, XM Satellite Radio and OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation." Oddly, there's an auxiliary input jack for the rear audio system, but none for the front. Kelley Blue Book also points out that Chevy's Avalanche comes with the same Midgate feature for a price much less dear than that of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT.

Edmunds chimes in, "Large instruments with blue needles allow a quick read of vital stats, while a trip computer provides secondary information, such as average fuel mileage. The [optional] nav screen has a user-friendly touchscreen interface, and all controls are easy to find and use."

Of course, the main feature of the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model is the Midgate, which allows the EXT to transform from a five-seater luxury SUV to a two-passenger pickup with an 8-foot bed, and a few different configurations in between. Kelley Blue Book quips, "It's pretty slick, but one potential down-side is that, in that configuration, the entire interior is open to the great outdoors and all the security, weather and dirt issues that includes." However, ForbesAutos takes a sunnier view of the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 edition, pointing out, "On a nice day, the window can be removed independently of the midgate to let the breeze flow through the cabin."

For Cadillac, 2008 is a year of short option lists where Escalades are concerned. As Kelley Blue Book puts it, "With so much standard equipment, the EXT's option list is not long, and includes 22-inch tires on chromed aluminum wheels, power adjustable running boards, a power sliding sunroof, a Climate Package (heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel) and an Information Package that includes DVD touch-screen navigation, a rearview camera and Intellibeam automatic headlamps," which smoothly dim their high beams when they sense the light from the headlamps of an oncoming car. ForbesAutos also notes the "optional Dolby Digital Surround audio system" available on the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2008 model.

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