2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 12, 2009

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade stands out in any crowd; it's the only transforming luxury truck/SUV out there.

TheCarConnection.com’s editors have gone the extra mile, bringing you their observations and driving impressions of the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT, then combine it with highlights of what reviewers across the Web have said. This means that here you have access to the most complete, cohesive review available.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT brings a lot to the table—and it has no direct competitors. The EXT combines some of the best attributes of a pickup with those of an SUV—with a heavy helping of glitz and over-the-top showiness thrown in for good (or distasteful) measure, depending on how you look at it.

If you're considering the 2009 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.

Aside from the EXT's lower-rent sibling, the Chevrolet Avalanche, there isn't anything else currently available that transforms quite like the Escalade EXT. Cadillac says its 2009 Escalade EXT model is based on a unique sport-utility truck (SUT) body style, giving it a part-SUV, part-pickup profile and function.

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 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT from a five-passenger SUV into a two-passenger pickup with eight 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 five feet to eight 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.

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 styling of the 2009 EXT is certainly unique among trucks. It would help if the window in the Midgate were power-operated instead of merely removable; driving with it out is a pleasant open-air experience, especially when the sunroof is open.

The 6.2-liter V-8 found in the 2009 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. All-wheel drive is included as well, and it’s a more road-friendly automatic system than what comes with most GM pickups. Overall, the powertrain makes the big EXT hustle and helps it feel lighter than its curb weight of nearly three tons. The exhaust note sounds like that of a muscle car. Fuel economy is, as you might figure, embarrassingly low, with an EPA city figure of only 11 mpg.

Experts from TheCarConnection.com have had the opportunity to drive 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT models with several different wheel sizes and point out that the 22-inch wheels come standard with Magnetic Ride Control; they do a good job of smoothing out what might otherwise be a fairly choppy ride.

Though there's still a bit of chintzy black plastic in the center stack, editors from TheCarConnection.com feel that the EXT's interior, like those of the other Escalade models, is among the best in the entire Cadillac lineup—up there with the new Cadillac CTS. 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.

As with the other SUV versions of the Escalade, the 2009 Escalade EXT has mostly positive indicators in the safety arena. Federal crash-tests have all yielded top five-star ratings, except for rollover, and all the expected safety features, such as side airbags, side-curtain bags, and electronic stability control, come standard.

New features for 2009 include a power-tilt steering wheel, rear audio jacks, standard express-up front windows, and optional XM NavTraffic.

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2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Styling

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT is designed to stand out—and it works for that.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com find that the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT shares a platform with the Chevrolet Avalanche. This makes the 2009 Escalade EXT the upscale variant of GM's second-generation pickup/SUV line.

The 'Slade, as it's often called, has always been about getting noticed and making a statement, and Cadillac's 2009 model does that job easily even in EXT form. "Updated elements include a more angular face that closely mimics the rest of Cadillac's lineup," says Cars.com. The 2009 Escalade EXT 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 2009 look.

The exterior of the 2009 Escalade EXT is well liked. Forbes Autos calls Cadillac's Escalade EXT, 2009 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 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT's styling will ensure that they continue to turn heads as they roll by. Kelley Blue Book reports, "Those who liked the original Escalade EXT will love the 2009 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."

On the interior, reviews of the 2009 Escalade EXT remain positive. The only real quibble found by TheCarConnection.com comes from Consumer Guide, which states that the gauges "are large but have blue pointers that can be hard to see in some light conditions." Others are much more complimentary. Forbes Autos reports that the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2009 model's "leather-clad, five-passenger cabin was recently upgraded and feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials and a more attractive design." "The 2009 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," says Kelley Blue Book, adding that "leather covers the seats, doors, steering wheel and center console, while the interior pillars wear rich-looking fabric."

TheCarConnection.com’s editors like the 2009 Escalade EXT’s styling—part blingy urban warrior, part Village People garishness, and part true Texas Cadillac—but note that it won’t stand out in a positive light everywhere. Whether it works is up to you.

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2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Performance

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT handles surprisingly well for such a large vehicle. Acceleration matches that of some sportscars.



Editors at TheCarConnection.com love the performance of the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT. It's both powerful and nimble—an unusual combination in such a large vehicle.

One of the reasons for that is the 2009 Escalade's powerplant—a brute, delivering 403 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 417 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. "Powering every 2009 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. The power makes for stunningly quick acceleration in such a massive vehicle: 6.1 seconds to 60 to be exact, says Forbes Autos.

Unfortunately, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT isn't shy about fuel consumption. "As one would expect, gas consumption is quite poor," says Edmunds. Forbes Autos warns, "Don't expect to break 20 miles per gallon, even in highway cruising." Kelley Blue Book explains that the engine “does not yet have GM's Active Fuel Management (AFM), which deactivates half of the cylinders under light load.” If the Cadillac Escalade EXT had the ability to use just four of its eight cylinders while coasting along or idling, like most of GM’s other full-size trucks, it could make a difference of several miles per gallon, estimates TheCarConnection.com.

Fortunately, the transmission gets good marks in the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT. Consumer Guide states that the "transmission changes gears smoothly, though some testers cite an occasional reluctance to downshift for passing." However, in the case of Cadillac's 2009 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."

Edmunds describes the steering in the 2009 Escalade EXT as "light and predictable" and the handling "stable and controlled over all but extremely rough surfaces." Consumer Guide also finds the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2009 model's handling to be "stable and confident in low- to moderate-speed changes of direction,” but doesn’t like the feel of the steering, describing it as "vague and overassisted." ConsumerGuide also has a nit to pick with body motion under braking: "strong brakes have reassuringly firm pedal feel, but fast stops trigger lots of nosedive."

TheCarConnection.com finds that Magnetic Ride Control, which is now standard with the big 22-inch wheels, will help smooth out the choppy ride those oversized wheels otherwise invite.

 

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2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Comfort & Quality

Relative to full-size pickups, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT really shines in terms of build quality and comfort, though its role as transformer isn’t perfect.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com note that what really sets the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT apart from the crowd is its unique folding Midgate. Unfortunately, this nifty feature has its quirks.

Consumer Guide states that Cadillac Escalade EXT's 2009 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. Cars.com simply reports that "two rows of seats accommodate five occupants."

Consumer Guide warns that the Escalade EXT "is a tall truck, so some climbing is needed to get in." On the plus side, the reviewer also states that "power-adjustable pedals are standard." Unfortunately, "the absence of a telescopic or power-adjustable steering column [is] surprising at this price level."

What makes Cadillac's 2009 EXT version of the Escalade special is the Midgate, and it affords the owner many possibilities when it comes to increasing usable cargo space. Forbes Autos reports that "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." Consumer Guide 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." Cars.com points out that folding the Midgate down and the rear seats forward gives the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2009 model a very useful "54.3 cubic feet of cargo space."

Materials quality in the 2009 Escalade EXT is good overall. Forbes Autos reports that the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2009 "feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials." Consumer Guide, however, notes that "a few plastic pieces disappoint at these prices." Edmunds walks both sides of the fence. The reviewer explains that the 2009 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."

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2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Safety

No corners are cut in the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT when it comes to safety. Everything is here, and the crash-test results are solid.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com are enamored with the safety features packed into the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT. Drivers should feel incredibly safe in this vehicle.

Cars.com is a fan of the GM StabiliTrak system found on the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT. The reviewer explains that the system "uses rollover mitigation technology that senses impending rollovers and attempts to avert them by applying individual brakes." The Cadillac Escalade EXT 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)...rain-sensing wipers and heated washer fluid," according to Kelley Blue Book.

Safety ratings for the 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT are quite good overall. The only National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) test where the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2009 model scores less than a top five-star rating is for rollover, where it garners only three stars. The 2009 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 Forbes Autos. This is especially important on tall vehicles like SUVs, which are more likely to roll over (perhaps the reason for the three-star ranking).

The large size of the 2009 Escalade EXT makes blind spots all but inevitable. 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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2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Features

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT brings plenty of fabulous features—some quite pricey—to create what’s possibly the best-equipped pickup in the world.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade EXT is offered in a single trim level, but with its vast array of standard features and optional equipment, this is plenty.

The 2009 Escalade EXT is a pretty expensive pickup truck, but it comes with a lot of items. Edmunds observes that "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." Kelley Blue Book lists 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." New standard features for 2009 include a power-tilt steering wheel, rear audio jacks, and express-up front windows.

Of course, the main feature of the Cadillac Escalade EXT 2009 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. Forbes Autos points out, "On a nice day, the window can be removed independently of the Midgate to let the breeze flow through the cabin." Kelley Blue Book isn't entirely sold on the idea of the Midgate. "It's pretty slick," the reviewer writes, "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." If you must have the Midgate feature, you can find it on the Chevy Avalanche for a much lower price. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also like how the Midgate’s window was removable but wished that it would simply roll down instead.

Options in the 2009 Escalade EXT are limited (in part because of the long standard features list). Forbes Autos notes the "optional Dolby Digital Surround audio system" as a favorite features. 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. Newly optional for 2009 is XM NavTraffic.

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