2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
November 11, 2009

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT is in a class of one; other luxury SUVs may have its image or its exclusivity, but none of them has the Midgate.

TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the Cadillac Escalade EXT to write this hands-on road test. The 2010 Escalade EXT review is based on driving impressions culled from the past three model years. Editors have compared the EXT to other trucks and SUVs to help you narrow your shopping choices, and have edited a companion Full Review that condenses other Web reviews for the most concise review available online.

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT brings a lot to the table-including the table and all the guests, if you need. A full-size truck with a twist, the Escalade EXT has a Midgate system that lets the driver decide how many passengers and how much cargo they need to move-and lets them choose one or the other or both. With a base price of almost $62,000, the EXT has no real competition, though it might seem like a bargain compared to a fully enclosed Land Rover Range Rover or a blinged-out Lincoln Navigator. (The only direct rival? The mechanically similar Chevrolet Avalanche.)

Part SUV, part pickup, the Escalade EXT's also part rap-star fantasy object with a massive dose of glitz and over-the-top detailing thrown in for good (or bad) measure, depending on how you look at it. It was overhauled in 2007 along with the short-wheelbase Escalade and the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV. The overall look is refined and elegant, with an unmistakable nod to Cadillac's latest styling themes in the big vertical headlamps and taillights, the huge Cadillac logo on the grille, and in the wide bands of chrome that run down the pickup bed. Inside the EXT wears just the right mix of wood and chrome to give meaning to the Cadillac badge in the center of the steering wheel. 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 that of the other Escalade models, is among the best in the entire Cadillac lineup-up there with the new Cadillac CTS.

There's a wave of horsepower and torque at your disposal in the Cadillac Escalade EXT-but you probably shouldn't care about geopolitics too much if you want to savor its nontrucklike performance. The 6.2-liter V-8 has aluminum construction and variable valve timing, and kicks out 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. It can make the EXT hustle and turn in a muscle-car-quality engine note while it happily shifts through its six-speed automatic transmission. Still, even with a cylinder-deactivation system that slakes its thirst for fuel a little bit, the Escalade EXT is no miser. Last year's version rated 11/14 mpg from the EPA, and this year's model hasn't been rated yet-but it's likely to fare only 1 mpg better on the highway. Those are truly deficient numbers directly related to its 6,000-pound curb weight. On the flip side, the mass means the EXT rides well, particularly with the Magnetic Ride Control suspension and even with the optional 22-inch wheels. The suspension does a good job of smoothing out what could be a choppy ride. All-wheel drive is standard, and it's a more road-friendly automatic system than the one offered on the similar Chevy Avalanche. The EXT will tow 7,500 pounds and can carry 1,200 pounds of payload.

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The Escalade EXT's interior sports as much room as the three-row ESV Escalade when the Midgate is locked in place. It's fitted with five seats maximum, not six as on the Chevy Avalanche, but the seats are even more lavish and leathered up. Front passengers have access to all sorts of storage in a deep, wide front console, plenty of legroom, and ventilated seats to keep cool. The rear seats are comfortably formed and fold down when the EXT's Midgate drops to expand the pickup bed. When the Midgate's down, of course, the EXT only seats two-but the pickup bed expands from a little more than five feet to about eight and a half feet, enough to carry a queen-sized mattress with some careful wedging. A lockable, standard tonneau cover protects items in the cargo bed or can be removed entirely for added space. It would be more useful were the window in the Midgate power-operated instead of merely removable; driving with it out is a pleasant open-air experience, especially when the sunroof is open.

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) gives the 2010 Escalade EXT five-star crash-test scores for front impacts; side impact tests have not been performed, but the EXT gets a three-star rollover rating. Standard safety features include dual front, side, and curtain airbags; stability and traction control, tied into the all-wheel-drive system; and other assists like a rearview camera, parking sensors, adjustable driving pedals, and OnStar.

Almost every imaginable feature is standard on the 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT, including DVD navigation; a USB audio port for the AM/FM/XM/CD/DVD changer; Bose surround sound; a power-tilt steering wheel; Bluetooth; remote start; dual-zone climate control; leather upholstery; and a heated steering wheel, front seats, and mirrors. A sunroof is standard on the two most expensive versions, while a rear-seat DVD entertainment system is optional, as are the Magnetic Ride Control suspension and its 22-inch wheels. XM NavTraffic is included on the EXT, but the subscription must be renewed by the owner.

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2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Styling

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT stands out in a crowd with its immense, angular shape and its softly upholstered, glinty interior.

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT brings a lot to the table-including the table and all the guests, if you need. A full-size truck with a twist, the Escalade EXT has a Midgate system that lets the driver decide how many passengers and how much cargo they need to move-and lets them choose one or the other or both. With a base price of almost $62,000, the EXT has no real competition, though it might seem like a bargain compared to a fully enclosed Land Rover Range Rover or a blinged-out Lincoln Navigator. (The only direct rival? The mechanically similar Chevrolet Avalanche.)

Part SUV, part pickup, the Escalade EXT's also part rap-star fantasy object with a massive dose of glitz and over-the-top detailing thrown in for good (or bad) measure, depending on how you look at it. It was overhauled in 2007 along with the short-wheelbase Escalade and the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV. ForbesAutos calls it "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." The overall appearance is refined and elegant, with an unmistakable nod to Cadillac's latest styling themes in the big vertical headlamps and taillights, the huge Cadillac logo on the grille, and in the wide bands of chrome that run down the pickup bed. The EXT's "angular face...closely mimics the rest of Cadillac's lineup," says Cars.com. The current version, Kelley Blue Book reports, "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."

Inside the EXT wears just the right mix of wood and chrome to give meaning to the Cadillac badge in the center of the steering wheel. ForbesAutos recalls that the "leather-clad, five-passenger cabin was recently upgraded and feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials and a more attractive design." Kelley Blue Book adds, "leather covers the seats, doors, steering wheel and center console, while the interior pillars wear rich-looking fabric." ConsumerGuide observes the gauges "are large but have blue pointers that can be hard to see in some light conditions." In all, ForbesAutos says, the Escalade EXT "raises the luxury and refinement bars another couple of notches." 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.

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2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Performance

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT has a big V-8, big power, and not-so-big handling-but a huge thirst for fuel.

There's a wave of horsepower and torque at your disposal in the Cadillac Escalade EXT-but you probably shouldn't care about geopolitics too much if you want to savor its nontrucklike performance.

The 6.2-liter V-8 has aluminum construction and variable valve timing ("which optimizes camshaft timing to improve low-rpm torque and high-rpm power, along with emissions and fuel economy," Kelley Blue Book reports), and it kicks out 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. It can make the EXT hustle and turn in a muscle-car-quality engine note while it happily shifts through its six-speed automatic transmission. ConsumerGuide says the "transmission changes gears smoothly, though some testers cite an occasional reluctance to downshift for passing." ForbesAutos asserts it "shifts more smoothly and boosts fuel economy compared to the four-speed gearbox in the previous model," and adds, "manual gear selection is possible with a button on the column shifter." They also quote a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds, amazingly quick for this type of truck.

Still, even with a cylinder-deactivation system that slakes its thirst for fuel a little bit, the Escalade EXT is no miser. "As one would expect, gas consumption is quite poor," says Edmunds. Last year's version rated 11/14 mpg from the EPA, and this year's model hasn't been evaluated yet-but it's likely to fare only 1 mpg better on the highway. ForbesAutos warns, "Don't expect to break 20 miles per gallon, even in highway cruising." Those are truly deficient numbers directly related to its 6,000-pound curb weight.

On the flip side, the mass means the EXT rides well, particularly with the Magnetic Ride Control suspension and even with the optional 22-inch wheels. The suspension does a good job of smoothing out what could be a choppy ride. Edmunds calls the EXT's handling "stable and controlled over all but extremely rough surfaces" and thinks the steering is "light and predictable." ConsumerGuide agrees that handling is "stable and confident in low- to moderate-speed changes of direction," but dislikes the steering, calling it "vague and overassisted." They also report the "strong brakes have reassuringly firm pedal feel, but fast stops trigger lots of nosedive."

All-wheel drive is standard, and TheCarConnection.com's editors feel it's a more road-friendly automatic system than the one offered on the similar Chevy Avalanche. The EXT will tow 7,500 pounds and can carry 1,200 pounds of payload.

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2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT shines in comfort, build quality, and flexibility.

The Escalade EXT's interior sports as much room as the three-row ESV Escalade when the Midgate is locked in place. It's fitted with five seats maximum, not six as on the Chevy Avalanche-Cars.com reports "two rows of seats accommodate five occupants"-but the seats are even more lavish and leathered up.

ConsumerGuide warns that the Escalade EXT "is a tall truck, so some climbing is needed to get in." Once in, though, front passengers have access to all sorts of storage in a deep, wide front console, plenty of legroom, and plush ventilated leather seats to keep cool. There's "big-rig space on wide, comfortable seats," ConsumerGuide adds, "though the tallest drivers may want more headroom and legroom." The rear seats are comfortably formed and fold down when the EXT's Midgate drops to expand the pickup bed; when they're folded down, the Escalade EXT has a very useful "54.3 cubic feet of cargo space," Cars.com points out.

When the Midgate's down, of course, the EXT only seats two-but the pickup bed expands from a little more than five feet to about eight and a half feet, enough to carry a queen-sized mattress with some careful wedging. A lockable, standard tonneau cover protects items in the cargo bed or can be removed entirely for added space. ForbesAutos 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." 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."

The quality of the 2010 Escalade EXT's construction is as good as any luxury truck. Edmunds says the "five-passenger cabin has an elegant, upscale ambiance thanks to the use of finely stitched leather and accents of wood and metal," though as is the case with almost all vehicles today, "a few cheap plastic trim pieces can still be found." ConsumerGuide also notes "a few plastic pieces disappoint at these prices," but compared with other vehicles in the class and the previous Escalade, the new EXT "feels more luxurious thanks to higher-quality materials," ForbesAutos reports.

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2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Safety

With good crash-test scores and lots of standard features, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT rates highly for safety at TheCarConnection.com.

Safety's a clear priority in the 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT, with good crash-test performance and plenty of features.

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) gives the 2010 Escalade EXT five-star crash-test scores for front impacts; side impact tests have not been performed, but the EXT gets a three-star rollover rating. Standard safety features include dual front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as stability and traction control, tied into the all-wheel-drive system. Cars.com explains the stability system "uses rollover mitigation technology that senses impending rollovers and attempts to avert them by applying individual brakes." Other assists include a rearview camera, parking sensors, adjustable driving pedals, and OnStar.

The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has not yet tested the Escalade EXT.

Visibility can be an issue, what with the EXT's wide sail panels and tall tailgate. 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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2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Features

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT is the best-equipped pickup in the world, without a doubt.

Almost every imaginable feature is standard on the 2010 Cadillac Escalade EXT, including a USB audio port for the AM/FM/XM/CD/DVD changer; Bose surround sound; a power-tilt steering wheel; Bluetooth; remote start; dual-zone climate control; leather upholstery; a heated steering wheel, front seats and mirrors; and DVD navigation. Edmunds observes the navigation system's "screen has a user-friendly touchscreen interface, and all controls are easy to find and use." Kelley Blue Book also notes "14-way power heated front seats," "steering wheel radio controls," and "rear audio controls" on the standard-equipment list.

Of course, the main feature of the EXT is the Midgate. ForbesAutos 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 calls the Midgate "pretty slick," but imagines with the Midgate down, "the entire interior is open to the great outdoors and all the security, weather and dirt issues that includes."

Among other available features is a sunroof, which is standard on the two most expensive versions. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is optional, as are the Magnetic Ride Control suspension and its 22-inch wheels. XM NavTraffic is included on the EXT, but subscriptions must be renewed by the owner.

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