Eighteen months ago, Ford took its huge Ford Expedition SUV, slapped a big chrome grille on the nose and a leather interior inside, raised the price by $10,000, and put a Lincoln badge on the hood.
The Lincoln Navigator was born. It was a controversial move. Critics called it a mistake for a domestic luxury carmaker to offer a truck of any kind. They also thought the Navigator looked over-styled and tasteless. But Lincoln had the last laugh. The luxury sport-utility market in the United States exploded from 35,258 sales in 1996 to 92,032 sales in 1997, thanks in part to the Navigator, which made up 47 percent of that increase.
When the Navigator was rolled out at the 1997 Detroit auto show, Cadillac huffed that there would never be an SUV wearing a Cadillac badge. But the shocking success of the Navigator forced GM’s luxury division to eat its words, and an SUV with a Cadillac badge bowed as a 1999 model. Called the Escalade, it’s based on the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon/Denali and is built at the same GM plant as those models, in Arlington, Texas. Obviously, the Escalade is meant to go head to head in the market with the Navigator, as well as with other luxury sport-utility vehicles like the Range Rover and the Lexus LX470 (and Toyota Land Cruiser).
Ten months to production
Cadillac boasts that it took just 10 months to bring the Escalade from program approval to the start of production. But that’s really a reflection of what little effort Cadillac put into this truck. Other than some lower plastic body cladding, the Escalade’s body is otherwise unchanged from that of the Tahoe/Yukon/Denali. What few changes there are include body-colored bumpers and a big grille that "drops" down on top of the front bumper — a styling cue all Cadillacs share. The headlamps are from the GMC Denali. Projector-beam fog lamps are standard, as are new aerodynamic side steps under the doors. The look is handsome and clean, particularly in dark colors. But we think this Cadillac still will be mistaken for a Chevy or GMC.