MONTEREY, Calif. — I’m driving the future. As I navigate along a series of secondary roads with spectacular ocean views in the all-new Cadillac Escalade, I realize that I’m driving a truck — a truck —that lets me take in the views from the road while I clear my e-mail, check out the stock market, pull down sports scores and make phone calls, all with a voice-activated system so I can keep my hands safely on the steering wheel.
Never mind that, shouts the off-roader inside. Along with its hot-button electronic and telematic technologies, and luxury features, I’m also driving a wagon with expansive cargo capacity, room for eight people, with towing capacity plentiful enough for a boat or trailer, and all-wheel-drive traction. What more could a weekend warrior ask for?
As impressive as all this is, the most impressive feature of the 2002 Cadillac Escalade is the difference between the first-generation Escalade, which was basically a rebadged and gussied-up Yukon Denali, and the latest, newest version, set to go on sale January 2. Driving them back-to-back, anyone would be quick to gather that the ’02 Caddy has far superior handling characteristics than its forebear.
It turns out that the General had a lot of incentive to upgrade its Escalade. When Cadillac first announced it was entering the luxury SUV market in 1998, it triggered a wave of told-you-sos and raised eyebrows. This was the same company that, three years previous, swore it wouldn’t jump onto the SUV bandwagon, ever, ever, ever. (They’d have been wise to follow George H.W. Bush’s advice: never say never.)
And yet the first Escalade was a hit, as much a product of the SUV fervor of a couple of years back as a genuine desire for an off-roading Cadillac from American-minded luxo-ute buyers.