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The 2011 Cadillac Escalade has become an American luxury icon, and for good reason. In addition to its super-size look, huge 22-inch wheels, and chromed splendor, the Escalade offers one of the most comfortable interiors available in any vehicle, along with the performance and responsiveness of a smaller, more lithe vehicle.
Several guises of the Escalade remain available. The extended-length (ESV) variant provides a 21-inch increase in size with seating capacity for up to eight adults, while the EXT is the Escalade of pickups—top-lux version of the Chevrolet Avalanche, essentially. Then there's the excellent Escalade Hybrid, which erases much of the guilt with EPA ratings of up to 20 mpg city, 23 highway. Across the lineup, the Escalade shares its platform and mechanical layout with the GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs.
The Cadillac Escalade is a big, heavy, truck-based luxury vehicle. But you can almost forget about its heft and truck roots thanks to an amazingly strong, responsive engine and expert chassis tuning that makes the Escalade feel quite responsive, if not flingable. The huge, thirsty 6.2-liter V-8 in the Escalade makes 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, which allows the Escalade to dash to 60 mph in only about 6.5 seconds, according to some sources, even though it weighs nearly 6,000 pounds in some trims. The engine's willing companion—most of the time—is a responsive six-speed automatic transmission.
Magnetic Ride Control is offered on most of the Escalade lineup, and it's the key to enabling the ridiculously huge 22-inch tire-and-wheel combinations that the model is known for, while allowing it to ride in a way that won't bust your bum—and handle remarkably well. While the Escalade is hardly maneuverable, it corners with a verve and responsiveness that will catch driving enthusiasts completely off guard. Towing capacity remains at 8,100 pounds for the all-wheel-drive model and a hefty 8,300 pounds for the rear-wheel-drive variant.
Forget about the Cadillac Escalade's truck roots; its interior is roomy, comfortable, and luxurious—to the point that from the passenger seat it makes absolutely no difference that this is a body-on-frame SUV. Whether in the first or second row, seats are generously sized and supportive, with enough comfort for all-day trips. Larger passengers will welcome the Escalade's abundant elbow and shoulder room. Throughout the Escalade model line, the second row is barely a downgrade from the front, and in the ESV, the third row is spacious enough, though getting back there can be difficult. In some trims, the second row includes a power-release feature that makes getting to the third row quite a bit easier.
Ride comfort across the Escalade lineup is good, but it's noticeably better when the going gets tough—whether that be the road surface, curvy highways, or a full load—in versions with the Magnetic Ride Control system. The Escalade's interior is already one of the best-hushed of the large SUVs, though you do hear the engine a bit too much for some tastes. For 2011, GM adds to the Cadillac Escalade's already excellent noise insulation, adding a laminated front windshield and front side glass, new weatherstripping, and a new outside mirror design.
You won't find any Escalade that feels basic; the feature set of all Escalades—even the base model—cater to executives and VIPs who need a 'Slade in their stable, and the interior can reach a limo-like level of equipment that can focus toward either work or play. For those who must have tech, along with a unique, no-holds-barred look, the Platinum is the way to go; it adds unique chromed 22-inchers, special Tehama anilene leather, heated and cooled cupholders, LED headlamps, a leather-trimmed instrument panel, and many other appearance and trim upgrades. Other features worth note individually include an eight-inch touch-screen navigation system with real-time traffic, a Bose 5.1 Digital Surround Sound system, cooled front seats, and power-actuated running boards. The maximum tow rating is 7,800 pounds when properly equipped.
- Iconic, macho exterior
- Plush interior
- Torque-rich powertrains
- Handles well for such a tall, heavy rig
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- Third row doesn't fold neatly
- Lacks high-tech connectivity/interface
- Deep thirst (all but Hybrid)