2011 Cadillac Escalade Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 7, 2011

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade delivers solid, luxurious, and spacious accommodations with an advanced feature set. If you can live with the thirst of non-Hybrid models, it's unbeatable.

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.

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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.

9

2011 Cadillac Escalade

Styling

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade is not a vehicle for the understated; but if your definition of flash is big and highly chromed, this is it.

The Cadillac Escalade is a body-on-frame SUV, with roots that go directly to GM's full-size pickups. And if you squint a little bit, you can see the resemblance. That said, it doesn't matter. To many who live the luxury lifestyle—or aspire to it—the Escalade is iconic.

From the front, Cadillac has done a good job taking the Art & Science theme that's prevailed in Cadillac's cars over the past several years, and adapting it to a very luxurious truck design. The tall grille, flanked by large headlights wrapping upward, calls out Cadillac from blocks away, while up close the ports alongside the fenders are ornate and showy. While wheel wells aren't flared as much as in some other luxury-vehicle designs, the wheels themselves are like glitzy rolling jewels—huge 22-inchers on much of the model line.

The two primary versions of the 2011 Cadillac Escalade share the same basic look, but the Escalade ESV is about 20 inches long, giving it a slightly different sense of proportion.

Inside, the Escalade has a very conventional design, with a low-set instrument panel and plenty of soft leather, metallic highlights, and wood trim no matter which model. The opulence is more in the materials and trims than in the look.

8

2011 Cadillac Escalade

Performance

While the Escalade needs some help from Weight Watchers, you'd never know based on how quick it accelerates and how well it responds.

The 2011 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.

Once again the Escalade is be available as either a rear- or all-wheel-drive model. Stopping power is provided by large, powerful brakes that work so well that, again, you can forget entirely that you're hauling three tons or more.

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.

9

2011 Cadillac Escalade

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade isn't the most refined luxury ute, but its lavish interior and comfortable ride are top-notch.

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. But there's one big if you often need to reconfigure for varied ratios of passengers and cargo, the Escalade can be a bear due to its third-row seats that need to be removed and stored, not folded.

The high driving position is a refreshing departure from many newer, somewhat claustrophobic and high-shouldered crossover designs, and the Escalade's instument panel sits low and is attractive and carlike.

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.

8

2011 Cadillac Escalade

Safety

The Cadillac Escalade is a stout, safe vehicle; however there's no disguising that this is a tall vehicle with a high center of mass.

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade has most of the safety features you might look for in a large SUV, including front side airbags, head-curtain side airbags covering all three rows, and a StabiliTrak stability control system that includes rollover mitigation to help avoid situations that might lead to a rollover.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't yet tested the Escalade, but this SUV has received quite good ratings in the new, more stringent testing NCAP testing system from the federal government. In it, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it a four stars overall, including five stars for frontal impact and five stars for side impact. It was apparently graded down only for its three-star rollover calculation. But it also received top five-star rating in the new side pole test, which gauges the chances of injury in a sideways collision with a tree or pole.

9

2011 Cadillac Escalade

Features

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade has a feature set that, in Platinum Edition guise, will leave even the most jaded luxury customers impressed.

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.

The center console is wide enough to set a laptop on, and the Cadillac Escalade includes standard heated power seats, tri-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, and a magnificent-sounding Bose system with USB port.

Think of the base model as providing all the traditional luxury and convenience items—along with, of course, the top-notch trims and interior materials that are included in the Escalade. Luxury models add Magnetic Ride Control (a must-have in our opinion) plus 22-inch wheels, a sunroof, a heated steering wheel, and IntelliBeam headlamps. Premium models add DVD entertainment and a Side Blind Zone Alert system. But 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.

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.

4

2011 Cadillac Escalade

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade, in standard form, flips the bird to greenies; but you can rightfully show your smirk if you pick the surprisingly green Escalade Hybrid.

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade is, in many respects, has become a sort of anti-green icon, a symbol of excess and wasteful new wealth some would argue. There's no reason to say much more here—other than point to the Escalade's eyebrow-raising EPA ratings of just 13 or 14 mpg city and 18 mpg on the highway.

So it's a little ironic that, if you don't want to guzzle nearly as much, there's an option: the 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, which gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 23 highway and is bound to give card-carrying Union of Concerned Scientists members a sigh of relief. While the Escalade Hybrid has been a very low-volume vehicle thus far, its very existence was enough for us to bump the Escalade's Green Rating up a couple of notches for that model.

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