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As a true luxury truck, with huge 22-inch wheels, a super-size look, and chromed splendor all around, the Cadillac Escalade has become an American luxury icon. While offering the acceleration and responsiveness of a smaller luxury vehicle, the Escalade offers one of the most comfortable, lavishly appointed interiors available in any SUV.
For 2012, as the market focus has turned a bit toward less ostentatious vehicles, very little about the Escalade has changed. It's still offered in several versions, with three different body styles in all and two different powertrains--standard and Hybrid. 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. Escalade Hybrid models are offered in a short-wheelbase model and share much with the GMC Yukon Hybrid and Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid SUVs, but they erases much of the Escalade's gas-guzzler guilt, with EPA ratings of up to 20 mpg city, 23 highway.
In any case, the Cadillac Escalade is a big, heavy, truck-based luxury vehicle. Yet, thanks to an amazingly strong, responsive engine and expert chassis tuning, the Escalade feels quite responsive, if not flingable, and you can almost forget about all that heft. 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. All the while, you'll hear the engine's brash, rumbly tone—not typical for a luxury vehicle, but we like it.
The key to getting this monstrosity to behave and handle well, without busting your bum on rough pavement—despite those huge 22-inch wheels—is GM's excellent Magnetic Ride Control; it's offered on most of the Escalade lineup. 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.
You might think of the Escalade as an ungainly truck from the outside, but inside it all pays off. The interior is roomy, comfortable, reasonably quiet. 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. The longer ESV adds some more third-row space, but getting back there can be difficult, even with the power-release second row. Storage-bin space is, if anything, one area where the Escalade is a little lacking, but for 2012 the center-console lid has an improved design.
All Escalade models are brimming with luxury features; it's simply a matter of how exclusive do you want it to feel, and how high you're willing to go. Base-model Escalade and Escalade ESV models 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.
If you want all the tech features, plus 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. For 2012, the Escalade gets an improved navigation system, and its security system gets an enhanced set of anti-theft measures.
- Status as luxury icon
- Plush interior
- Buff powertrains
- Handles well (for such a heavy vehicle)
- Under-the-radar green-lux status (Hybrid)
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- No easy-folding third-row seat
- Embarrassingly low mpg (all but Hybrid)
- Missing the latest infotainment and connectivity