2013 Cadillac Escalade Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 7, 2012

Especially if towing capability matters, the 2013 Cadillac Escalade is one of the most luxurious--and most fashionable--luxury SUVs you can get.

The Cadillac Escalade, with its bold, super-size look, has become an American luxury icon--a symbol of excess, chromed splendor, and high-end executive transport. And with even a brief ride in one, it's easy to see why; the Escalade is surprisingly quick and responsive, while also boasting one of the most lavishly appointed interiors of any utility vehicle.

For 2013, the Escalade remains 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 highwayThanks to a strong, responsive powertrain and somewhat athletic chassis tuning, you can almost forget that the 2013 Cadillac Esclade is one of the biggest, heaviest luxury SUVs--and one with truck roots, at that.

With a huge (and thirsty) 6.2-liter V-8, making 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, the Escalade can move quickly--to 60 mph in only about 6.5 seconds, according to some sources, even though its weight can total almost 6,000 pounds. Key to that is that the engine makes loads of low-rpm torque, and that the six-speed automatic transmission functions as a willing companion most of the time. And all the while, the V-8 has a rumbly, uncommon (for a luxury vehicle) muscle-car note.

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Even with the huge 22-inch wheels that many Escalades come with, GM chassis engineers have managed to give this huge SUV a surprisingly responsive driving character thanks to Magnetic Ride Control, which is offered on most of the Escalade lineup and strongly recommended. .

The 2013 Cadillac Escalade is huge and imposing from the outside, but that does pay off inside, translating to a roomy, comfortable interior that's also luxury-car plush and reasonably quiet. Just be aware that if you want cargo versatility and folding seats, this might not be the right pick.

The Escalade's traditional body-on-frame layout dates back to the 2007 model year and it hasn't seen any major structural changes since. But GM got this one right from the start; even with today's tougher federal crash-test system, the Escalade gets five-star categories in all frontal and side tests.

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.

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2013 Cadillac Escalade

Styling

The bold, glitzy styling of the 2013 Cadillac Escalade will assure you're noticed.

As one of the last few truly truck-based luxury SUVs left on the market, the Cadillac Escalade makes varied impressions. Its boxy look and rugged body extend clearly to GM's other full-size SUVs, like the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, but many of its luxury-car details and bright-chrome trim pieces assert that this is more of a true luxury vehicle.

On the outside, the Escalade is a little intimidating--a tall wall of chrome and rather slab-sided sheetmetal, with large headlamps extending upward. But some of the details are more disarming; for instance, the ports alongside the fenders are ornate and showy, while the huge 22-inch wheels are rolling jewelry.

There remain two body styles of the 2013 Escalade. At 20 inches longer than the standard-length version, the Escalade ESV adds longer doors on the outside (and more third-row space inside). And from some paces back, the Escalade and Escalade ESV do have quite different proportions overall.

Fundamentally, the Escalade's look and layout inside is quite conventional. None of the dashing, heavily styled instrument panels that have bowed in Cadillac's cars have shown up here, and from the driver's seat it's simple, but a bit low-set. Opulence is added through the materials with soft leather and metallic and wood trims, but not necessarily through the design.

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2013 Cadillac Escalade

Performance

The Escalade is very, very heavy--but you might not know that based on how well it responds.

Thanks to a strong, responsive powertrain and somewhat athletic chassis tuning, you can almost forget that the 2013 Cadillac Esclade is one of the biggest, heaviest luxury SUVs--and one with truck roots, at that.

With a huge (and thirsty) 6.2-liter V-8, making 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, the Escalade can move quickly--to 60 mph in only about 6.5 seconds, according to some sources, even though its weight can total almost 6,000 pounds. Key to that is that the engine makes loads of low-rpm torque, and that the six-speed automatic transmission functions as a willing companion most of the time. And all the while, the V-8 has a rumbly, uncommon (for a luxury vehicle) muscle-car note.

Even with the huge 22-inch wheels that many Escalades come with, GM chassis engineers have managed to give this huge SUV a surprisingly responsive driving character thanks to Magnetic Ride Control, which is offered on most of the Escalade lineup and strongly recommended. While the Escalade is hardly maneuverable, it corners with a verve that will catch driving enthusiasts completely off guard. And thanks to large, powerful brakes, you can also sometimes temporarily forget about the Escalade's heft when stopping.

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.

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2013 Cadillac Escalade

Comfort & Quality

Compared to other luxury options, the 2013 Escalade lacks refinement and versatility; but lavish materials and trims mostly make up for that.

The Escalade is huge and imposing from the outside, but that does pay off inside, translating to a roomy, comfortable interior that's also luxury-car plush and reasonably quiet. Just be aware that if you want cargo versatility and folding seats, this might not be the right pick.

You sit quite high in the front seat, with a rather low belt and dash--a refreshing departure from the many borderline claustrophobic designs with low positions and high beltlines. Whether in the front row or the second row, seats are wide, generously sized, and supportive, with good comfort for long hauls. Thanks the the Escalade's width, there's an airiness that you won't find in many other crossovers or SUVs.

Throughout the Escalade model line, the second row is barely a downgrade from the front; and the roomier third row in the Escalade ESV is spacious enough, though getting back there can be difficult. A power-release feature helps make getting back there quite a bit easier, though.

The one thing sorely lacking in the Escalade's interior--and what means it comes up short in versatility next to newer crossover designs--is an easy or space-efficient seat-folding arrangement. There are no fold-flat third rows here; in the Escalade, you need to remove and store the third row with muscle--and ideally, at least one other helper.

Storage-bin space is the area where the Escalade is a little lacking. Cadillac improved the center-console design last year, but it doesn't have as many smaller bins and cubbies as other utility vehicles.

While you hear the engine when accelerating (not a bad thing to us), the Escalade otherwise feels the part of a luxury vehicle, with all the improvements it's received in recent years--like new weatherstripping and a laminated windshield--adding up to a quiet cabin. And the magnetic suspension system allows irregularities and some coarseness to be filtered out.

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2013 Cadillac Escalade

Safety

There's no reason not to believe that the 2013 Cadillac Escalade isn't as secure and safe as it looks.

The 2013 Cadillac Escalade is hardly a newly engineered design; its traditional body-on-frame layout dates back to the 2007 model year and hasn't seen any major structural changes since. But GM got this one right from the start; even with today's tougher federal crash-test system, the Escalade gets top ratings.

In frontal, side, and even side pole tests from the feds, the Escalade earned five stars. And although it earned a four-star score overall, that's only because of its mathematically determined rollover score.

All Escalade and Escalade ESV models include front side airbags, head-curtain side airbags covering all three rows, and a StabiliTrak stability control system with rollover mitigatio.

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2013 Cadillac Escalade

Features

Even demanding luxury shoppers will be satisfied with the Escalade's Platinum Edition guise.

The Escalade is a luxury vehicle in look and feel no matter which of its trims you choose; but opting for one of the high-end models, or some of the appearance options, may give you the feeling that you're driving something even more exclusive.

Executive-car services and those who simply want an Escalade in the garage will be happy with the base level equipment, which includes standard heated power seats, tri-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, and a magnificent-sounding Bose system with USB port. The center console is wide enough to set a laptop on, and there's of course plenty of elbow room.

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.

An eight-inch touch-screen navigation system with real-time traffic is available, as are a Bose 5.1 Digital Surround Sound system, cooled front seats, and power-actuated running boards. The navigation system might prove a sore point to some shoppers, as while it works perfectly well it's not a part of a more advanced infotainment or control system, like BMW's iDrive or Cadillac's new CUE system that's coming to the XTS and ATS models this year.
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2013 Cadillac Escalade

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a surprisingly green SUV--although bystanders still might see it as a thirsty beast.

The Cadillac Escalade, a few years ago, became quite the polarizing vehicle. At one end were those who wanted to be seen in something bold and blingy; and at the other end were those who saw it as a sort of anti-green symbol.

But that latter group might have thought differently about it if they knew about the 2013 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid; it gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 23 highway--better than many much smaller vehicles. The down side is that you get very little overt badging to tell others that you're in the less-thirsty version.

And beware, the rest of the Escalade is chronically parched; it gets eyebrow-raising EPA ratings of just 13 or 14 mpg city and 18 mpg on the highway; in our own real-world drives in previous model years, we haven't been able to do any better than that.

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