2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV: Driven

April 28, 2011

When driving the Cadillac Escalade—even in the context of the same trip—it's quite easy to feel both reverence and revulsion.

At close to 19 feet long, the Cadillac Escalade ESV is one of the longest normal passenger vehicles you can buy. It's a couple of inches longer than the longer 'L' version of the Lincoln Town Car, and only about a foot shorter than the extended version of Ford's Econoline vans often used for airport shuttling. What makes it even more intimidating is that, from ground to rooftop, it's a couple of feet taller than the typical car, or a foot taller than many crossovers.

Excess and extroversion

And with its burbling, booming 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 engine and ever-present exhaust note, any impression the Escalade leaves is one of excess and extroversion; it's not the kind of vehicle old-money types will be driving, or seen in. And with its delicate, flashy trim and big chrome wheels, it's not the kind of vehicle that you'd take off-road, either.

It's a monster. At the same time, though, it does what it does so well: Which is carry three couples out in comfort when needed; shuttle up to seven across town; provide luxury space for a family plus space for big dogs in back; or even tow 7,700 pounds—all with a supreme, secure feel that's confidence inspiring to both driver and passengers, and a uniquely American panache that's not rivaled in anything from Europe or Japan.

Likewise, the Escalade's cabin feels lavish, but not as extravagant and over the top as its exterior—or its image in movies and music videos—might suggest. The perforated Tehama anilene leather upholstery is thick yet soft and supple, and nicely detailed with embroidered Cadillac logos; and the leather padding throughout the instrument panel and door panels make sure you don't rub against any hard surfaces—which in front are attractive Olive Ash and Walnut Burl trim anyway.

One refinement issue that surprised us a bit was, with a mostly empty vehicle, how much you do hear the seats and trim toward the back of the vehicle creak and wiggle over bumps. Since everything else inside has been hushed so aggressively, you hear those smaller things that much more.

Versatile, but it's not easy

If you need versatility, the Escalade ESV leaves lots to be desired compared to most of the larger crossovers. There's nothing so easy as just folding the third-row seats, or flipping them up, for transporting the likes of a piece of furniture that you'd like to set down flat. To get that flat floor, you'll have to get someone to help you remove them from the vehicle, and it's a job. In back, too, the DVD entertainment system in our test Escalade had the finish of personal electronics from a decade ago.

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