2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Sue Mead Sue Mead Editor
October 31, 2001

You review the 2002 EXT
2002 Cadillac Escalade by TCC Team (10/30/2000)

 

MONTEREY, Calif. — The SUV market is ground zero for Darwinism. It’s survival of the fittest at its toughest, fiercely competitive and segmented into a growing number of sub-species including the mini-ute, the crossover wagon, and most recently, the hot-off-the-assembly-line luxury sport-utility truck (SUT).

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The leaders in this upmarket new segment are Cadillac and Lincoln, whose previous offerings have experienced unprecedented success in the luxury SUV market. Cadillac's Escalade — the reported vehicle of choice for celebrities like the waiflike Shaquille O'Neal and hoops standout Calista Flockhart — helped breathe new life into the aging brand, while Lincoln's Navigator did the same for Ford's luxury division.

Now, with the 2002 Escalade EXT, Cadillac may have found the missing link for dominating the luxury SUT niche. The EXT is a crossover luxury utility vehicle with five-passenger seating, four-wheel drive, and a breakthrough full-size, reconfigurable pickup bed embedded with Caddy’s concept of sybaritic comfort.

Blackwood brother

Built on the full-size Chevy Avalanche truck platform, the EXT shares DNA with GM’s big trucks and sport-utility vehicles. But its eclectic carrying capabilities and unique looks are a truly new sprout on the family tree. As the second luxury SUT to hit the market, the EXT joins the Lincoln Blackwood but may make a wider wake than the rear-drive, four-seat-only Blackwood.

The EXT’s styling is unabashedly masculine. An aggressive front end and macho proportions clearly stem from the "bigger is better" school of auto design, with a wide slatted front grille, large rectangular headlamps, running boards and cargo bed all giving EXT a strong stance. The truck is further distinguished by unique exterior styling including new Cadillac badging and generous, monochromatic molded cladding, including the dramatic "sails" (or "C" pillars) that visually link the passenger and cargo area.

2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

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2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

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But what makes this truck a standout in GM’s truck family is its reconfigurability and its powertrain.  The folding "midgate" system and its removable rear window separates the four-door, five-passenger cabin from the cargo box. With partitions in place, the truck's bed measures five feet, three inches from front to back. However, without the need of tools and with only one person doing the work, the rear seats can be easily flipped forward and the midgate folded into the cab to create a flat load floor long and wide enough to fit a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood, with enough room to close the tailgate securely.

Additionally, the rear glass of the EXT can be removed and attached to the front side of the midgate, allowing for an open-air experience that's unlike anything else in the full-size truck or SUV segment. With the seats and midgate folded — and rear window stowed — the available cargo volume is approximately the same as in a Suburban, so the vehicle can move large objects like refrigerators or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) with ease.

While reconfigurability is the main innovation in this new Caddy, a number of other details make it unique. Like Ford's Explorer Sport Trac, EXT's cargo bed is made of a composite plastic, not metal. General Motors calls this dent-proof, rustproof material PRO-TEC, and uses it not only for the bed but for the midgate and tailgate as well.

One advantage of this material is that it allows designers to mold tie-down and divider brackets directly into the cargo box, as well as two lockable, watertight, "Top-Box" storage containers that are useful for stowing small cargo items-wet or dry. Even the tailgate is made of this material, and it features two molded-in cupholders for tailgate parties or worksite refreshment. PRO-TEC is also lighter than steel, which reduces the overall vehicle weight, improving performance and fuel economy.

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2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

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The EXT comes with a standard three-piece cargo cover that can be configured in a number of different ways (to bring a tall shrub home from the garden center while keeping your groceries out of the wind, for example) or stowed altogether on board.

Brute force

The EXT's 6.0-liter V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission provide segment-leading 345 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. This powerful combination provides plenty of in-town scoot and incredible towing power thanks to GM's Heavy-Duty Trailering Package, which includes a 12,000-pound weight-distributing hitch platform.

2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

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On the road, electronically controlled all-wheel drive is supported by a viscous coupling case, which provides surefooted handling with little slip; a specially-tuned suspension and Stabilitrak handling system, which combine to make the EXT a smooth ride in Cadillac style. As with the General's other full-size trucks, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control are standard equipment.

How did we like this truck? Overall, it's a winner. There's plenty of engine power to carry it gracefully up hill, extremely capable suspension dynamics that allow it to hunker around northern California's hairpins, confidence-inspiring, well-modulated brakes, and a comfortable, well-appointed interior that's a pleasure to call your home on the road. On the side of niggling complaints: it's a tall step up to get in without a grab handle at the driver's door (all other doors have them); there's noticeable engine noise on exertion; and it's an expensive fill at the pump.

Although Cadillac puts little emphasis on its new SUT's interior styling, it's clear that drivers and passengers will find the luxury level they are accustomed to, with a decidedly masculine twist. Gauges are bold and rimmed in chrome, and the many buttons, switches and dials give the cabin a decidedly gadget-y feel. Proportions are big and busy, which may turn off some drivers - particularly women whose driving preferences lean more toward efficiency and straightforward elegance.

The EXT has clearly been born of a desire to capture a niche market. Offering best-in-class horsepower, breakthrough stowage technology and all-wheel drive, Cadillac's newest chip has been chiseled from a new block. It offers five-passenger seating, while its competitor the Blackwood seats only four and has limited use of its bed with its fixed tonneau cover. Offering the prestige of the Caddy badge combined with styling, power and cargo capacity, the EXT has been bred for dominance as a new species of luxury vehicle.

2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT
Base price:
$49,900
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8, 345 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 12/15 mpg city/highway
Wheelbase: 130.0 in
Length: 221.4 in
Width: 79.5 in
Height: 75.6 in
Curb weight: 5853 lb
Safety equipment: Front- and side-airbags, anti-lock brakes, ultrasonic rear parking assist, Stabilitrak handling system
Major standard features: Remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD, OnStar personal advisor and calling system, cruise control, climate control
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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