MONTEREY, Calif. — I’m driving the future. As I navigate along a series of secondary roads with spectacular ocean views in the all-new Cadillac Escalade, I realize that I’m driving a truck — a truck —that lets me take in the views from the road while I clear my e-mail, check out the stock market, pull down sports scores and make phone calls, all with a voice-activated system so I can keep my hands safely on the steering wheel.
Never mind that, shouts the off-roader inside. Along with its hot-button electronic and telematic technologies, and luxury features, I’m also driving a wagon with expansive cargo capacity, room for eight people, with towing capacity plentiful enough for a boat or trailer, and all-wheel-drive traction. What more could a weekend warrior ask for?
As impressive as all this is, the most impressive feature of the 2002 Cadillac Escalade is the difference between the first-generation Escalade, which was basically a rebadged and gussied-up Yukon Denali, and the latest, newest version, set to go on sale January 2. Driving them back-to-back, anyone would be quick to gather that the ’02 Caddy has far superior handling characteristics than its forebear.
It turns out that the General had a lot of incentive to upgrade its Escalade. When Cadillac first announced it was entering the luxury SUV market in 1998, it triggered a wave of told-you-sos and raised eyebrows. This was the same company that, three years previous, swore it wouldn’t jump onto the SUV bandwagon, ever, ever, ever. (They’d have been wise to follow George H.W. Bush’s advice: never say never.)
And yet the first Escalade was a hit, as much a product of the SUV fervor of a couple of years back as a genuine desire for an off-roading Cadillac from American-minded luxo-ute buyers.
2002 Cadillac Escalade
The Escalade, it turns out, has attracted a younger, more technologically savvy buyer than Cadillac ever had predicted, an average customer with a much higher than average income than the typical Cadillac crony. To keep them in the fold, Cadillac hedged on risky, sharp-edged styling for the newest version of its sumo-sized sport-ute.
Out on the styling edge
While similar to the Lincoln Navigator in its dimensions, the ’02 Escalade pushes the new, distinct Cadillac styling theme to the fore. It combines sharp lines, sleek chiseled shapes and a prominent front nose. The attention-getting new front end also features a simpler version of Cadillac’s trademark badge-shaped grille, plus an entirely new wreath and crest emblem, which will eventually adorn all of Cadillac’s models. Satin nickel finish and chrome accents give the exterior a distinctly contemporary, high-tech look. We think it’s a handsome, contemporary look that for once, makes the Cadillac version of this shared platform (look underneath and you’ll see a close relative of the Chevy/GMC Suburban/Tahoe/Yukon/Denali quads) look like something new.
Offered in either 2WD or AWD models (the first time an AWD has been offered), the Escalade boasts advanced standard driving features like StabiliTrak handling system,
Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist, a Road Sensing Suspension System and an electronically-controlled, four-speed automatic transmission.
2002 Cadillac Escalade Interior
The sophisticated StabiliTrak system uses a combination of Stability Enhancement, anti-lock braking and traction control to create superior handling and braking dynamics for an SUV. In cahoots with Caddy’s Road Sensing Suspension, which uses electronically controlled shock absorbers and four-wheel position sensors along with a steering angle sensor to provide optimum steadiness, the Escalade is probably the best handling big ute out there. New P265/70R 17 Goodyear all-season tires increase rolling diameter to provide a smoother, quieter ride and take full advantage of the AWD system.
2002 Cadillac Escalade
The new Escalade gives two very different options for engine power. The 2WD model comes with a standard Vortec 5300 V-8 that generates 285 hp at 5200 rpm, an upgrade from the 255-hp engine offered on the first generation. The engine features new small-volume pipe converters, which allow it to reach operating temperature faster and reduce emissions to the point that this model meets ULEV (ultra low-emissions vehicle) certification requirements in California and other states.
If you’re buying the AWD version, strap in for a souped-up 345-hp, 6.0-liter V-8 engine, with 45 more horsepower than its nearest competitor, the Lincoln Navigator, and 115 more hp than the Lexus LX 470. This engine doesn’t meet ULEV requirements, but low-emissions versions are available in California and other states with such requirements.
Inside, this eight-passenger vehicle is loaded with amenities that hurtle it to the forefront of the SUV realm, as far as electronic geegaws are concerned. The 2002 model comes standard with the upgraded 2001 OnStar navigation, emergency and concierge service system, which now has Personal Calling capabilities for hands-free calls, as well as the "Virtual Advisor," which delivers personalized Internet-based information such as stock quotes or the weather report with the touch of a button.
|2001 Cadillac Escalade
Base price: $47,990 (2WD); $49,990
Major standard features: Third row seat, StabiliTrak system, Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist, Premium OnStar telematic system, six-CD changer with Bose Acoustimass, heated seats both front and second row.
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
The cabin combines tech-savvy innovation deftly with traditional luxury elements. For instance, the three-button OnStar system is situated next to an old-fashioned analog clock. The Driver Information Center (DIC) is equipped with all sorts of handy features: it will recall the driver and passenger seat’s position at the touch of the remote keyless entry lock button or when the key is inserted into the ignition. When you shift into reverse, the exterior mirrors are tilted into a more helpful position and then tilted back when going forward. And, the DIC also features more standard luxury capabilities, like tracking fuel economy and personalizing the alarm and locking systems.
2002 Cadillac Escalade
Second-row passengers will appreciate the standard heated seats with separate controls and the extended console with dual cupholders and courtesy lights. The standard third-row seat splits 50-50 and was designed to be especially lightweight for easy removal.
Compared to the 2000 Lexus LX470 and the 2000 Lincoln Navigator, the Escalade has more head, leg and shoulder room for all three rows of seating. Seating is soft leather in color choices of shale or pewter, and the stitching is in Cadillac-specific sew patterns, adorned with the new wreath and crest emblem on the first two rows.
Cadillac claims the Escalade has the best-in-class in-dash, six-CD changer that lets you load or eject discs from a single slot while the music is still playing. The Bose Acoustimass audio system sports 11 Eminem-blaring speakers, specifically tailored to the dimensions of the cabin if not musical tastes.
GM has been pitching Cadillac to younger audiences. They flopped with the Catera, but one can’t help but think the Escalade will be a hit — especially with the upper-crust intenders with kidlets. By itself, it won’t lift Cadillac back into the driver’s seat in the luxury market, but it’s a heartening vision of what the brand’s future may hold.