2012 Cadillac Escalade Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 6, 2012

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade models still rank among the most luxurious, spacious vehicles at any price—especially if towing capability matters.

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 three body styles and with two 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 adds a truck bed to the SUV body. Escalade Hybrid SUVs can score EPA gas mileage up to 23 mpg 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.

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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.

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2012 Cadillac Escalade

Styling

If you want to be noticed, and you want to be noticed driving something very big, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade is the right choice.

The Cadillac Escalade is one of the few truly truck-based body-on-frame SUVs left on the market. With roots that extend to GM's full-size pickups, the Escalade has a boxy look and rugged body-on-frame layout that contrasts sharply with a host of luxury-car details and bright-chrome trim pieces.

Even from the potentially overbearing grille and front end--a tall wall of chrome and bumper, with large headlamps extending upward--Cadillac has done a good job in adapting its Art & Science design theme from its cars. Up close the ports alongside the fenders are ornate and showy. And while the wheel wells themselves aren't as sculpted and flared are much as other recently redesigned vehicles, the wheels themselves (like the huge 22-inchers) are like glitzy rolling jewelry.

There are two body styles of the 2012 Escalade: the standard version, and the ESV, which is 20 inches longer. And while the two models have the same details, they end up having quite different proportions from a few paces back.

The cabin of all the Escalade models is quite conventional in appearance. The instrument panel looks much more like that of a truck, not at all resembling the dashes of other Cadillac models like the SRX or CTS, yet its rather low-set considering the tall cabin. There's an underlying opulence throughout the interior, but it's more a product of the materials than the design. Throughout, there are plenty of soft leather, metallic highlights, and wood trim, no matter which model.

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8

2012 Cadillac Escalade

Performance

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade is big, brash, and yes, very heavy; but you wouldn't know it based on how well it responds and accelerates.

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade is a big, heavy, truck-based luxury vehicle. But you can almost forget about its heft and truck roots thanks to an amazingly strong, responsive engine and expert chassis tuning that makes the Escalade feel quite responsive. You might expect the 2012 Cadillac Escalade to feel unwieldy, yet thanks to a brawny, responsive engine and expert chassis tuning, it can actually feel quite responsive. 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. The six-speed automatic transmission functions as a willing companion most of the time. And all the while, the V-8 has a rumbly, vocal exhaust note that's not so typical for a luxury vehicle, but memorable.

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. Stopping power is provided by large, powerful brakes that work so well that, again, you can forget entirely that you're hauling three tons or more.

Once again the Escalade is be available as either a rear- or all-wheel-drive model. 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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9

2012 Cadillac Escalade

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade lacks refinement in some ways, and isn't as versatile as modern crossovers, but its lavish interior is supremely comfortable.

You might think of the Escalade as an ungainly truck from the outside, but inside it all pays off. The interior is roomy, comfortable, and reasonably quiet.

Seats are generously sized, whether you're sitting in the first or second rows, and there's enough comfort for long hauls. Abundant elbow and shoulder room means that there's an airiness about the cabin you won't find in even somewhat smaller crossovers.

In front, the high driving position is a refreshing departure from many newer, somewhat claustrophobic and high-shouldered crossover designs, and the Escalade's instument panel sits low, helping make it feel more accessible and carlike from the driver's seat. Throughout the Escalade model line, the second row is barely a downgrade from the front; and in the 2012 Escalade ESV, the third row is spacious enough, though getting back there can be difficult. A power-release feature helps make getting back there quite a bit easier, though.

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. But if there's one more significant thing that the Escalade lacks, compared to modern crossovers, it's cargo versatility. 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.

The Escalade's interior is one of the best-hushed of the large SUVs (in recent years, new weatherstripping and a laminated windshield have made it even better), though you will hear the rumble of the engine whenever you accelerate. Ride comfort is impressive--especially when the surface gets pockmarked (or gravely), and the Magnetic Ride Control system soaks up the irregularities without losing any amount of control.

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9

2012 Cadillac Escalade

Safety

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade is as secure and safe as it looks--and it's one of the safest picks despite its high center of mass.

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade isn't missing anything with respect to safety, and its stout structure delivers excellent protection--even though this is a body-on-frame SUV.

Front side airbags, head-curtain side airbags covering all three rows, and a StabiliTrak stability control system with rollover mitigation are all standard on Escalade and Escalade ESV models.

And crash-test ratings have been excellent. In the new, more stringent testing NCAP testing system from the federal government, the Escalade received perfect five-star ratings for frontal and side impact protection, and it even achieved a top five-star score in their side pole test. The model was apparently downgraded to an overall score of four stars only because of its tall body and three-star rollover calculation.

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9

2012 Cadillac Escalade

Features

In Platinum Edition guise, the 2012 Escalade or Escalade ESV will please even the most demanding luxury customers.

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. The center console is wide enough to set a laptop on, and the Cadillac Escalade includes standard heated power seats, tri-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, and a magnificent-sounding Bose system with USB port.

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.

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. 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.

Review continues below
4

2012 Cadillac Escalade

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid greens the 'anti-green' Escalade image and makes a lot of sense--even if bystanders won't know the difference.

While the Cadillac Escalade became the vehicle to be seen in, a number of years ago, it also became an anti-green symbol of sorts. But what a number of those haters aren't aware of is that the 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 23 highway--better than many much smaller vehicles. And to add just a bit of irony (to whose expense, we're not quite sure), there's really not much badging on the Hybrid to tell it as that.

That said, there are still plenty of very thirsty Escalades; most of the lineup gets eyebrow-raising EPA ratings of just 13 or 14 mpg city and 18 mpg on the highway.

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8.6
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Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 9
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