Cadillac Escalade ESV

Review: 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV

We drive the 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: November 15th, 2011

Spend a week behind the wheel of a Cadillac Escalade, and your friends will invariably ask: When did you get hired as a stand-in for rap videos?

For better or for worse, that’s what the Escalade has been stereotyped as over the years—a luxo-bus for rappers. Or an overpriced SUV for suburban soccer moms who have more money than sense.

That might be a bit unfair to the Escalade, but those perceptions exist for a reason. Not everyone loves the ‘Slade’s tendency to guzzle gas or take up tons of space, and it shows in the polarized reaction the vehicle gets everywhere it goes. Hop out of the Caddy after parking, and you can feel the judging eyes upon you.

  • Features And Prices

    Of course, our tester was the extra-long ESV (as if our nation hasn’t collectively said “super-size” me enough already), which adds 21 inches of length over the standard Escalade. That’s good for 137.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row folded and the third row removed. The other big addition for ESV buyers is a flip-down DVD screen for the poor kids who have to suffer in the third row.

    Not that there will be much suffering. The Escalade’s interior pampers pretty well, even if it occasionally seems outdated compared to other luxo utes on the market (the GMT 920 platform on which it rides hasn’t been updated since 2007). That’s as it should be, given that the sticker price of our tester hit $86,045.

    Eighty-six thousand dollars may not buy as much as it used to, but it still buys a lot. In this case, a navigation system, heated and cooled front seats, Bluetooth, a USB port, a leather pad atop the dashboard, a remote start, heated second-row seats, OnStar, a heated steering wheel, wood interior trim, Bose surround sound, a single-disc CD changer, cruise control, adjustable pedals, tri-zone climate control, dual DVD players in the headrests, a rear-seat entertainment system, the aforementioned third-row DVD player, a sunroof, 22-inch wheel, power-retractable running boards, rear-parking assist, a power liftgate, and more. All this added up to $85,095, and there were no options, so add in the $950 destination charge and you have a SUV that costs more than a house in some parts of the country.

    And it feels about as big as one, too. Only in an RV can one be so isolated from the rear passengers. No wonder they need DVD entertainment, they can’t hear those up front.

  • Performance

    GM calls on a 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 to haul all that mass (5,982 pounds for an ESV with all-wheel drive, which is how our tester came equipped) and uses a six-speed automatic transmission to get that power to the wheels.

    How does it all work? Quite well, thanks, if you’re aim is just to trundle around town with the occasional freeway merge. The big V-8 moves the big Caddy with just enough gusto to get it out of its way and then some, although you won’t be racing for pinks anytime soon.

    As one might expect from the Cadillac of SUVs, the ride is plush if not super soft, with just enough stiffness to remind you that this here’s still a truck, fancy interior be damned. Handling is surprisingly sharp around town, at least in context, but we wouldn’t be picking the SUV for any back-road runs in the near future. For grocery getting, it’s more than fine, and there is some gravitas to the steering, but it’s still light enough for parking lot duty.

    The previous two paragraphs are a long way of saying that the Escalade rides, handles, and accelerates surprisingly well for its size, but you never forget that it’s a truck underneath. It’s tuned to be an interstate-eater, and it does make miles disappear in comfort, so that mission is accomplished, at least.

  • Interior

    Less clear is how successful the Escalade is at its other mission—being luxurious. The wood trim is nice, and some of the leather pieces (particularly the front seats) feel worthy of the price tag. Especially appreciated is a no-slip center-console lid that holds stray cell phones in place.

    Still, the roots of less-expensive GM SUVs show through in some places, which puts a bit of a damper on the proceedings. The heated steering wheel also needs to pack a bit more punch, it didn’t seem up to the task on a cold Midwestern day (the seat heaters, on the other hand, are atomic). And one wonders how the retractable running boards will hold up over the long run.

  • Conclusion

    These are but minor quibbles, but minor quibbles could cause a buyer who’s about to write a check for nearly $90K to depart for the competitor’s showroom. We’d expect that the next Escalade will have more differentiation from say, a Tahoe or Suburban, and we also expect that the next ‘Slade will offer even more interior luxury. That’s speculation on our part, but it’s a safe bet.

    For now, those who plunk down a small fortune on an Escalade will get plenty of space, towing chops (up to 7,700 pounds on an AWD ESV), dismal fuel economy (we observed 11.5 mpg, the EPA ratings are 13 city and 18 highway), and enough performance to avoid making daily driving a chore. Now, if only we could turn those last few sentences into a rap verse, we might be able to find funding for our own Escalade.

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