Car and Driver's best review EVER, Caddilac Escalade EXT
Caddy's Big & Tall
It's a truck that's hard to miss. Plus, you can frighten small children and suburban livestock with it.
BY JOHN PHILLIPS
The Escalade EXT is Cadillac's answer to the Avalanche, not that anyone at Chevrolet actually asked the question. But someone must have, because an EXT showed up in our parking lot, and 5900 pounds of black Cadillac is hard to miss. You could think of the EXT as an Avalanche but with a 345-hp "Vortec H.O. Engineered Exclusively for Cadillac Motor Division." That's what it says on the EXT's engine shroud. In our opinion, this truck could have been called an Avalade or an Escalanche but not a Lanchelade. If you combined a Ford Ranchero and a Chevy El Camino, you'd have a Ranchamino. Remove the "R" and the first syllable is "anch," same as the last syllable of Avalanch. Coincidence? (You really need to move on, okay?—Ed.)
Or you could think of the EXT as a shrine to Harry's Big and Tall. It's as long as a 1977 Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance with Florentine velour cloth and a Tuxedo Grain vinyl roof. The Cadillac wreath on the EXT's nose is 6.25 inches across, as big as your average acorn squash. The radiator hose is four feet long. The chrome "Escalade EXT" badges on the front doors and tailgate are each a foot and a half long. Each running board exceeds a Porsche 911's wheelbase. The truck bed's walls are 10 inches thick. The rear-seat armrest is 15 inches wide. Pee Wee Leaguers will find the column-mounted shifter useful as a hockey stick. One of the dash panels consumes six square inches yet contains only one button—for the "Power Fold Mirrors," whose mallardlike flapping, by the way, holds preschoolers paralyzed in fascination. The passenger-side grab bar is two feet long. The 45-inch-wide CHMSL looks like something a vandal might have pried off the Caesars Palace sign in Las Vegas. (John, did you drive this vehicle at all?—Ed.)
Cadillac's brand manager says, "Cadillac research showed that there was a real need for the EXT." A real need for a Cadillac pickup? Really? If so, then here are a few things that I really need: An air-conditioned front yard. Iguana-skin patio furniture. Stigmata. Mint-flavored Drano. Gold-plated roof gutters. A 190-hp MerCruiser SaladShooter. A dog with a collapsible tail. An office desk that converts into a Hovercraft. Chrome slacks. A lifetime subscription to Extreme Fidgeting. A third arm. A fourth wife. A smokeless Cuban Robusto. Reusable Kleenex. (Were you under the impression that this was to be an editorial, John?—Ed.)
I actually drove the Escalade EXT. It is very quiet. It has a remarkably supple ride. Its tires work well on dry pavement. It's a serene freeway cruiser, in the manner of modern Greyhounds that are simple to nurse downstream as long as you're not impinging on vast portions of the adjacent lane. Over 40 mph, the steering is beset by an on-center dead spot, though this may be an option.
A "Road Sensing Suspension System" (RSSS) comes standard. Sure enough, it senses roads. But can it sense outdoor carpeting, corduroy, Florentine velour, or the decorative lava around Mrs. Zeile's marigolds? All we can report for sure is that the EXT is a dream on gravel. "Not bad for a solid rear axle," someone noted, though it wasn't me. You know you're on gravel only because of a tinkle-bing-da-da-bingle of rocks bouncing off the polished-steel exhaust tip, which is as big as a soup tureen. Otherwise, the EXT is a magic-carpet ride because it crushes its own gravel as it goes.
I drove this Cadillac to our 10Best loop to test its handling. Later on, I came back.
Did I mention that the EXT is pretty much a $33,965 Avalanche (C/D, July 2001) but with a wood steering wheel, chrome lamp bezels, more than three feet of egg-crate grille (Cadillac calls this "form vocabulary," not a grille), better floor mats, and an extra 60 horsepower? I think I did. Surplus horsepower, of course, is a useful commodity, especially when it comes to motivating a vehicle that weighs the same as a Nissan Sentra and a Subaru Impreza and a medium-size Carrier air conditioner. To 60 mph, the EXT beats the Avalanche by 0.4 second. Impressive. But if that's your only reason for selecting the former over the latter, you should notice that it will cost you $4006 per 10th of a second. In that sense, the EXT is similar to purchasing an invigorating sexual experience with the entire Ford modeling agency.
The 6.0-liter pushrod V-8 emits an audacious whoopitah-whaaaAAAAHH-ing sound that will remind your wife what time you came home and will never be confused with an Orbital two-stroke or a Hoover upright. It may frighten your horses. We mention horses because Cadillac mentioned them first. "This is a great vehicle for suburbanites who own horses," they said. We don't agree. We couldn't fit one in back, even with the "Midgate Utility Enhancement System" (MUES) fully enhanced, extending the bed to eight feet, one inch. In fact, the horse nearly kicked out the removable backlight before we got its attention with a 500,000-volt Panther stun gun ($99.95). Did you know the tonneau comes off in three 20-pound chunks? The horse learned this first.
At one point, we got the EXT up to 107 mph. That's all we're going to say about that.
The huge C-pillar flying buttresses make this truck the envy of Notre Dame and railroad buffs, who report it is easy to mistake the EXT for a train trestle. Those buttresses help deflect air from the backlight—helpful when the glass is removed —but they're covered in plastic shrouds that squirm, spoiling the urban-warrior effect. As a famous American once said, "It's not a good wax museum when there are wicks coming out of people's heads." It could have been Art Buchwald. It definitely wasn't Herbert Hoover.
Gears? You bet. Four. Plus, the rear side windows lower all the way so that you can toss your long-necks into the woods without fear of lateral splatter.
We took the all-wheel-drive EXT off-roading one time.
At the end of the shifter is a Toad Hall button (It's "Tow/Haul"—Ed.), and the 3.06 first-gear ratio means the EXT is useful for dragging the wreckage away from locomotive collisions. There's even an in-dash computer program called "Vehicle History Last 15 Days." Ours recalled the Battle of Hastings, the movie Nurse Nancy, and quite a bit of time spent idling in a Krispy Kreme parking lot.
This Cadillac includes an "Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist" (URPA), so that you don't back over a runaway bison or a Humvee belonging to the military police. Cadillac says the device "now incorporates a new snow, ice, and mud algorithm in its software." What it does is this: It works to tell you when it's not working.
Observed fuel economy was not so good. The EXT was 28 percent less efficient than a 5534-pound Sayers & Scovill DeVille Masterpiece hearse sans casket, in fact. One difference between the two: The hearse doesn't require premium fuel.
Several C/D editors suggested I compare the EXT with a blackwall. (BlackWOOD. It's a Lincoln, for God's sake—Ed.) But the EXT already has 17-inch blackwalls, so I compared it with a 1976 Cadillac Mirage pickup. They both have flying buttresses.
While I was driving the Mirage, it occurred to me that, back in 1976, Cadillac buyers didn't want their luxury sedans to be confused with anything so mundane as a truck. Hence, a car-based pickup. A quarter-century later, Cadillac buyers don't want their trucks to be confused with anything so mundane as a luxury sedan. Hence the EXT. I didn't say any of this out loud.
I'm glad I didn't. Cadillac's engineers are sensitive about the word "pickup." The assistant vehicle line executive for full-size trucks gets quite huffy as he reminds, "The EXT is based on a utility chassis, not a pickup-truck chassis." He means the Chevy Suburban. We know why he's touchy. For many years, Car and Driver insisted it was a lifestyle, not a magazine. None of our parents ever bought this.
Cadillac says 20 percent of EXT buyers will be women with a $125,000 household income. This is lucky. It means they'll already own their own ladders. We predict that the EXT will be snapped up by buyers whose lifelong credo is "Hey, watch this!"
Only in America could something like the Cadillac EXT be built. This makes you wonder why it's built in Silao, Mexico. (John, do you have anything resembling a conclusion? Purchasing advice?—Ed.)
There are lots of things on which you could spend $49,990. This is one of them.
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