From the January 1999 issue of Car and Driver.
If you accept the proposition that desperate men do desperate things, you will understand why Cadillac’s Escalade-cum-GMC Yukon Denali has been thrust into the swirling high-dollar-SUV market. Quite simply, the people who run the Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors were getting their brains beat out by arch-rival Lincoln, whose heavy-cruiser Navigator, a tarted-up version of the wildly popular Ford Expedition, will likely tally nearly 40,000 sales in 1998. The Navigator is establishing itself as a runaway hit with customers who appear to believe that sheer barn-sized bulk available only in an artfully converted pickup truck is the new key to status.
Having had no time to design and build an upscale SUV from scratch, Cadillac found its only option was to look to the vast selection of Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and GMC truck-based sport-utes for a stop-gap vehicle to interdict the sales surge by Lincoln—as well as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, both of which also hit pay dirt with their hot-selling ML320/430 and RX300 and LX470 models. With BMW controlling Range Rover and Infiniti in the game with its leather-layered Nissan Pathfinder clone, the QX4, Cadillac was a nonplayer in the megabuck-SUV league. Its response was a relabeled GMC Denali, which by any other name is the five-door Yukon/Chevrolet Tahoe, not to mention its strong genetic ties to the GMC/Chevy Suburban.
A quick reread of the Denali test in our August 1998 issue will give you the Escalade/Denali’s vital statistics—there’s an aging pushrod iron 5.7-liter V-8 rated at 255 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, a four-speed automatic with lockup, a 117.5-inch wheelbase, and an asphalt-mashing curb weight of 5551 pounds. A slight alteration in the grille, some lush leather seats, GM’s excellent OnStar communications system, and a hands-free cell-phone mike built into the headliner are all that separate the Escalade from the Denali. Oh yes, those and a premium of $3020 ($46,525 vs. $43,505) for the Caddy emblem, which in fact got us several thumbs ups from other motorists during our test drives.
Perhaps the Escalade is more interesting for what it lacks than for what it possesses, that is, Cadillac’s fine Northstar V-8 and excellent dual-control air-conditioning system. That said, the big ark handles like…a big ark. Straight-line travel is surprisingly stable and silent, although the same could be said for the USS Eisenhower. Like all cruiser-class SUVs, it is tall (74.3 inches) and long (201.2 inches), offering prodigious sail area for any crosswinds that might be encountered. Although GM’s Autotrac four-wheel-drive system is standard (with two-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive high and low, plus four-wheel drive available only when wheelspin occurs), the chance of a Cadillac owner plowing cross-country in this chrome-wheeled mall marauder about equals that of its appearing on the grid at Le Mans.
In sum, if you are a Cadillac loyalist with nearly 50 grand in your pocket (including taxes and licensing) and in desperate need of an SUV to counter the sneers of your Lincoln-owning fellow dubbers, the Escalade is for you. For the rest of us, a vast array of alternatives waits in the marketplace.
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