The 2011 Cadillac Escalade owns the top of the heap as the number one large luxury SUV on the market. And it has the large sticker price for the job, $63,455 to $87,660. About the only thing tiny on this bad boy is the gas mileage, a pathetic 14 mpg city and 18 highway. What is there to say? Like the Hummer before it, the Escalade doesn't even pretend to be anything but a gas-guzzling, flamboyant passenger ship on wheels. It's so over-the-top as to be offensive to anyone who ever spared a thought for the health of the planet.
The major competitors - and it's almost ludicrous to suggest there's anything out there to match the Escalade in sheer, decadent opulence -- are the Infiniti QX56 and the Lincoln Navigator. The Escalade seats eight and comes in four models, the base, ESV (extended wheelbase), EXT (no third row and a short truck bed) and a hybrid. The standard engine is a 6.2-liter V8 delivering 403 hp and paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. (In a bid to save fuel, the Escalade uses cylinder deactivation to shut down four of the eight when cruising or idling.)
Although large and heavy, the Escalade handles well thanks to a road sensing suspension standard on all models except the base. A computer dampens the ride by responding in real-time to the road surface. The base Escalade is RWD, but AWD is available, and standard on the ESV. The 22-inch tires and wheels, that look so good and make a flashy chrome fashion statement do, however, negatively impact the fluidity of the handling. Thankfully, the Escalade has good braking power for controlled stops and a fairly tight turning circle of 39 feet. Although people who drive an Escalade aren't much given to towing, it can handle 8,300 lbs. with a towing package in place.
Since its redesign in 2007, the Escalade has gotten higher marks for external elegance versus just being gaudy and big. The lines are more proportional, with tight body panels that communicate both craftsmanship and solidity. Inside, there's more cabin room than is even possible to describe, couched in plush, supple leather, faux wood, and alloy trim. There is little plastic; a good thing, given the price. The standard seating configuration is captain's chairs for the first two rows and a three person bench in back, which, amazingly, gets points for comfort.
Standard cabin features include rear park assist, a power lift gate, remote start, a three-month XM trial, and independent tri-zone climate control. DVD-based navigation is optional. Cargo space is 16.9 cubic feet behind the third row; 60.3 cubic feet when the third row is out. Fold the second row? You get a massive 108.9 cubic feet of space. On the ESV, there's 45.8 cubic feet behind the third row; take it out and you get 90; remove the second row and it's 137.4.
In government testing the Escalade earned five starts for occupant protection in front crashes and five in side crashes as well. Both the 2WD and 4WD models earn three stars for rollovers. Standard safety measures include four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, StabiliTrak, a rollover mitigation system, and a full compliment of airbags. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are also included, with blind spot warning added above the base model.
The 2011 Cadillac Escalade is what it is. Big, gorgeous, plush, powerful and an abhorrence to anyone with a single "green" sensibility. If you're looking at an Escalade, you know what you're getting and you know what you want. This is a luxury SUV that doesn't disappoint in terms of performance, style and amenities, it just frankly offends on some levels.