The year was 1997 and Cadillac faced a dilemma. Lincoln’s luxury sport-ute, the Navigator, had hit the market with a big impact, and Cadillac was caught flat-footed. A quick re- badging and other cosmetic changes to the GMC Yukon Denali, and a year later, the Cadillac Escalade was born, and sales were strong. But you know, a Cadillac is more than just a knock off. So plans were also put into gear to build a luxury sport-ute that would not only rule the segment, but be distinctly Cadillac as well. The 2002 Escalade is the result of that plan. But is it distinctly Cadillac enough? Well, our first chance to find out if the 2002 Cadillac Escalade will cut the luxury SUV mustard was while navigating the upscale twisty roads on and around California’s Carmel Valley Ranch. And, we’re glad to say that despite its continued kinship to the Yukon Denali, Cadillac finally has an SUV they can be proud to call their own. And, the redesigned Escalade lets you know right up front where it’s coming from. Borrowing lines from the Evoq and other recent “art and science” auto show projects, the Escalade’s colossal, slightly raked grille is also the first to wear what Cadillac calls a new “simpler, cleaner, and more modern” wreath and crest logo. Down the sides the body cladding blends more smoothly with the door panels, giving the new Escalade a trimmer, more athletic stance. A look that’s well suited to the monochromatic motif. At the rear, the trailer hitch is neatly incorporated into the step bumper. And so too, the sensors for the Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist. They signal the driver with visual and audio cues when bikes, pets, or cars are in the rearward path. Access to the cargo bay is made easy thanks to a lightweight, one-piece aluminum liftgate that swings high and away. Liftover is a modest 30 inches. If maximum people moving is your priority, you’ll be pleased to know that the Escalade now comes with standard third row seating. If cargo is your game, the Escalade has you covered there, too. As each half of the lightweight third-row seat weighs about 36-pounds and can be quickly snatched from their moorings to give you 63.6 cubic feet of space. But no matter what or how much you’re hauling, the Escalade is up to the task, giving you two ways to meet your needs. The two-wheel drive Escalade is powered by the Vortec 5300 V-8. This low friction 5.3 liter, with pushrods and aluminum heads, delivers 285 horsepower, 325 pound-feet of torque, and 7,700 pounds of towing capacity. Our Escalade, however, was the all-wheel drive model with a specially-tuned-for-the- Escalade, high compression Vortec 6000. This 6.0 liter V-8 punches out an impressive 345 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Both engines feed through a 4-speed overdrive automatic transmission, that features GM’s Tow/Haul mode for less powertrain stress when towing. The Escalade’s all-wheel drive system with electronic traction control is similar to the system used in the Yukon Denali and Sierra C3 luxury pickup. The transfer case with viscous coupling maintains a continuous 38/62 percent front-to-rear torque split. When slippage is detected, torque is directed to the wheels with the most traction, up to 100 percent to either axle.
Providing additional back up in the peace of mind department is StabiliTrak, Cadillac’s first rate electronic stability system. There’s also a dash-mounted switch to adjust StabiliTrak’s settings when towing or going off-road. And whether on-road or off, the Escalade is well prepared to smooth the way with an independent torsion bar front, and 5-link, hydraulically-operated, self-leveling rear suspension. But the icing on the cake is GM’s Road Sensing Suspension System. Using electronically controlled, 46 millimeter Bilstein shocks and a powerful microprocessor that monitors each input 1,000 times per second, RSS offers real time suspension adjustments to greatly improve body stability, vehicle control, and ride comfort. Now, a sweet powertrain and hi-tech suspension are, unto themselves, wonderful things. But top them off with a leather-lined cabin with more features than a 24 screen movie theatre, and the Escalade’s gettin’ gets even better! Front seat occupants are treated to new Soft Nuance leather buckets that have more ways to pamper your body than we have time to mention. The driver faces a sharp looking new IP and overlapping gauge package that is as ergonomically terrific as it is comprehensive. A 250 watt, 11-speaker Bose Acoustimass stereo can elevate or calm your blood pressure, while the fully automatic Electronic Climate Control system offers what Cadillac claims is best in class heating and cooling comfort. The stylish new console sweeps upward to meet the dash, and is topped with a driver information center and analog clock, and is home to the stereo system’s 6-disc CD changer and loads of storage. There’s loads of room for second row passengers, too. As well as heated seats with reclining seat backs, stereo controls and headphone jacks, and climate controls for models without the sunroof. Pricing on the 2002 Escalade is still sketchy, but informed estimates put the base price at just under $50,000. So, the question remains, is the new Escalade distinctly Cadillac enough? Well, our colleagues at AMI Autoworld Weekly put it this way. “The Escalade has been refined to take the work out of driving so the driver and passengers can enjoy the ride in luxury unprecedented in GM trucks or cars.” So, if the 2002 Escalade isn’t distinctly Cadillac, then we don’t know what is!
Engine: 6.0 Liter Vortec V-8
Torque: 380 Lb Feet