We just got back from our first ride in the 2007 Cadillac Escalade, and while neither my colleague Wayne Cunningham nor I have ever written a rap song between us, we can see the appeal of this most ostentatious of SUVs. With a monstrous 6.2-liter V-8, 22-inch rims, and a front grille that could easily support a neighborhood barbecue, the '07 'Lade comes pimped out straight from the production line. Inside, GM's flagship truck is decked out with an impressive array of comfort and tech options: our test car was equipped with optional touch-screen and voice-activated navigation, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a rearview camera, and all manner of comfort settings, including 14-way power front seats, heated front- and second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel. Despite the Escalade's bling, bullyboy exterior (the chrome-trimmed louvres in the front fenders went nicely with my chain necklace and Wayne's D&G Motorola Razr), the cabin is refreshingly refined and well appointed. In stark contrast to the , which we found pitifully wanting in the fixtures department, the Escalade welcomed us with soft leather seats, a forest of ebony trim, and a chrome dashboard with "Cadillac" calligraphically engraved above the glove box. The British designers at Land Rover will choke on their cups of Earl Grey to read this, but they should take some tips from GM for their next high-end Range Rover's interior.
An 8-inch dash-mounted LCD touch screen serves as the interface for the Escalade's navigation and audio systems. Directions were easy to program into the nav unit using an onscreen touch pad, and the unit was quick to calculate routes and to refresh when zooming in or out. There appear to be no voice directions for the navigation, however, and some of the routes (and reroutes) suggested to bring us back to the parking garage were a little circuitous, to say the least. Audio quality through the Escalade's Bose 5.1 surround-sound system was crisp right up through high volume (we suspect the sound system will be a key selling point on this car), although the Escalade could do with a few more speakers to ensure uniform sound throughout its cavernous interior. The audio system supports an admirable range of formats, and we were pleased to see ID3 tag information displayed when playing both MP3 and WMA CDs. Our test model also came hooked up to XM Satellite Radio. Another impressive audio feature is a separate stereo head unit built into the rear console, enabling either of the two second-row passengers (rather than a bench, there are two individual seats) to listen to either the current CD or their own choice of satellite/FM/AM radio channel. The lack of any auxiliary-input jack, however, means there is no provision for rear or front passengers to hook up a portable MP3 player.
Other tech high-points included a power tailgate and power "tumble and fold" second-row seats, which automatically stow away at the touch of a button.
Driving this beast is the ultimate exercise in road ownership: the view from the cabin was enough to dwarf a BMW X5, which had the audacity to get in front of us at the stoplight. Step on the (electronically adjustable) gas pedal, and it feels like you have just trodden on the tail of a sleeping dragon; it takes a while to arouse from its slumber, lets out an immense roar, and finally lurches forward as the 403-horsepower V-8 wins out over its 5,665-pound bulk. When awoken, the six-speed automatic power plant has bags of power on tap, and bringing this mass to a stop requires even more effort than getting it moving. Around town, the Escalade felt a little clumsy, but its road-sensing suspension managed to dampen out much of the rubble that passes for San Francisco's roads. The Escalade's engine idles at around 500rpm, which is a pretty low resting heartbeat, but with such a huge power plant, the engine can afford to turn over less frequently. Not that this economy of effort seemed to do much to improve the Escalade's gas mileage: the readout when we got back to the garage from GM's Driver Information Control (DIC) unit informed us that the car was getting an average of 11.5mpg. Not much bang for your buck, but then again, celebrity does have its price.