If you're one of those folks who still believe that nothing succeeds like excess, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade is your SUV. By just about any measure you care to name, the full-size Escalade is just plain over the top. From its oversize dimensions to its brawny (and gas-guzzling) V8, this four-wheeled fashion accessory makes a definite statement about its owner's extravagance.
While the first Escalades were largely written off as no more than gussied-up versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, this big Caddy has grown much more mature with each successive redesign. The result is a distinctive look and feel that clearly sets this third-generation model apart from its less expensive GM cousins. From its imposing grille to the oversize wreath-and-crest badge on the rear liftgate, this Escalade manages to look both brawny and stylish at the same time. The spacious passenger cabin displays a similarly appealing balance of solidness and sophistication. Handsome double-stitched leather upholstery and faux wood trim are complemented by an impressive list of upscale standard features.
The amount of attention Cadillac designers and engineers have lavished on the Escalade really shows when you compare it to some of the other deluxe trucks on the market. The aesthetically challenged Lincoln Navigator, for example, feels underpowered, and the Infiniti QX56 is competent but uninspiring. The Mercedes-Benz GL-Class offers a more serious challenge to the big Caddy's category dominance, with its superior driving dynamics and a classy interior with a fold-flat third-row seat that's much more practical than the Escalade's old-school removable version.
Ultimately, we think the 2010 Cadillac Escalade is one of the better large luxury sport-utility vehicles out there. For folks who feel the need for a combination of luxury sedan trappings and full-size SUV functionality, the Escalade proves that sometimes too much is just enough.
For 2010, the full-size Cadillac Escalade SUV is offered in four different trim levels. Even entry-level models are very well-equipped, with 18-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive suspension with electronically controlled shock absorbers, xenon headlamps, an auto-dimming driver-side mirror, a power liftgate, rear parking sensors and fixed running boards. Interior goodies include triple-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated 14-way power front seats, heated second-row captain's chairs, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity, OnStar, a Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-disc CD/DVD changer, and a navigation system with real-time traffic updates and a built-in rearview camera.
Step up to the Luxury model and you get hardware upgrades including 22-inch chrome alloy wheels, a more sophisticated adaptive suspension (Magnetic Ride Control), auto-dimming high-beam headlights and a sunroof. Inside you'll find heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power-release feature for second-row seats and a blind-spot warning system. The Premium trim level adds power-retractable running boards and a rear-seat DVD video entertainment system with a ceiling-mounted screen. Top-of-the-line Platinum versions throw in all the bells and whistles including LED headlights, heated and cooled cupholders and a DVD entertainment system with dual screens mounted in the front seat headrests.
The short list of available options includes different styles of 22-inch alloy wheels, a 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seat and the rear-seat DVD video system with the overhead screen (Luxury model only).
Considering its working-class roots, the Escalade has come a long way over the past decade. The passenger cabin now features a noticeably more upscale look and luxurious feel set off by supple leather upholstery and attractive faux wood and alloy trim. Gauges and controls are well-placed and intuitive in their operation.
In its standard seven-passenger configuration, the big Caddy features second-row captain's chairs and a three-person third-row bench seat. Adding the available second-row bench raises total seating capacity to eight.
That 50/50-split third-row seat is actually the interior's most significant weakness, given its distinct lack of legroom and the fact that it doesn't fold neatly into the floor as in most other SUVs. Instead, owners looking to carry bulky items are forced to either make do with folding and tumbling the entire assembly forward, which eats up precious cargo space, or face the hassle of removing one or both very heavy sections of the seat entirely.
If you choose to lose the third-row seat, however, you'll end up with a cavernous 60.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats. Fold those second-row seats down and the cargo capacity grows to an impressive 108.9 cubic feet.
Power for the 2010 Cadillac Escalade comes from a 6.2-liter V8 that puts out an impressive 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature is standard.
The only real choice when it comes to the big Caddy's powertrain is between the standard rear-wheel and available all-wheel drive (though a hybrid model is addressed in a separate review). Given the fact that the Escalade wasn't really designed for off-roading, the all-wheel-drive system lacks a low-range transfer case and features a default 40/60 front-to-rear power split that's mainly intended to provide added peace of mind when road conditions turn ugly. The all-wheel-drive version we tested took just 7.5 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph, a relatively impressive number for a vehicle this size.
New cylinder-deactivation technology that seamlessly shuts down and restarts half the engine's cylinders to save fuel is now standard. EPA estimates stand at 14 mpg city/20 highway for the 2WD Escalade, slightly higher than the 2009 Escalade. Properly equipped, two-wheel-drive versions can tow a healthy 8,300 pounds.
On the road, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade delivers surprisingly good acceleration at all speeds thanks to that big 403-hp V8. Handling feels confident, especially with the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, though you'll never mistake this for a sport-tuned SUV like the Porsche Cayenne. You will appreciate the ride quality, though, as it remains comfortable even with the larger 22-inch wheels. A relatively tight 39-foot turning circle helps with overall drivability, but maneuvering in tight quarters can be a hassle even with the aid of the standard rearview camera.
Standard safety features on the Escalade include electronic stability control, antilock disc brakes, traction control, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags that cover all three rows and the OnStar telematics system. In government crash tests, last year's Escalade earned a top five-star rating for crash protection in frontal and side-impact protection. Braking distances are disappointing, though, with the Escalade we tested requiring 144 feet to come to a complete stop from 60 mph, a significant 17 feet more than the Mercedes-Benz GL450.
The 2010 Cadillac Escalade receives a number of notable upgrades. High points include fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation technology for its 6.2-liter V8, new front side-impact airbags, a redesigned door structure for better occupant protection, new-look clock graphics (taken from last year's Platinum model) and a new USB connection for portable audio devices. Some features have been discontinued, however, such as the rain-sensing wipers and the rear indicator lights for the rear park assist system.