American car makers can get hustled into precipitate action, and so it was with the Cadillac Escalade. This appeared in 1999 as a hastily conceived and poorly implemented response to numerous luxury SUVs from marques like BMW, Toyota and Mercedes that were appearing like a rash on roads everywhere. In particular, the boys at General Motors felt the need to tackle the Lincoln Navigator from arch rival Ford.
Unfortunately, Cadillac was caught on the hop, and the first generation Escalade was little more than a badge-engineered version of the lesser GMC Yukon Denali. The five-seater was smaller than the rival Navigator and underpowered, with a stodgy 5.7 litre Vortec 5700 V8 engine that impressed nobody. It was, in short, a dog – but people seemed to like it nonetheless and Cadillac pluckily kept the Escalade going unchanged through 2000.
This allowed the company to play catch-up, improving the 2002 Escalade to create a genuine contender and launching this handsome bruiser in January 2001. It came with rear-wheel drive as standard, along with an improved 5.3 litre Vortec V8 engine. Four-wheel drive was optional, as was a 6 litre V8. The new model was an eight-seater and was available as a four-door SUV or upmarket four-door EXT (extended cab) pickup truck. An ESC wagon followed in 2003, completing the second generation line-up. These powerful cars were laden with standard features and built to thrill, offering an exciting driving experience for anyone wealthy enough to buy one (and keep filling the tank).
After a shaky start, Cadillac had a hit on their hands, with sophisticated yet rugged Escalades accounting for 40 percent of Caddy’s annual sales. The line was rewarded with a full third generation redesign in 2007 to reinforce the Escalade’s unexpected youth appeal, which had seen an ugly duckling turn into a lucrative swan.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
5.7 I (348 cid), 5.3 I (323 cid), 6.0 l (366 cid) or 6.2 l (378 cid) V8
With 6.0 I engine — speed-limited top speed of 108 mph (174 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.7 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Escalade is big enough to need handling with care, especially around the parking lot; to help out when reversing, the third-generation cars have a rear-facing camera that shows what lies behind on the sat-nav screen during backing-up manoeuvres.