2012 Cadillac Escalade Walk Around

The Cadillac Escalade is a full-size SUV. It looks like the Cadillac version of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL and that's exactly what it is though there are many styling and equipment differences.

The front end of the Escalade is dominated by a traditional Cadillac egg crate grille draped in chrome. The grille is flanked by three-element, vertical headlamps that tie the vehicle to the rest of Cadillac's lineup; LED headlights come on the Platinum. The bumper and front trim are cleanly integrated, and the Escalade looks more like a massive car than a truck.

Similarly, the side-view styling is smoothly contoured, with no clunky side cladding. As with the front end, there is abundant chrome, including on the door handles, the exterior mirrors, side moldings, full-length roof rails (which provide anchor points for accessory crossbars for securing cargo on the roof) and non-functional ventilation ports above the front wheels.

Optional 22-inch chrome wheels completely fill the Escalade's huge wheelwells, making the standard 18-inch wheels look positively puny by comparison. The 22-inch wheels look great, though for reasons beyond cosmetics, ride quality among them, we prefer the puny-looking 18-inch wheels.

The pull-type door handles are easy to grasp, particularly appreciable in cold climates when wearing gloves.

The rear of he Escalade features a modern interpretation of Cadillac's classic slim, vertical taillights, which recall the dramatic tailfins of Cadillacs of the 1960s and '70s. On the Escalade they are rendered in crisp LED strips. A high-mounted, horizontal brake light with LED illumination crosses the top. But the dominant feature of the Escalade's rear is the enormous badge set within a chunky block of chrome trim, reminding everyone that they are following a Cadillac.

The liftgate opens and closes by pushbutton as a hatch or glass-only for lighter items, a convenient feature. The Class III tow hitch that comes standard is covered by a removable trim panel, so things look clean and tidy when you're not pulling a trailer.

Because the Escalade is based on a truck chassis the cargo load floor is 32.3 inches off the ground, meaning you'll have to lift those 40-pound bags of dog food a little higher than is required for a crossover SUV such as the GMC Acadia.

Interior

The Escalade cabin is roomy and luxurious. Interior fit and finish is very nice. The mix of soft, padded materials, genuine aluminum accents, chrome details and convincing faux wood combines with soft leather seats for an ambience on par with other luxury SUVs. Stepping up to the Platinum upgrades the existing leather and features details such as unique door sills and floor mats. For 2012, Platinum buyers can choose all-black Ebony/Ebony Tehama leather in addition to Cashmere/Cocoa and Cocoa/Light Linen combinations. All three color schemes are available in the standard Nuance leather.

Escalade comes standard with seven-passenger seating: front bucket seats, second-row bucket seats separated by a center console, and a three-passenger bench for the third row.

The Hybrid seats eight and the EXT seats five because they come with a three-passenger bench seat in the second row. This second-row bench seat is available on the other models at no charge, turning them into eight-passenger vehicles.

The ESV adds more than a foot of space between the front and rear axles, so the rear side doors are much longer. This allows the side windows to go all the way down into the doors, and makes entry to the third row much easier; second-row riders will still have to turn their feet to get them between the seat and the door post. Third-row legroom and cargo area are similarly improved. If you often have more than four aboard, then the ESV is the more comfortable vehicle. The ESV also features substantially more cargo space.

Passengers must step up to get into an Escalade. This relatively high step-in height is expected in a full-size SUV, however. Running boards ease the process and the reward is a high seating position from which to view the traffic.

Outward visibility over the open dash is very good. However, the side pillars are an inch or two thicker than those of some other luxury SUVs and can make blind spots large enough to conceal a motorcycle or small car. Rear visibility is good, with decent wiper coverage and no center-seat headrests.

The driver is presented with clear, bright gauges, LED-backlit with white markings and blue pointers on a black background. Between the speedometer and tachometer is an information display that cycles through several menus via buttons on the steering wheel. To get specific information on the most useful of those menus, however, you must push a button on the dash; but because it only cycles forward, to click back and forth between average fuel mileage and distance to empty, for example, you have to click seven times forward, which is inconvenient.

The Escalade comes standard with a 10-speaker (eight-speaker on EXT) stereo that features a six-disc changer that plays CDs and audio DVDs. Bose designed the speaker system, outfitting the vehicle with 5.1 Surround Sound, an eight-channel amplifier and a subwoofer. XM satellite radio comes standard.

A rear-seat entertainment system is available, utilizing a flip-down eight-inch screen that folds down from overhead. The DVD driver itself is mounted in front, but does not play the movie in the front seats. Rear-seat passengers can listen to the audio portion of their DVDs via all 10 speakers in the vehicle, the rear speakers only, or infrared wireless headsets. Order DVD entertainment in the ESV and you get a second eight-inch screen for the third seat, as well as an additional set of headphones. On Platinum models each front-seat headrest houses a DVD screen and each can be controlled independently.

The front bucket seats are quite nice: Comfortable, supportive, with many power adjustments, heated and cooled, and with memory for the driver's side. These are generously sized seats for a generously sized truck so narrow-framed drivers may find them a bit wide; the Escalade has a very wide cabin.

Leather upholstery (called Nuance) is standard on all three rows. Leather covers the four-spoke steering wheel equipped with redundant controls for the audio system and cruise control. A heated steering wheel is available, nice when it's cold. The Escalade's huge cabin benefits from triple-zone automatic climate controls: One zone for each front occupant and a third zone for the rear-seating area.

In the middle row, full-size adults can enjoy plenty of space; in most dimensions the Escalade is within an inch or two of the competitors. The EXT with the second-row bench seat offers roomy accommodations for two adults and adequate space for three; the EXT alone has a center position rear headrest because of the window immediately behind the seat. The Escalade and ESV come standard with heated front and second-row seats while EXT gets heated front seats only.

The third-row bench on the standard Escalade sits on the cargo floor and offers quite a bit less legroom than other luxury SUVs; the standard-length Navigator has nearly three inches more third-row legroom than the extended-length Escalade ESV, so unless it's a short trip, save the third row for kids.

Interior storage space is abundant. The glove box is large and the space under the armrest of the multi-level center console takes advantage of the wide cabin. Additional storage is found in pockets in the doors. The Escalade has four 12-volt power points, including one near the tailgate (the EXT gets three) as well as cupholders galore.

Cargo space behind the 50/50-split third row in the Escalade is on par with other luxury SUVs with three rows of seats; in other words, hauling anything but groceries will likely require the third-row seat to be folded. And while some competitors have power third-row seats that fold into the floor, the Escalade's seats must be removed for a flat floor, but it has the edge in overall space. Removing the seats requires only a tug on one handle, but they are quite bulky and heavy and must be left at home to get the big cargo space.

Loading cargo requires a 32-inch lift to the load floor, where tie-down hooks ease securing the load. A power liftgate is standard on Escalade and ESV. The EXT's cargo flexibility matches that of the Chevrolet Avalanche. (See our review of the Avalanche for details on the GM's innovative Midgate.)

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