2011 Cadillac Escalade

February 22, 2012

It's easy to consider the Cadillac Escalade a superstar because of its flash and reputation, but after my experience in the 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV, I'm convinced it's more like a diva. This SUV is ginormous, and I was interested to see how it really worked as an everyday family hauler. However, the Escalade ESV didn't really care what I thought. It was going to do whatever it wanted.

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV hits the high notes like singer Katy Perry — it gets there but works awfully hard to do so.

The three-row Escalade ESV, which is 20 inches longer than the Escalade, drove like a mansion on wheels and felt like one when we were in it. With its V-8 engine, driving on the highway was awesome as long as the road was mostly straight. Parking lots were difficult and I couldn't imagine running errands in the Escalade ESV without parking far away from the other cars so I wouldn't worry about the Escalade ESV's butt hanging out of the spot.

This SUV lacked some significant (and expected) family-friendly features, too. The Escalade ESV was interested in pampering me, but it had to be done its way or not at all. Some might argue that's not really pampering then.

With a starting MSRP of $66,080, the Escalade ESV isn't for the faint of heart. My test car, a top-of-the-line Premium Edition with four-wheel drive, cost $88,295. Let's just get the obvious out of the way: The Escalade ESV with four-wheel drive gets an EPA-estimated 13/18 mpg city/highway. Ouch. So much for the kids' college fund.

EXTERIOR

The 2011 Escalade ESV was so big it made all the other cars around it feel like an entourage of hangers-on. It has plenty of chrome and shined like an opera singer dressed for the stage and ready to hit the high notes.

The high notes aren't so much new notes. The Escalade ESV has shiny 22-inch wheels, chromed air vents, and a power liftgate and running boards. The running boards were a source of pain early in my test drive because I kept whacking my shins on them as they automatically dropped down when I opened the door. I did finally remember they were there and seldom hit my shins after a few days. The diva had slayed me.

My kids — ages 7 and 9 — had few problems getting in the ESV, but closing the doors once they were inside was another matter. If your kids are young they're going to need some assistance.

The Escalade ESV is 222.9 inches long. Make sure to measure your garage before bringing this beast home. I could fit it in my garage but couldn't close the garage door because the bumper obscured the door's sensor. Don't say you weren't warned.

The Escalade ESV has a 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8. It uses regular gas or E85 ethanol, which lowers its fuel economy to 9/13 mpg.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair-Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR

There's something about the Escalade ESV that feels old school. It could be its old-fashioned gear shifter on the steering-wheel column or its key for starting the SUV. Yes, in this $88,000-plus SUV I had to put the key in the ignition and start it myself.

With standard seating for seven, many might think of the Escalade ESV as a minivan alternative. An optional second-row bench seat increases seating capacity to eight. The problem is it isn't family-friendly; it's more Hollywood-friendly. There are only two sets of lower Latch anchors in its three rows of seats, and the second row's cupholders are on the rear of the front row's center console. This position is difficult for kids in car seats to use. There also aren't any bottleholders in the doors.

In the front row, I enjoyed the heated and cooled seats and the heated steering wheel. The heated and cooled cupholders, which worked well, won my heart. However, the brushed-aluminum trim on the center stack and center console kept reflecting the sunlight right into my eyes. I'm such a whiner. Who's the diva now?

It's in the third row where the Escalade ESV pays off. It has 9.3 inches of extra legroom in the third row versus the regular Escalade, and it seats three, which is awesome. What's not awesome is the third row is split 50/50, so the person in the center position sits on a big crack between the seats. The major hiccup I had is there's no power-folding mechanism for the third row, and because the cargo area is ginormous and long, it requires you to climb into the cargo area to fold the seats. They don't fold flat, but they're removable. When removed, there's not a flat load floor because of the third row's footwell, which is great when sitting in the third row. The second row has a power-folding mechanism, but I had to unfold the seats manually. Ultimately, it seems as though the Escalade ESV has to muscle a lot of features when it should be finessing these things by now.

If your kids are in high school, the Escalade ESV is a good fit. And for crying out loud, if you ever tow anything the ESV is a good fit. If you have a small garage, a small wallet or small children, you'll want to seriously consider whether this SUV is a good fit.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

SAFETY

The Escalade ESV's second-row captain's chairs had the only Latch anchors in this three-row SUV. The Latch anchors are easy to access. The tether anchors are at the bottom of the captain's chair seatbacks, so their accessibility isn't great but this isn't uncommon. A variety of child-safety seats fit without a problem in the Escalade ESV, with the exception of the third row's center seating position.

The 2011 Escalade ESV received three out of five stars in rollover crash-test ratings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but it hasn't undergone the agency's other crash tests. It also hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Standard safety features include rear-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with rollover mitigation technology, traction control, a blind spot warning system, a backup camera with rear parking sensors, and six airbags, including side curtains for all three rows. Four-wheel drive is optional.

Snapshot:

Starting MSRP $63,455–$85,085

MPG

City: 13 – 14

Highway: 18

Available Engines

403-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 (flexible; E85)

Transmissions

6-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual

New or Notable

• 403-hp V-8 with cylinder deactivation

• New side-impact airbags for front seats

• Six-speed automatic

• Seats up to eight

• Available full-time AWD

What We Like

• Powerful engine

• Luxurious cabin

• Long list of standard luxury features

• Lots of standard safety equipment

What We Don't

• Feels big when driving

Photo Courtesy of Sara Lacey, Cars.com

Photo Courtesy of Sara Lacey, Cars.com

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