2002 Cadillac Escalade -- Drives like a dream

When introduced in 1999 as major competition to the Lincoln Navigator, many felt the Cadillac Escalade just wasn't up to speed. Well, watch out! The well-known rivalry between these two big guns is smoking again.

New for 2002, the Escalade now has its own version of the Gen III V8 engine, a high-compression 6.0-liter Vortec powerhouse that delivers 345 hp at 5,200 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. When you step on the gas, those horses are raring to go. It's easy to see a speeding ticket on the horizon if you don't keep this stallion reigned in.

The engine also features special cylinder heads which produce a 10:1 compression ratio; a larger 75-mm throttle-body bore for maximum air intake, and a revised camshaft with more lift, duration, and overlap that lets the engine take advantage of the increased airflow. For additional power, engineers also reduced backpressure by lowering the restriction of exhaust into the converters, and coupled a larger, less-restrictive muffler with low-density catalysts.

An Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) system improves fuel economy, emissions, and drivability. The ETC reduces mass and increases durability by integrating brake-torque management, traction control, and cruise control into one system.

Rounding out the powerhouse drivetrain is the new Hydra-Matic 4L60-E HD electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. It provided quick launches and smooth acceleration. Cruising on freeways is effortless and passing power is impressive. For its large size, the Escalade easily navigated through some hilly and twisting country roads.The Escalade's grille is the first to feature Cadillac's new wreath and crest logo. The awesome high-tech look of the front end draws you to the vehicle.

The vehicle's exterior has protective body-colored cladding that extends its sheer lines to the side quarter panels and lower body. The cladding flows down in the rear for extra protection against stones. Integrated body-colored running boards complete the look. Herein lies my first complaint. The running boards are much too narrow to be an effective step, and it was the consensus among my friends as well. During one particularly heavy downpour, my foot slipped right off the board and I nearly fell out of the truck. Another 3 in. of board would solve the problem.

Moving inside the Escalade's cabin, you'll find the interior brimming with luxury. Features include an all-new gage cluster, integrated floor console, heated seats, a new driver-information center, an impressive 11-speaker Bose stereo with a single-point loading six-disc CD changer, and a lightweight third-row seat. The instrument panel is trimmed in aluminum halos and has a 120-mph speedometer, analog gages, and new for 2002, a transmission temperature gage. My second complaint is the front cupholders. Cups fit too snugly in them; you have to really pull hard to get a cup out.

For the first time, the Escalade features Cadillac's Ultrasonic Rear-Parking Assist, but with some new tweaks. First, its sensors have been angled to sense, or see, objects posing the greatest likelihood of damage. A new snow, ice, and mud algorithm in the software alerts drivers to clean the rear sensors for proper functioning. And lastly, the system can be disabled when towing to prevent the system from unnecessary beeping.

While it drives like a dream, most people can probably only dream about this drive. Standard vehicle price is $50,285. Tack on $1,550 for the power glass sunroof option our test vehicle had and a $700 destination charge and you'll fork over $52,535 to drive one home. On top of that, you'll have to dig deep into your pocket to fill the 26-gallon tank as it requires premium fuel. Ouch.