No other SUV packs as much power in its holster as the Escalade. The vehicle's Gen III V8 engine, a high-compression 6.0-liter Vortec powerhouse, takes you from 0 to 60 in less than 9 sec and delivers a whopping 345 hp at 5,200 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Combine this with the Hydra-Matic 4L0-E heavy-duty electronically controlled four-speed automatic with overdrive, special cast-aluminum cylinder heads that produce a muscle-car-strong 10:1 compression ratio, and electronic throttle control, and you have an impressive driving package.

Cadillac has upgraded its StabiliTrak system and added a Borg-Warner one-speed full-time open-differential transfer case. A four-channel electronic brake replaces the previous three-channel hydraulic brake for ABS/traction and two-channel control for yaw stability. With this new system, any of the four wheels can be independently controlled. It also eliminates understeer and provides more stable, controlled ABS stops, improved fuel economy, and greater yaw-stability control.

Also new for 2003: Improved brake performance and pedal feel; quieter operation; and power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals. Additional safety enhancements include front-seat dual-level air bags for both driver and passenger, as well as a passenger-sensing system. The sensors determine if a crash has occurred and at what level the passenger-side air bag should deploy. The system will also deactivate the passenger bag to help protect small adults and children. In early compliance with 2005 federal safety standards, the Escalade features supplemental brake assist, a center-seat shoulder belt in the second row, and a child-restraint anchor system (CRAS) which allows for easier and safer installation of child seats.

Cadillac engineers have made the Escalade smarter. A new advanced multiplexed electrical architecture reduces the number of wires, splices, and connectors; minimizes weight; and improves packaging efficiency, reliability, and durability. The redesigned architecture benefits many of the Escalade's systems, including the new driver-information center, infotainment, passenger-sensing air bags, and automatic climate control.

Once inside the vehicle, you'll be kept better informed, more comfortable, and entertained. The instrument panel and cluster have been redesigned to put more crucial operating data at your fingertips. A new tri-zone HVAC system lets the driver and front and second-row passengers set their own comfort levels. The seats have been redesigned, and second-row bucket seats with inboard armrests and reclining seatbacks are now available. The third-row seat is removable for maximum cargo space. On the entertainment front, new systems include a rear DVD system, XM Satellite Radio, and a highly refined premium Bose sound system.

Escalade delivers it all, but at a high price. Base price for our test vehicle was $53,205. Options added were: rear-seat entertainment ($1,295), 17-in. chrome wheels ($795), XM Satellite radio ($325), and a trailer package ($190). Tack on a $790 destination charge, and this beauty rolls out the door for $56,600. If you're looking for a classy, powerful luxury SUV, look no further.

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