I was lucky enough to be test driving the Cadillac Escalade ESV during a recent visit from a friend and his two teenaged sons.
And while basking in unabashed luxury and admiring what has been called the world's most decadent SUV, we decided to see if its performance matched its style. The test: Climbing a rough mountain pass in rural Colorado.
Our Platinum Edition of Cadillac's stretched Escalade effortlessly climbed the narrow dirt road that's part of Colorado's Gold Loop scenic byway. The rear end never cut loose on the washboard road or the hairpin S-turns, thanks to allwheel drive and StabiliTrak with road-sensing suspension. Otherwise I have a feeling we might have taken a sidetrip albeit in extreme style to the bottom of remote ravine.
The muscle under the hood comes from a six-liter Vortec engine cranking out 345 hp and 380 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm, more than enough to haul four passengers and gear up the mountain. We also logged lots of highway miles on our weekend excursion. And although the 5,808-lb Escalade reportedly accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in under 9 sec, we determined that our Platinum Edition accelerated best going down hill. We weren't sure if the lack of get-up-and-go was due to thin mountain air or the vast assortment of luxury items it was carrying.
My favorite interior feature was the premium instrument cluster with bright chrome rings around the gages. The ebony-and-shale dash houses a 6.5-in. touchscreen that is easy to read from both front seats. It controls the navigation system and a Bose sound system that has a six-CD changer and nine speakers. But using the touchscreen, especially for navigation, was not intuitive. Perhaps with a little more practice we could have figured out quicker ways to input or change route information.
The stretched SUV's extra 20 in. of interior length makes the cabin cavernous. But one need not be tall to drive this behemoth, thanks to adjustable accelerator and brake pedals and 14-way power front seats. The plush front bucket seats also boast power lumbar supports and side bolsters, as well as heating and cooling.
The second row bucket seats also offer heating and cooling, and are wide, comfy, and recline. Although most say the ESV Escalade comfortably seats 6 to 8 adults, the teen sitting behind his long-legged dad complained of insufficient legroom. So he moved to the bench seat ( thirdrow seating) laid the second-row seat flush to the floor, and stretch out to his heart's content. The bench seat also flips, folds, and can be removed for maximum cargo flexibility. And the second and third-row seatbacks can be folded to create a flat load surface.
Rear passengers also get independent climate controls and two, 7-in. pull-down DVD entertainment centers (one for the second row, one for the third) with four wireless IR headphones.
Another nifty feature for busy Platinum ESV drivers is the On-Star Personal Calling service. It lets drivers make and receive voice-activated phone calls using a powerful 3-W digital/analog system. An external antenna helps improve reception.
Safety features include dual-level front-passenger frontal and side air bags. A sensing system reportedly calculates frontpassenger size and weight and turns off the appropriate air bag when it detects a child or booster seat.
Our tester is rated at 13 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. We averaged 16.3 mpg driving up and over a number of mountain passes. The Escalade ESV Platinum is one of the priciest U.S.-made SUVs on the market at $69,825. So although it performed well, came loaded with extras, and looked sharp even under the dust of our off-road test, I'd hazard to guess the locals won't be seeing too many more Platinums traversing switches in Colorado's backcounty.