05/16/07 — Want a luxury pickup? Cadillac has one

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Want a luxury pickup? Cadillac has one

Cadillac Escalade (2007)

Luxury sport utilities have proliferated in recent years. So perhaps it’s a bit strange that with the multitude of these high-dollar high-riders available to people with healthy disposable incomes that there’s only a couple of pickup trucks built for luxury vehicle buyers.

It’s not easy to make a statement with a Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota emblem residing on the grille no matter how optioned out they might be.

Cadillac Escalade, 2007

Don’t despair, however, if you must own one. If you’ve got a burning desire to have a luxury name attached to the front of your truck, Cadillac has something for you. And it’s like nothing else on the road, a crew cab pickup that can be converted into a big hauler.

You’ve probably heard of the Escalade EXT. It’s been in showrooms since the 2002 model year and it has been completely revised for 2007

Cadillac upgraded the truck in several areas, but the unusual features are still intact.

The EXT has a 5-foot-8-inch truck bed enclosed by a sturdy composite cover that is impervious to dents and scratches. The bed can be extended to nearly nine feet through General Motors’ innovative Convert-A-Cab system, its main feature called a midgate.

Convert-A-Cab, introduced by GM five years ago, allows the cargo bed to be opened up into the cabin.

The midgate is a moveable partition between the cab and bed that can be folded flat with the turn of a latch. The rear window is removable as is the bed cover allowing for open-air storage up to the back of the front seats.

We question how many people who plunk down 60 big ones for an EXT with all the luxury reserved for “the standard of the world” will ever tumble the rear seats, fold down the midgate, remove the rear window and haul motorcycles or riding lawn mowers.

If this process could be accomplished by the push of a power button it might be an interesting diversion for the man who has everything. Unfortunately, much like its workhorse brother the Chevrolet Avalanche, the process takes crawling and twisting.

But just to have the capability to haul big stuff in a vehicle that will take you to the opera in luxurious surroundings has to be worth something.

Cadillac has been selling between 7,000 and 8,000 copies a year, enough to keep the truck in showrooms

And sales may grow this year with an upgraded EXT that includes an all-new fully boxed frame, a bigger and more powerful V-8 engine, a new six-speed automatic transmission and a more stylish and luxury-appointed interior.

Also new is a sleeker exterior with a more in-your-face Cadillac-style egg-crate grille flanked by huge headlamp enclosures. The overall big-truck look definitely remains.

A 6.2-liter V-8 with variable valve timing generating a massive 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque replaces a 6.0-liter V-8 that made 345 horsepower. Mated to a slick-shifting six-speed automatic, the V-8 can propel the nearly three-ton truck from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in under eight seconds.

Best to modulate your right-foot impulses, however, as gas mileage — not required to be published on a truck this size — has been estimated at 13 mpg city and 19 highway on premium gas. Cadillac advises that premium gas is recommended, but not required.

The new boxed frame yields a 49-percent increase in torsional stiffness compared to the 2006 model. And this translates into a smoother ride and more responsive handling. Also adding to a more point-and-shoot feel on the highway is a new rack and pinion steering system replacing the old recirculating ball setup.

The EXT is loaded with safety and convenience features for rainy and cold-weather driving. The seamless standard all-wheel drive system is complemented by a computer-controlled road-sensing suspension called Stabilitrak.

Also adding to the confidence factor are all-season 18-inch tires, large disc brakes with an all-new Bosch ABS system on all four corners and ultrasonic park assist.

Other standard safety features include full-length side-curtain airbags and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

While the Escalade truck is equipped to accomplish many chores while providing a comfortable ride and considerable safety, it’s the living area that impresses the most.

You might think a truck with a fold-down gate that leaves the passenger compartment open to the outside elements would not completely seal off the interior from outside noises and would be conducive to squeaks and rattles. The EXT was luxury-car quiet and squeaks and rattles are not part of the program, however.

The interior is lavished in wood and leather with chrome-ringed instruments. Particularly impressive is the instrumentation with blue needles on white LED backlighting. They are very readable in bright sunlight and offer a warm glow at night.

The leather-clad seats — they can be purchased in either black or cashmere — are large and wonderfully supportive. The center console and door trim is also leather covered.

During our test week we gravitated to the Cadillac when we had a choice of other, smaller and easier-to-maneuver vehicles in the driveway because of the comfortable and quiet cabin, more than anything.

One downside, legroom is not as plentiful in the second row as we felt it should be in a vehicle this size. The Ford F-150 crew and the new Toyota Tundra both have considerably more stretch-out room than the Escalade.

The Escalade EXT is loaded with standard equipment for a base price of $54,605, but some mouth-watering options are available with the prospect of running the bottom line toward 70 grand.

For instance, our test truck came with optional 22-inch aluminum wheels, a navigation system that included a six-disc changer with MP3 capability and a rearview camera, rear-seat entertainment system, power retractable assist steps, power sliding sunroof and a climate package that included heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. The bottom line including destination was $64,305.

If you need more flexibility in your big luxury sport utility, the Escalade EXT may be the answer. And it will provide you a topic of conversation at your next cocktail party.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on May 16, 2007 10:27 AM