- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

MONTEREY, Calif. I'm driving the future.

As I navigate along a series of secondary roads with spectacular ocean views in the all-new Cadillac Escalade, I realize that I'm driving a 2002 model sport utility vehicle that allows me to take in the views from the road while I clear my e-mail, check out the stock market and my favorite sports results and make phone calls all with a voice-activated system, so I can keep my hands safely on the steering wheel.

Along with its very chic electronic and telematic technologies, and luxury features, I am driving a wagon on an elevated platform that has expansive cargo capacity, can hold up to 8 persons, can tow a boat or trailer and has all-wheel-drive traction. What more could a girl ask for?

But, as impressive as all this is, most impressive is the difference between the first-generation Escalade, which was basically a rebadged and gussied-up Yukon Denali, and the latest, truly all-new version, set to go on sale Jan. 2. I drive them each back-to-back and quickly know that there are far superior handling characteristics in GM's newest flagship SUV. It turns out that GM had a lot of incentive to upgrade its Escalade.

When Cadillac first announced it was entering the luxury SUV market in 1998, it prompted a wave of guffaws and raised eyebrows. After all, this was the same company that, three years previous, swore it wouldn't jump onto the SUV bandwagon. Yet, with the introduction of its 1999 model in the fall of 1998, with subsequent sales that outmeasured even the most optimistic forecasts, the General's Escalade ushered in a new style and attitude for this luxury-car maker.

That new style, it turns out, has attracted a younger buyer that is a more technologically savvy consumer and with a higher income than the previous typical Cadillac enthusiast. Compared to its traditional models, buyers of this full-size SUV are on average 12 years younger (13 percent are under 35), more are female (36 percent) and more are willing to embrace and appreciate technological advances. Often referred to as "early adopters," these buyers feel empowered by innovative technologies. This image is now reflected in the looks and makeup of the second-generation Escalade.

This eight-passenger vehicle is loaded with amenities that truly bring the SUV into the future. The 2002 model comes standard with the upgraded 2001 OnStar navigation, emergency and concierge service system, which now has Personal Calling capabilities for hands-free calls, as well as the "Virtual Advisor," which delivers personalized Internet-based information such as stock quotes or the weather report with the touch of a button. Not mere luxuries, these options fit the lifestyle of on-the-go, communications-oriented buyers, who spend a lot of time on the road and in their cars.

Offered in either two-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive models (the first time an AWD has been offered), the Escalade boasts advanced standard driving features like StabiliTrak handling system, Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist, a Road Sensing Suspension System and an electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission.

The new Escalade gives two very different options for engine power. The 2WD model comes with a standard Vortec 5300 V-8 that generates 285 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, an upgrade from the previous 255 offered on the first generation. But what's most impressive about this engine are its new small-volume pipe converters, which allow it to reach operating temperature faster and reduce emissions to the point that this model meets ULEV (ultralow emissions vehicle) certification requirements in California and other states.

If you're buying the AWD version, prepare for a souped-up 345-horsepower, Vortec 6000 LQ9, 6-liter V-8 engine, which has 45 more horsepower than its nearest competitor, the Lincoln Navigator, and 115 more horsepower than the Lexus LX 470. While this engine does not meet ULEV requirements, low-emissions versions are available in California and other states with such requirements.

The sophisticated StabiliTrak system uses a combination of Stability Enhancement, anti-lock brakes and traction control to assure superior handling and braking dynamics. Road Sensing Suspension uses electronically controlled shock absorbers, four-wheel position sensors along with a steering-angle sensor to provide optimum steadiness. New P265/70R17 Goodyear all-season tires increase rolling diameter to provide a smoother, quieter ride and take full advantage of the AWD system.

While similar to the Lincoln Navigator in its dimensions, Escalade maintains a distinct Cadillac look that combines sharp lines, sleek chiseled shapes and a prominent front nose. The attention-getting new front end features a simpler version of Cadillac's trademark badge-shaped grille, plus an entirely new wreath and crest emblem, which will eventually adorn all of Cadillac's models. Satin-nickel finish and chrome accents give the exterior a distinctly contemporary, high-tech look.

The inside cabin combines technological innovation with traditional luxury elements. For instance, the three-button OnStar system is situated next to an old-fashioned analog clock. The Driver Information Center (DIC) is equipped with all sorts of handy features: it will recall the driver and passenger seat's position at the touch of the remote keyless entry lock button or when the key is inserted into the ignition.

When you shift into reverse, the exterior mirrors are tilted into a more helpful position and then tilted back when going forward. And, the DIC also features more standard luxury capabilities, like tracking fuel economy and personalizing the alarm and locking systems.

Second-row passengers will appreciate the standard heated seats with separate controls and the extended console with dual cup holders and courtesy lights. The standard third-row seat splits 50-50 and was designed to be especially lightweight for easy removal. Compared to the 2000 Lexus LX 470 and the 2000 Lincoln Navigator, the Escalade has more head, leg and shoulder room for all three rows of seating. Seating is soft leather in color choices of shale or pewter, and the stitching is in Cadillac-specific sewing patterns, adorned with the new wreath and crest emblem on the first two rows.

Cadillac claims the Escalade has the best-in-class in-dash, six-CD changer that lets you load or eject discs from a single slot while the music is still playing. The Bose Acoustimass audio system sports a whopping 11 speakers, specifically tailored to the dimensions of the cabin.

The 2002 Escalade will clearly excite a new Cadillac customer: one who never identified with the company before, but will take the time to give it a second look. This is all good for Cadillac, a GM division that has been trying to reach a younger audience to strengthen its customer base in an increasingly competitive luxury vehicle market. It was the No. 1 luxury brand in the United States three years ago and now sits in the No. 3 position, trailing behind Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz.

The new Escalade truly is new. It's like driving the future.

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