- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

Cadillac pickup truck. In the motoring world, that qualifies as the ultimate oxymoron.

Yet that's exactly what you get with the 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT. It's a full-size (read: giant) truck that is the luxury division's version of the Chevrolet Avalanche.

The Caddy folks call it an SUT, for sport utility truck, and its competition is the similar but not as flexible Lincoln Blackwood. The Blackwood is more like a standard pickup truck, without the EXT's capability to extend the load bed into the passenger compartment.

Why we even have access to such vehicles is a commentary on some American motorists' tendencies to opt for the biggest and most luxurious and sometimes the most questionable conveyances they can find.

The big growth in recent years has been in sport utility vehicles, as manufacturers have scrambled to outdo one another in variations designed to appeal to different buyers to the point where there now are nearly 50 choices.

A logical extension of the SUV essentially a jacked-up station wagon based on either a car or truck platform is the old four-door pickup truck, familiar for years as a bare-bones pickup used to carry work crews.

With the truck craze in full flower, the four-door pickups are being gussied up like courtesans in an upscale house of ill repute. And the manufacturers have figured out ways to make them even more appealing.

Chevrolet did that with the Avalanche. It's a big pickup, with four doors and removable panels on the back of the cab so that the load bed can be extended into the passenger compartment.

It's a clever concept that delivers a measure of flexibility. If you have a big load, and you don't need to carry passengers in the back seat, you can simply transform your vehicle into a long-bed pickup.

The Excalade EXT works the same way. In ordinary street dress, it's a four-door pickup with posh accommodations for five and a hard cover over the cargo box. With the weatherproof cover in place, you can stash about 41 cubic feet of stuff back there, and that's likely the way most owners will leave it most of the time.

Somehow, it's hard to imagine an Escalade EXT owner hauling a load of manure or leaky old transmissions. Maybe some tack or a of couple of bales of hay whilst dragging the horse trailer to the weekend dressage. But that would be about it.

More likely, the EXT will be used as a luxury car. Instead of a beast of burden, it will be a "look at me" ornament, not unlike a mink coat or a big diamond ring.

For those who choose the EXT, there will be some gains and some losses. On the gain side, there's no question that the EXT is a massive, impressive-looking vehicle, from any angle.

It also offers plenty of sophisticated technology and coddling luxury. The seats are soft leather, with power adjustments and memory settings; woodgrain trim abounds on the doors and dashboard; an OnStar communications system stands ready to help out, including (if you choose) concierge service; there's automatic all-wheel drive and a stability-control system to enhance handling; a road-sensing suspension system; antilock brakes, automatic climate control, a six-disc in-dash CD changer and heated outside mirrors.

There's a full set of instruments (although the tachometer is not easy to read), the dual sun visors work great, and a huge center console and door pockets offer plenty of storage space.

All of this, of course, gets costly. The base price of the Escalade EXT is $49,990.

With a few options, including a sunroof, the test vehicle topped out at $51,540.

Yet even at that, there are losses. One comes from the EXT's sheer size.

At more than 18 feet long, it's a challenge to park, assuming you can find a space big enough.

Simply climbing in and out is a chore for small people and older folks.

Though the EXT handles about as well as any full-size pickup truck, it's still a handful in traffic, although the ride is surprisingly comfortable.

Because of its truck underpinnings, it lacks some amenities of the typical luxury car.

The steering wheel, for example, is the same design as found on any GM pickup truck, though it's dressed in wood and leather.

But its adjustments are manual, not power, and the climate control, though automatic, lacks the dual-zone feature of most luxury automobiles.

At almost three tons, without passengers or cargo, the EXT needs plenty of power, and it gets it. The engine is a 6-liter V-8 that delivers a fulsome 345 horsepower and plenty of low-end grunt to handle almost any circumstance. It is linked to a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission.

Not surprisingly, the fuel consumption is a dismal 12 miles per gallon in the city. Most people will get less.


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