- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

How important is the upcoming, all-new 2007 Escalade sport utility vehicle to the success of the Cadillac brand?

“The renaissance of Cadillac began in 2002 with the Escalade. … It’s the center of our universe. It’s making Cadillac cool, aspirational,” Cadillac general manager Jim Taylor emphasized during a show-and-tell (but no time behind the wheel) sneak preview for a group of East Coast automotive journalists.

Mr. Taylor said Cadillac has experienced 5 percent to 10 percent growth each year since the Escalade’s arrival and that it accounts for 27 percent of all Cadillac sales.

He agreed that sales have been spurred by its popularity among professional athletes and pop culture idols, but said that famous buyers are merely part of an overall demographic of wealthy, successful and influential customers. In fact, he said, the Escalade models hold a 36 percent share of the entire luxury-utility market.

So what will prospective buyers find when the Escalade goes on sale in February, a couple of months ahead of the long-wheelbase Escalade ESV and the Escalade EXT utility truck, and a few weeks behind the Chevrolet and GMC versions of the full-size SUV?

Cadillac executives said shoppers can expect a more luxurious, more comfortable and more powerful SUV that rides and handles more like a luxury sedan than the first-generation vehicle.

To improve the luxury quotient, careful attention has been paid to the interior, where customers will be greeted with supple leather, first-rate plastics and even a steering wheel accented with real wood. They will see a revised dashboard featuring low-gloss materials and softly lit gauges.

They will also — if they look closely — notice an improvement in fit and finish, with no exposed hardware or seat tracks.

Because the new vehicle is essentially the same size as the outgoing one, second-row passengers will still find legroom a bit tight when a front-seat passenger pushes the seat back. And, although there is more shoulder room, third-row adults will still have to sit pretty much knee to nose.

Although all major sheet-metal and body parts are new, the 2007 Escalade design is not a big departure from the past. It features a more rounded nose with a bolder grille inspired by the Sixteen concept car. Vertical headlights are similar to the ones on the SRX crossover vehicle and the rear lift gate is revised.

And let’s not forget chrome. Chrome is back — on the grille, around the headlamps on the mirrors, on the front-fender air vents, on the running boards, on the rear lift gate and on the optional 22-inch wheels.

Power will come from an all-new, 6.2-liter aluminum V-8 engine that features variable valve timing. It generates 403 horsepower and 417 foot-pounds of torque, which is a big step up from the 345 horses and 380 foot-pounds of the old 6.0-liter V-8.

A six-speed automatic transmission with Driver Shift Control will supplant the four-speed shifter on the previous model. It features two overdrive gears, which probably accounts for the EPA’s estimate of 19 miles per gallon on the highway, two more than before.

In order to make the Escalade’s ride and handling more like that of a sedan, engineers have created a more rigid chassis, revised front and rear suspension components, updated steering from recirculating ball to rack-and-pinion, increased the standard wheel size from 17 to 18 inches and installed stronger antilock disc brakes. It will take a test drive to determine how much progress Cadillac made in making its truck perform like a car.

Convenience features will include fold-and-tumble second-row seats, a powered rear lift gate that operates with the touch of a button, triple-zone climate control, powered running boards and a remote starter that makes it possible to warm or cool the vehicle before the passengers enter. There are two sound systems and the premium one comes with the optional navigation system. A rear-seat entertainment system is available with screens for the second and third rows.

New safety features for 2007 will include roof-mounted, side-curtain air bags for all three rows of seats. They will activate automatically if sensors detect a rollover is imminent. In addition, the Escalade will have sensors that will trigger a tightening of the front seat belts if the vehicle is hit hard from the rear.

Company officials declined to divulge pricing, but did say the 2007 Escalade will not be significantly more expensive than the 2006 models. A two-wheel-drive 2006 Escalade starts at $53,850 and an all-wheel-drive version starts at $56,405.

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