- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Benefiting from a redesign enjoyed by all of General Motors full-size pickups and SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade EXT returns for 2007 in a more luxurious and powerful form. Although it shares a few features and mechanicals with the Chevrolet Avalanche, the second-generation EXT is more than a dolled-up example of the Chevrolet.

A statement vehicle of the first order, EXT projects a bold, confident image backed up by gobs of horsepower and lavish accommodations. No poseur, it is functional and not above getting a little mud on its shoes. Sure it’s ostentatious, but historically that’s been a sought-after Cadillac brand trait. The EXT will never be confused with anything else. It is unique and virtually in a class by itself. And isn’t that just what you want when ponying up $54,210 for a truck?

About as subtle as a polka band at a funeral, the EXT is square yards of sheetmetal interrupted by pounds of chrome. It’s big and brawny with squared-off corners and slab sides. Everything about EXT is big. It tips the scales at nearly 3 tons. A softball-sized Cadillac crest dominates the grille on a front end that stretches more than 79 inches across. Regulation chrome wheels and rubber are 18 inches, but for an extra $2,995, you can increase the footprint by moving up to 22-inch dazzlers.

Aunt Mary doesn’t have to be boosted into the cabin thanks to standard running boards. A three-piece removable, lockable hard cargo cover provides a refined, finished look as well as secured storage.

EXT comes in only one trim level and one four-door pickup truck configuration. You can assume either point of view as to whether the EXT is really an SUV or a pickup truck with equal conviction. Even the experts at such things are stumped.

At the heart of the controversy is the unique midgate. This allows the cargo box to open into the cabin and increase hauling capacity to 101 cubic feet. Although you’d probably stand a better chance of seeing J. Lo schlepping her own suitcase than an EXT transporting a load of fertilizer, it has the capability to perform hard labor if the need ever arises.

The upscale cabin is brimming with leather and wood. Neatly arranged, the instrument panel is convenient and easy to use. Large, round analog gauges feature blue needles made even more dramatic at night. Five adults can cruise comfortably with plenty of leg and elbow room. Both front seats have 14-way power adjustments, as well as heated seat cushions and backs.

The usual gaggle of power accessories is standard along with adjustable pedals. Featuring a six-disc CD changer, an eight-speaker Bose-enhanced audio system delivers the entertainment. XM satellite radio with three months’ free service is also part of the package. Interior temperature can be set for three individual zones: driver, passenger and back seat. Curtain air bags that stretch from front to rear supplement the usual dual front air bags.

A number of mechanical improvements highlight changes under the skin.

The combination of a new boxed frame and re-engineered suspension delivers a more pliant, passenger-friendly ride. The previous recirculating-ball steering system has been replaced with a rack-and-pinion arrangement significantly reducing the turning radius.

EXT still feels big when maneuvering around the mall parking lot, but it’s now more manageable. Additionally, going backward is rendered less of an adventure by outboard mirrors that automatically point down and the rear-park assist that sounds an alarm when the EXT backs too close to something.

Last year’s 345-horsepower 6.0-liter V-8 has been replaced with a more potent 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 that develops 417 foot-pounds of peak torque. Supplanting the old four-speed automatic transmission is a new six-speed driver-shiftable automatic.

Thanks to EXT’s bulk, acceleration isn’t neck-snapping, but it is satisfying. It can tow up to 7,600 pounds. Despite the larger V-8 and increased output, highway fuel economy is improved — not great, but improved. The Environmental Protection Agency rates mileage at 13 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway.

A transparent all-wheel-drive system is standard. A foul-weather system, it doesn’t provide a low setting for serious off-roading. Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard and include traction control and GM’s electronic stability control called StabiliTrak.

Offered as options are the $2,495 Information Package with a DVD-based nav system and rearview camera, and the $1,295 rear-seat DVD entertainment system. A power sliding sunroof will set you back another $995.

Any one reluctant to call attention to himself should steer clear of the EXT.

It’s not designed for wallflowers or people in the witness protection program. Its flashy exterior and mind-numbing proportions are guaranteed to evoke a reaction wherever it goes.

Demanding attention, it succeeds in getting it; however considering its versatility, luxury, performance and comfort, it has no peers or serious imitators. It’s in a class all its own.

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