The Escalade is a full-size luxury sport utility vehicle (or SUV) sold by the General Motors luxury brand, Cadillac. It was the division's first major entry into the popular SUV market. The Escalade was introduced for the 1999 model year in response to German and Japanese competitors and to Ford's 1998 release of the Lincoln Navigator. The Escalade project went into production only 10 months after it was approved. The standard Escalade is built in Arlington, Texas.
After the demise of the RWD Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham sedan in 1996, the Escalade filled the void once dominated by the limousine market.
The Escalade was originally based on the GMC Yukon Denali, but was redesigned for the 2002 model year to make its appearance fall more in line with Cadillac's new design theme. The Escalade was not the first Chevrolet-based Cadillac: the first-generation Seville and mid-1980s Cimarron were based on entry-level Chevrolet vehicles (Nova and Cavalier, respectively). As of today, the Escalade EXT pickup are, together with the Cadillac BLS, the only Cadillac vehicles made outside of the United States, since the demise of the German-built Cadillac Catera in 2001. Both the Escalade ESV (a luxurious Chevrolet Suburban) and Escalade EXT were made in Silao, Mexico before the 2006 redesign; the new Escalade ESV is sourced from Arlington, TX.
The Escalade line has proven very popular with after-market tuners, who personalize vehicles for usually affluent customers. While such work is not done by the Cadillac factory, much can be ordered through a Cadillac dealer and done by third-party companies. Much like the customized Cadillacs of the 1970s (during the pimpmobile craze), popular modifications include larger wheels, increased engine performance and custom paint. Due to its expensive parts and exposure from celebrity ownership, the Escalade has also been proven to be popular with car thieves as well, becoming the most frequently stolen vehicle from 2001-2003 according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The Escalade has been featured in many hip hop music videos, and it may have been the reason for Cadillac's recent popularity among the urban demographic. Comedian Bernie Mac drives an Escalade on his hit sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show, continuing the brand's popularity among TV stars and standup comedians. Many sports stars, especially baseball players, drive an Escalade (or other Cadillac models) as well.
Major competitors include: Mercedes-Benz G-Class (and possibly the smaller M-Class), Lexus LX series, Infiniti QX56, Land Rover Range Rover, Lincoln Navigator.
The first Escalade was very similar to the top Denali trim of the GMC Yukon. It shared all of that truck's exterior panels, which were themselves differentiated at the front from the regular Yukon/Tahoe. Even the wheels were identical, with the GMC center caps replaced by Cadillac crests.
The Escalade also used the same 5.7 L Vortec 5700 V8 at 255 hp (190 kW). All first-generation Escalades featured all-wheel drive. For 2000, unique vertical rear doors were added.
The Escalade was not offered for the 2001 model year, but returned completely redesigned for the 2002 model year. Rear-wheel drive was standard, as was a 5.3 L V8, with four-wheel drive and the special High-Output Vortec 6000 6.0 L V8 engine as options.
The "StabiliTrak" stability control system was upgraded to a four-wheel version for 2003 and power-adjustable pedals were added. For 2004, 20-inch chrome wheels (also known as dubs) were offered, and XM Satellite Radio, second-row bucket seats, and a tire pressure monitoring system were all made standard on all Escalades except the EXT. The 5.3 L engine was dropped for 2005 and the OnStar system was upgraded.
The Cadillac Escalade comes in three body styles, the regular wagon version, the longer ESV and the EXT pickup truck.
The Escalade EXT pickup truck (released alongside its twin, the Chevrolet Avalanche) was introduced in 2002. It features a "Convert-a-Cab" composite pickup bed that can be expanded into the truck's cab through a bottom-hinged door. Like the Avalanche, the EXT has four full-size doors and seating for five. The EXT was only offered with the 6.0 L High Output engine. high-intensity discharge headlights were offered for 2003. The Escalade EXT also appears in the movie, The Matrix Reloaded along with the CTS in product placement ads.
The Escalade EXT was created as a direct competitor to the failed Lincoln Blackwood, a pickup truck based on the Navigator SUV. Currently, it competes with the Lincoln Mark LT, another Navigator-based pickup truck that made its debut in 2006.
The extended-length Escalade ESV (based on the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL) was introduced in 2003. The Escalade ESV is also Cadillac's most expensive SUV with prices ranging from $59,680 for a base Standard version to $71,050 for a top-of-the-line Escalade Platinum.