Cadillac Escalade Evolution: Big Things Don't Always Have Small Beginnings

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How the Cadillac of today can find its origins in the second-gen Escalade.

Cadillac may have found success with the first Escalade, but this popular plush SUV didn't re-write the company's fortunes overnight. Sure, it was popular, but that didn't automatically bring about the 21st century Renaissance it's currently going through. After all, in 2002, Cadillac was still producing stuff like the Catera; an inoffensive sedan that was, to all intents and purposes, a rebadged Opel Omega (a car that was casually chugging away in Europe's volume family car sector).


The Cadillac CTS may have appeared at this period as well, but it was still some way from being the best-in-class contender that the current car has shaped up to be. Put simply, the idea of Cadillac as it is in 2015 was, from an early-2000s vantage point, just a glimmer on the horizon. And the second-generation Escalade was the first proper step that Cadillac made towards reaching that future. Though still based on a truck chassis, the then-new Cadillac Escalade was a pretty big leap forwards over its rushed predecessor. It certainly was in terms of performance.

With the optional all-wheel drive system, and the 345-hp 6.0-liter V8 that came with it, the second-generation Cadillac Escalade was comfortably the fastest plush SUV on sale at that time. Having such grunt also gave the Cadillac Escalade a pretty good amount of pulling power, making it ideal for lugging about trailers. Especially in comparison with the standard second-gen car, that came with the marginally less impressive set-up of rear-wheel drive and a 280-hp 5.3-liter V8 (later upgraded to 290 hp in 2004). Likewise updated 'OnStar' adaptive all-wheel drive system helped set the new Cadillac Escalade apart from its predecessor, even if it still didn't endow the car with much off-road ability.

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But these on their own wouldn't bring in the buyers – what the new Escalade needed to do more than anything else was to be more practical and luxurious. And in that area, Cadillac well and truly hit the nail on the head. For starters, all Cadillac Escalade variants bar the pick-up EXT variant came loaded with eight-seats, making it the ideal choice for affluent soccer moms who'd regularly need to pick up their offspring and their mates from the school gates. The furnishings and tech gubbins under the Cadillac Escalade's boxy bodywork also endowed the SUV with a supremely cosseting driving experience.

You could sink into the big, perforated leather seats, for instance, and the improved noise insulation made the Escalade a very impressive highway cruiser. Further complementing the interior furnishings were some of General Motors' latest variable damper and stability control systems, which allowed the Cadillac Escalade to ride and handle in a manner that was appropriate for a car emblazoned with the same crest that adorned Caddy cruising icons like the Eldorado Biarritz. Above all else, though, the Cadillac Escalade set the precedent of what to expect from future Cadillacs: impressive tech, plenty of comfort, strong pace and a well-appointed interior to spend time in.

The only piece missing from the puzzle was distinctive and unmistakable styling that would shed off the car's pick-up truck origins for good. And it would be the third-gen Cadillac Escalade that delivered that in spades.


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