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Cadillac Escalade Evolution Pt 1: The Initial Assault

Cadillac's first luxury SUV ends up being a runaway success.

For a firm made famous by its gargantuan, chrome-embellished land yachts from the post-World War II days, you’d have thought that Cadillac would have taken up the luxury Sports Utility Vehicle far sooner than it did. Instead, Cadillac was relatively late to that party. By the late 1990s, Lincoln had already entered the marketplace with its truck-based Navigator, and Land Rover was already working on the third generation of its iconic Range Rover.

Even Jeep had beaten Cadillac to the plush SUV market as early as the 1960s, with its Super Wagoneer (the granddaddy of today’s Jeep Grand Cherokee). Given how lucrative this market was becoming, Cadillac quickly realised that it had a gap in its line-up that needed filling ASAP.

So, using parent company General Motors’ Yukon Denali pick-up as a base, Cadillac brought to the market its first ever SUV in 1999: the mighty Escalade. The interior furnishings were also to the standard you’d expect for a car that cost nearly $50,000 at the turn of the century. Yes, it won’t blow anyone’s minds by today’s standards, but having big leather seats, climate control, and a button that could be mapped to open an automated garage door were all pretty big selling points in 1999. Other features of the first generation Cadillac Escalade, though, hold up to far better scrutiny against 2015 criteria.

The brakes, for instance, had a good amount of bite and a pleasant linearity to the pedal – aspects that some modern car makers still struggle to get right. Likewise, the supple suspension gave the Escalade a ride quality that could better what some high-end executive sedans of that period could offer, and the overall noise insulation is still fairly good by today’s standards. The ‘OnStar’ system that adjusted the Escalade’s four-wheel drive system was also pretty impressive for the time, though don’t go thinking this suddenly turned the big Caddy into some sort of Baja brawler – though it could lend itself to a wee bit of off-roading.

The Escalade was far better suited to life on the tarmac, especially around the city centres that so many Escalades spend a majority of their lives traversing. All in all, this (along with many more positive attributes) put Cadillac in a pretty good place in the luxury SUV class. Despite being a first attempt, the first-gen Escalade could comfortably hold its own amongst its peers like the aforementioned Lincoln Navigator. In fact, quite a few critics back in the day reckoned it was one of the better luxury SUVs you could buy at the time – which was very impressive, considering Cadillac had no prior experience of building a car like this.

It’s odd, then, that Cadillac didn’t keep the first-generation Escalade in production for that long. After a brief crossover foray between the two millenniums, the original Escalade would be phased out, leaving Cadillac without a model that could exploit the lucrative luxury SUV market. Thankfully, it wouldn’t be long until a new and even more luxurious Escalade emerged, and firmly establish the profitable SUV’s place in the Cadillac pecking order for the foreseeable future.

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