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Big, 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV offers unique experience
Not even major league hockey's shiny, big, Stanley Cup trophy dims the glitzy looks of the 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV.
I know, because I chased down the famous hockey trophy while behind the wheel of an Escalade ESV and got a picture of the two impressive symbols of success next to each other.
The biggest of Cadillac's Escalade sport utility vehicles, with its audacious, shiny grille and huge, 22-inch wheels, the ESV tester made a perfect backdrop for an impromptu photo opportunity with hockey's top prize as it traveled the country with Boston Bruins personnel.
And you better believe that with 403 horses under the hood and good views out over traffic, the tall-riding, powerful Escalade ESV wasn't going to let the revered Stanley Cup make an easy getaway.
With starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $67,030 for a rear-wheel drive model and $69,530 for an all-wheel drive model, the 2011 Escalade ESV is something of a status symbol on its own.
It has starred in dozens of music videos and magazine spreads, graced the driveways of celebrities and professional athletes and became a cult vehicle to its followers.
Competitors include the 2011 Lincoln Navigator L SUV, which has a starting retail price of $60,790 and a 310-horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8, and the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, which starts at $63,445 with 335-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8.
With a larger, 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8, the GL-Class has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $86,175. Four-wheel drive is standard in all GL models.
No competitor has become an icon over the past dozen years the way the showy Escalade has. Indeed, the Escalade's chromed, bold appearance at its market introduction in the 1999 model year gave the SUV segment a fashion jolt.
Today, the Escalade's 22-inch wheels still are installed at the factory, not as part of an aftermarket job. In comparison, the biggest factory wheels on the Navigator and the Mercedes GL are 21-inchers.
Still, in many ways, the Escalade ESV, which is 20.4 inches longer than a regular Escalade and can carry up to eight people, is old-school.
Passengers felt the shuddering and bounce at the four wheels as the suspension of the test Escalade ESV sought to manage the heavy weight of the big wheels over road bumps.
Passengers noticed body motions as the Escalade went through curves.
The only engine is an overhead valve Vortec V-8, not a newer, double overhead cam powerplant.
But it's definitely a throaty workhorse, bestowing a towing capacity of 8,000 pounds to the ESV. This compares with 7,500 pounds for the GL-Class.
Mated to a six-speed automatic, the ESV's V-8 delivers a commendable 417 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm. The power in the test Escalade ESV came on with strong, steady delivery in all driving maneuvers.
But I noticed transmission shift points, and the shifter was a long stalk off the steering column, similar to shift levers in cars in the 1970s.
The Escalade ESV had a tendency to coast when I let up on the accelerator, so I used the brakes to slow down more often than I liked. Some other vehicles today allow more throttle modulation via the accelerator.
And I needed a considerable distance to bring this 6,000-pound vehicle to a stop.
I never saw the federal government's highway mileage rating of 18 mpg in the test ESV model with all-wheel drive, even when I drove all highway and had the vehicle empty of passengers and cargo.
In driving that was 65 percent highway and 35 percent city with passengers inside, I averaged 15.5 mpg.
Thankfully, I didn't have to buy pricey premium gasoline. The ESV has the largest gas tank ' 31 gallons ' of all Escalades, which means a fillup of regular costs more than $110 at today's prices.
Lincoln's Navigator L is 0.4 inch longer, from bumper to bumper, than the Escalade ESV. But there's no complaining about passenger and cargo room inside the ESV.
In the top-level Platinum-trim tester with seats for six ' two in each of the three rows ' everyone had comfortable headroom, legroom and hiproom.
The interior was so quiet, even third-row passengers could converse with everyone without having to speak loudly.
I just wish that the backs of my shoes didn't rub against the carpeted "ledge" that protruded from underneath the third-row seat cushions as I sat back there.
I also prefer third-row seats that fold flat into the floor. In the ESV, they fold and sit above the floor, unless someone hauls them out and leaves them behind.
On the plus side, the ESV had powered equipment to ease entry.
Examples: At the touch of a button, second-row seats folded and moved out of the way to allow third-row passengers to climb inside. Side step rails were power-operated, sliding out when a door opened and sliding back out of sight when the door closed.
There's plentiful safety equipment, too, including six air bags, electronic stability control, traction control and side blind spot alert system.
The standard rearview camera was a godsend, because there was no way for me to see what was directly behind this 6-foot-plus vehicle from the driver's seat.
There have been two safety recalls involving 2011 Escalade ESVs this calendar year. The first, in January, required dealers to replace a cross pin in the rear axle because the pin installed might shift out of position, causing the axle to lock, which could lead to a crash.
The second safety recall, in June, required dealers to ensure that intermediate steering shaft bolts are tightened to specification, so there's no danger of a driver losing steering control.
Consumer Reports put reliability of the Escalade at below average.