2008 Cadillac Escalade Performance
This performance review was written when the 2008 Cadillac Escalade was new.
Test drivers find the 2008 Cadillac Escalade to be an able performer that offers a smooth ride, V8 power and handling in line with its size. Motor Week says the Escalade offers a "driving experience that's as close to a premium luxury sedan as any SUV we've ever tried."
The Escalade comes standard with a V8 engine, rear wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission that is popular with reviewers. A wide stance and auto-sensing suspension keep the ride smooth, but during test drives reviewers noticed the Escalade's size means the SUV demands the driver's attention.
Despite the Escalade's size and the extra attention it requires, Cadillac engineers have done their best to make driving it as easy as possible. MSN notes that "general handling and maneuverability in traffic are very good. The Escalade is easy to handle, although a first-time driver might initially be intimidated by its size." The Sacramento Bee adds "While it looks as big as a tank, the Escalade is actually pretty easy to drive, and you quickly become comfortable behind the wheel."
Though the Escalade's engine offers plenty of power, the Escalade is tuned for comfort, not sport driving. The Car Connection says the engine "in our test vehicle never struggled, even on the most aggressive hill climbs." Even with all that power, the Boston Globe notes that "the ride was velvet-smooth, even sitting high in almost three tons of car." Though Car and Driver says the Escalade is nimble for its class, they add, "we're talking agility distinctions among members of a herd of elephants." Still they found the handling and ride in the Escalade "taut but supple, with less of the up-and-down motion of the previous generation, which adds up to a stronger sense of control."
Acceleration and Power
The 2008 Cadillac Escalade comes with a 6.2-liter Vortec V8 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Edmunds reports that the powerplant "provides tremendous acceleration for a vehicle that weighs about 5,500 pounds." Most reviewers agree and note that though this is the same engine in the GMC Denali, it has been tuned to make more horsepower in the Escalade. All of that power gets put to good use. Motor Trend says "A Pontiac Solstice, which tips the scales with under half as many pounds, isn't even as quick."
As popular as the engine is, many reviewers agree with Autobytel who says "The highlight of the drivetrain has to be the smoothness of the transmission." New Car Test Drive says it "shifts imperceptibly except during full-throttle acceleration." Edmunds notes that "with six gears in the transmission, there is always a surge of power underfoot for swift passing and merging maneuvers." The transmission also has a manual shift option, which the Boston Globe says "will be a useful feature for those who do heavy towing and want to do their own shifting."
The only major complaint about the Escalade's power plant is the gas mileage. The 2008 Cadillac Escalade gets an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 12 miles per gallon in the city and 19 miles per gallon on the highway for the 2WD model, and 12/18 city/highway for the 4WD model. The Detroit Free Press says of the Escalade, "[O]ddly, it does not offer the variable-displacement system available on the lesser Tahoe that shuts down four of the cylinders under part throttle to save on gas," though research indicates that that feature should be available on 2009 models. About.com quips that with high gas prices, "It's a good thing that the Cadillac looks good parked -- that may be the only way to enjoy a big SUV in the near future," and Car and Driver adds " If we were paying for the gas in this gourmand, we'd be grinding our way through our fourth or fifth set of dentures right now." Still, Cars.com puts the Escalade's fuel economy into the context of the buyer: "That being said, if a person can afford a loaded Escalade with a $65,000 sticker, the price of fuel is probably not going to be an issue, not even at $3 a gallon. That's why I'm not afraid to recommend this."
Handling and Braking
For such a large and heavy SUV, the 2008 Cadillac Escalade handles well. Car and Driver says "The Escalade irons out unruly patches of pavement without resorting to the mushy suspension tuning that still afflicts so many big SUVs, and the steering actually lets the driver know what's going on." The good (for its size) handling is due to an improved suspension and wider wheel base that give the Escalade a sure grip on the road and a smooth ride in the cabin. Edmunds says, "Tuned for a luxurious ride, the Escalade makes no pretense at being sporty. The handling is composed, but this truck's reflexes are muted." U.S. News' own Rick Newman is more critical, however: "Handling is Caddyesque, soft and floaty, and the heavy vehicle lumbers into corners in a way that makes you want to keep your foot on the brake, not the gas."
The ride is enhanced by a road sensing suspension that uses a computer to give real-time dampening of bumps and ruts. CNET likes the system and notes, "the Escalade is by no means a spirited handler, but body roll is minimal, and even with the dubs, rough pavement is taken in stride." Edmunds says "aimed for the horizon on an interstate, there aren't many better cruisers, as the ride is notably quiet and the supple suspension smothers the bumps without feeling sloppy when the turns come up"
Though the base Escalade is rear wheel drive, all wheel drive models are available, and the Escalade ESV comes with all wheel drive standard. Reviewers agreed that all wheel drive increased the Escalade's handling abilities, and that the extra-long wheel base of the ESV made for an even smoother ride. Handling is further impacted by optional 22-inch tires and wheels. Though reviewers think the large chrome wheels make a great fashion statement, despite Cadillac's best efforts, the sheer size of the wheels negatively impacts handling. Thenotes "those oversized radials don't deliver pinpoint handling. Expect wide swing in turns."
The Escalade offers plenty of braking power for secure and controlled stops, a major concern in an SUV this large. While reviewers think earlier models of the Escalade fell short in the braking department, they are pleased with the 2008 model. The Detroit Free Press says, "the brakes are bigger, thanks to those larger wheels and tires, and it's something you notice almost immediately -- with gratitude." Autobytel adds "The brake pedal features excellent feel and modulation." Despite the power offered by the brakes, the Escalade is still one of the heaviest SUVs on the market so "don't expect quick, short stops," cautions Cars.com.
While few reviewers had a chance to hook a trailer up to their Escalades, many noted that the Escalade can handle pulling heavy loads. The transmission has a manual shift mode that the Boston Globe says "will be a useful feature for those who do heavy towing and want to do their own shifting." The Auto Channel agrees, and adds " It takes nearly a second-and-a-half from the time you tell it to shift before it finally obeys the command. I suppose this manual mode is not for sporting purposes, rather one might need it more for towing."
Towing, reports Car and Driver, is the most popular use for the 2008 Escalade in their long-term test fleet. Though the Escalade has a powerful towing capacity, all that pulling negatively impacts the Escalade's already poor fuel economy. "The Escalade gets such poor fuel economy with a trailer behind it for the same reasons it performs so well at the same task," they explain. "In tow-and-haul mode, the six-speed automatic delays upshifts to make the most of the power band and downshifts early to maximize engine braking. Although it guzzles fuel, the 6.2-liter V-8's 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque feel as if they could tug a welterweight Caterham or two on top of the Slade's 7700-pound tow rating."