Ironically, the big image boost Cadillac worked so hard to achieve in the 1990s came not from a car but a truck, the first in Cadillac history. This was the 1999 Cadillac Escalade, an upscale clone of the already posh Yukon Denali sport-utility wagon from sibling division GMC.
The 1999 Cadillac Escalade was an answer to the success of Lincoln's Navigator SUV. Sales of full-size sport-utility vehicles were growing faster in the late 1990s than those of compact and midsize SUVs.
The 1999 Cadillac Escalade included the Cadillac-style grille and interior trim, and which used real wood and the same leather found in Cadillac passenger cars.
Power for the 1999 Cadillac Escalade Power came from a 255-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8 engine that drove a four-speed automatic transmission. AutoTrac four-wheel drive could be used on dry pavement, and the 1999 Cadillac Escalade was capable of towing up to 6500 pounds.
The 1999 Cadillac Escalade accelerated to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, about mid-field for luxury models. However, the 1999 Cadillac Escalade weighed a hefty 5,500 pounds and felt sluggish, especially when attempting to pass on the highway. Excess weight also hurt fuel economy. Consumer Guide's test 1999 Cadillac Escalade averaged only 11.2 mpg.
The 1999 Cadillac Escalade wasn't as quiet or comfortable as a luxury sedan. Ride and handling were subpar by any measure, with mediocre suppression of harsh impacts and a ponderous feel through turns. Stopping power was satisfactory, but the brake pedal felt mushy.
The 1999 Cadillac Escalade had more standard features than GMC's Denali, including a wood-rimmed steering wheel and a new version of GM's OnStar satellite-based information and emergency-assistance system.
The Cadillac-grade leather upholstery gave the 1999 Cadillac Escalade a rich feel inside. But an abundance of hard plastic interior panels and parts-bin switchgear gave the Escalade's cabin an ambiance closer to a GM truck than a luxury automobile.
The front bucket seats of the 1999 Cadillac Escalade were too soft and flat for optimum comfort. Lack of a powered backrest recliner and automatic climate control were telltale omissions for a vehicle in this $50,000-price category.
The front cabin was spacious, with enough room in back for three adults without crowding. Lincoln's Navigator, however, could seat as many as eight. Tall interior step-in and surprisingly narrow rear-door bottoms made getting in and out of the 1999 Cadillac Escalade's back seat a problem.
At the rear was a drop-down tailgate teamed with swing-up glass. Cargo space was generous, even with the rear seatback in use. Plenty of storage bins and cubbyholes gave space for miscellaneous items.
Cadillac execs were publicly baffled, but privately delighted, as sports heroes, recording artists, and a few movie stars made the "'Slade" their ride of choice, often customized with gold trim and outsized wheels. Despite such debatable alterations -- or maybe because of them -- the Escalade made it cool again to own a Cadillac.
For more information on Cadillac, see:
- Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
- Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
- 1980-1989 Cadillac: America's top luxury brand was in crises in the 1980s. Learn about how it weathered the storm.
- 2000-2008 Cadillac: Discover how bold design, big power, and an SUV fuel a Cadillac comeback.