LATELY, while pondering a new set of wheels, I'm wrestling with a notion shared by many car shoppers today: Do we buy one last great ride regardless of the gas costs and mileage, sensing that the end of an era is at hand? Or do we give in to the good angel on the shoulder, who whispers that it's not just about us anymore. Decisions like this are now about bigger things: geopolitics, global warming, living within our means.
If you subscribe to the now-or-never side, where better to start than with the redesigned 2007 Escalade, a blingy chariot of fire from Cadillac. This might be the ultimate car for petrosexuals who just can't kick the gas habit, fans of heavy American metal who can't bear the thought of giving up their lusty V8s just because a couple of continents are melting.
Certainly, this car's got plenty of what we once worshipped. A big, Falstaffian front end. Monster tires. Chrome just everywhere. To glide down an L.A. freeway is to share views with UPS drivers and tractor-trailer rigs. Seriously, it feels as though there were a whole 'nother layer of car beneath you -- a rail car perhaps.
Perched on 22-inch Bridgestones, our test vehicle nearly nicked the 7-foot-high beams in The Times employee parking garage. This is an NBA car with NBA height. And though you have to marvel over its Shaq-like girth -- and impeccably bad sense of timing -- there is very much to admire here.
Cadillac sold almost 30,000 of these last year, but that's down 19% from 2004. Large domestic SUVs may be dinosaurs, but the profit per unit is too much for any company to ignore. Seems everyone still makes one.
GM is hoping to retain its 36% share of the luxe truck segment by releasing this restyled, more-aerodynamic 'Slade (believe it or not, the drag coefficient is the same as that of the C4 Corvette). It takes styling cues taken from a concept car from a few years ago, but it's still essentially a Yukon Denali without the 'tude.
And as a Miss America contestant once assured me, "Your attitude determines your altitude."
To this day, I've never forgotten that.
So what will your $66,110 get you? There's the nav system that might be the best around, and a 5.1 Bose Digital Surround Sound system that welcomes DVDs, CDs, MP3s, satellite radio and maybe even those old Tommy James 45s you have stashed in the garage. (Plan on devoting a Sunday afternoon to the sound system's use; its manual reads like the Magna Carta.)
You'll also get push-button comforts galore, including an automated tailgate and second-row seats that jack-knife smoothly out of the way for storage or access to the third row.
At this price point, you could buy a couple of Chrysler Town & Countrys. But then you wouldn't have the Caddy's cool, wraparound fascias, or algorithm technology to prevent rollovers. Or a leaner, more athletic exterior than competitors such as the Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX470 and Range Rover. At night, this thing is as eye-catching as an Armani tux.
The dash is a smoky blend of LED backlighting and white needles over blue light inlays. Gauges and knobs are easy to read without being overwhelming, though the overly designed analog clock seems a bit out of place, particularly because the nav screen shows the time right below.
Finally, Escalade offers a bossy 6.2-liter all-aluminum V8 that glides through its six speeds with barely a sniff. At a little under 3 tons, this minibus reaches 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Careful in reverse though, where a touchy 3.064:1 gear ratio almost turned a neighbor's field-stone fence back into field stones.
A dad's perspective? At the end of a long, cushy weekend with this gizmo-laden beast, I start thinking that maybe I've been wrong about great wealth. Maybe I've overestimated the moral and spiritual damage it can do and underestimated the comfort it can bring. The Escalade lets you live ... well ... large. Much too large. But it lets you live well.
Silent glide to bumpy ride
BUT how does it handle, you ask? Climb in. Adjust your individual climate control. Crank up the chillers in the seats. Sit back, we'll take it across Los Angeles' smooth surfaces, a city so proud of its precious topography that they've paved the riverbed.
Down the 405 we go. Even in a vehicle with a great sound system, it's sometimes nice to turn off the stereo -- that's right, they do turn off -- roll up the windows and revel in the road sounds, the rush-hush of tires on pavement, the soft breathing of wind against glass. It can also be a quick test of how well a vehicle is made.
At 70 mph, the Escalade is so library quiet that you can barely hear the engine -- there's not a rattle, squeak or clunk to be heard in the cavernous cabin. It's a remarkable quiet for such a heavy vehicle.