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2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle

MSRP Range: $50,780 - $55,805

Invoice Range: $46,464 - $51,062
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: $55,370

Versions: ESV, EXT

Vehicle Category: Full-size, Luxury, Sport Utility Vehicle

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: All-Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 6-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, V8, 345-hp at 5,200 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm

Transmission As Tested: 4-Speed Automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 12/16

Standard Safety Features: Driver and Front Passenger, front and side airbags, power 4-wheel disc brakes, Antilock Braking System, Traction Control

Competition: 2003 Acura MDX, 2003 Chevrolet Suburban, 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe, 2003 Lexus RX 300, 2003 Lincoln Navigator, 2003 Mercedes-Benz M-Class, 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser

DALLAS, Tex. -- Crowds of spectators filing through the vast automotive exhibition building at the Texas State Fair in Dallas could observe in the collection of 2003 Cadillac cars and wagons something entirely new -- and really big.

Standing taller and stretching longer than all other vehicles in the exhibit, the new Cadillac Escalade ESV four-door wagon represents the largest and strongest luxury sport-utility vehicle in the world -- and the biggest Cadillac ever built.

Cadillac's new grand wagon measures even larger than full-size Escalade.

In fact, its length exceeds Escalade by 22 inches, and there's about 20 inches of extra space applied lengthwise at the rear of the cavernous cabin.

Call this one the super-size SUV as it compares to Chevrolet's Suburban in half-ton 1500 series but with all of Escalade's lavish features plus some class-capping muscle.

It also develops the highest gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) and top trailer tow numbers.

With the Escalade badge applied, new ESV adopts the line's forceful and dramatic styling as well as the overwhelming muscle of Escalade's V8 powertrain.

And packed aboard that boxy structure you'll find every conceivable mechanical weapon for serious road combat, along with every convenience in a leather-wrapped cabin that cradles seven or eight riders in the lap of luxury.

With such high horsepower, so many mechanical features and so much gear for comfort and luxury, one might logically describe this expanded treatment of Escalade as the Cadillac of sport-utility vehicles, but its grille and all four wheels already wear the laurel wreath and crest of Cadillac.

ESV totes Escalade's 6.0-liter V8 that produces 345-hp at 5,200 rpm plus 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm -- the best power numbers of any sport-ute, save for the same in full-size Escalade and a truck variation dubbed Escalade EXT.

The engine is strong enough to propel almost three tons of hunky steel from a stoplight start to the mark of 60 mph in less than nine seconds.

To translate all of that torque into propulsion, the engine employs a heavy-duty GM Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission.

Then the power is applied to all four wheels through an all-wheel-drive (AWD) mechanism that's constantly engaged.

A magnesium-clad transfer case with viscous coupling distributes the torque between front and rear axles to maintain tire traction through varying pavement conditions.

On dry pavement, the device directs 38 percent of the power to the front axle and 62 percent to the rear. Yet slippage of any wheel on wet or icy pavement prompts the system to redirect the power away from the axle of the slipping wheel in favor of the other axle where wheels have a better grip.

All of this torque distribution is instant and automatic, as there are no levers to lock or buttons to switch in order to keep it working.

Also automatic is the continuously-variable road-sensing suspension (RSS) damping and air-leveling shock absorbers for precise ride control. And Cadillac's StabiliTrak is also aboard. The computerized stability control system integrates the variable RSS with throttle response, steering force, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and input from sensors that detect lateral as well as linear slippage of the vehicle.

It can actually think and act automatically to correct potentially disruptive vehicle movements.

Further, Cadillac's Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist (URPA) uses audio and visual signals as an aid when parking to warn about objects in the wagon's rearward path. As the wagon moves closer to a solid object, the device adjusts the visual and audio signals to indicate closer proximity.

Premium communications gear appears as standard or optional equipment on ESV, including OnStar telecommunications, a Bose audio system and a DVD-based Panasonic video kit for rear seat riders as well as the subscription-based XM satellite radio service with coast-to-coast reception through a hundred digital channels.

Package styling, borrowed from Escalade, focuses on an aggressive face: A thick but flat bumper and glimmering square headlamp clusters with stacked lamps behind polycarbonate lenses for high intensity discharge (HID) lamps flanking an egg-crate grille that reflects bright chrome and bears the crest of Cadillac in the center.

Sharp lines on body panels that follow the face also look serious, with a thick monochrome slab of armor low at the sides and wheelwells flared around big all-season tires ringing shiny seven-spoke aluminum wheels.

It's definitely a bold look for a humongous sport-utility vehicle, but that's the point.

At the stubby tail with a flip-up cargo door there's a functional step bumper underscoring the hatch with an integrated Class VII trailer hitch.

Standard equipment includes a Trailer Towing Package with a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds -- enough to haul a rig loaded with two horses.

Of course, deluxe gear and luxurious comforts are laced throughout the vast ESV cabin. Three rows of leather-clad seats provide room for seven riders plus generous cargo space in the rear bay.

Up front, plush tailored-looking buckets are clad in soft and luxurious leather. Seats move under power to ten different positions for custom adjustments, including side bolsters and lumbar plus seatback recliners. There are internal heat elements to fire seatbacks and cushions independently in three different settings, plus driver's seat memory for two positions along with a programmable exit feature.

On the second row, the standard configuration installs twin reclining bucket seats with heated cushions, yet a three-person bench seat is optional. Seatbacks for buckets fold forward and also the seats flip forward to expand the cargo bay. Seatback for ESV's bench on the third row also folds flat or the bench can be removed. With second and third row seatbacks folded down, the vast cargo floor easily holds items as large as 4x8-foot sheets of building materials with the tailgate shut.

MSRP for Escalade ESV tallies to $55,370, with limited options, such as a sunroof ($1,389), chrome wheels ($597) and the DVD-based video entertainment gear ($1,161).