Who would have thought that Cadillac would be offering a vehicle with a pickup bed? Old-time Cadillac enthusiasts are probably turning over in their graves. The Cadillac Escalade EXT is a first for the company, and it's another addition to the growing number of crossover/hybrid vehicles that are becoming increasingly popular.

The Escalade EXT is basically Cadillac's version of the Chevrolet Avalanche. However, there are several distinct differences that give the EXT a definite Cadillac flair. Similar to the Avalanche, the EXT is built on the same chassis as the Suburban and shares many of the Suburban's traits and features. The vehicle also uses the Midgate system, which converts the EXT from a five-passenger deluxe hauler into a pickup-style truck with a full 8-foot bed. That type of versatility is what makes the EXT so unique, and like the Avalanche, sets it apart from other sport utilities.

The Escalade EXT comes standard with a 6.0L powerplant, the same engine found in Cadillac's Escalade. This powerhouse provides a whopping 345 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, the most power of any stock SUV currently being offered. That engine is mated to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. That hard-hitting power combination makes for one quick truck.

In our SUV of the Year testing, as reported in the last issue of Truckin's SUV, the Escalade EXT blasted down the quarter-mile in 16.48 seconds at 85 mph, the second quickest (only the Escalade performed better) of the 10 vehicles tested. During that same performance testing, it also went from 0 to 60 mph in a very quick 9.84 seconds.

The Escalade EXT has a number of features that make it distinctly Cadillac, which sets it apart from its sister truck, the Avalanche. These include some exterior styling cues, such as its bold grille up front sporting the newly redesigned and prominent Cadillac crest, a color-keyed roof rack with chrome accents, color-keyed running boards with chrome accent, heated power side mirrors, stylish 17-inch wheels, and that large, stylish Cadillac crest again on the tailgate.

Inside, it's pure Cadillac comfort. For entertainment, there's a Bose 200-watt stereo system with a six-disc CD changer, heated power seats, a programmable driver seat, first-class leather seating surfaces, rear parking assist, a driver information center, and GM's OnStar roadside-assistance feature. These features are in addition to a comfortable environment that seats five people and converts quickly and easily into a full pickup bed cargo hauler.

During our SUV of the Year testing, we had a chance to explore the Escalade EXT's capabilities and nuances. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the testing process and the fact that we had nine other vehicles to test, we did not get as much seat time in the vehicle as we would have liked. Recently, however, we spent a full week with the vehicle, putting more than 500 miles on its odometer, fully appreciating what the EXT had to offer.

Having spent plenty of seat time in the Avalanche (mainly in our Project Avalanche that graced our Apr. '02 cover), we were anxious to test out the EXT to check out the differences and the similarities. After driving the vehicle, one of the first items we noticed that sets the EXT apart is its ride quality. This vehicle definitely has a plush Cadillac feel on the road. The suspension setup is somewhat different from the Avalanche -- it uses road-sensing, electronically controlled shocks. This road-sensing suspension system produces optimum body and wheel damping in virtually all driving conditions by independently adjusting the damper setting at each corner of the vehicle and responding in real time. The overall effect is a smooth and comfortable ride without losing the feel of the road.

Another area of the Escalade EXT that immediately caught our attention was the vehicle's exterior styling cues. While it still features the quirky styling of the Avalanche, the EXT is more cultured and smoothed out. The body cladding, unlike the Avalanche, is color-keyed to the vehicle and is shiny and smooth, unlike the Chevy's rough, gray texture. The bold and stylish grille up front definitely makes a statement, as does the large Cadillac crest adorning the front and the rear of the vehicle. The overall effect is a rugged, unique look (like the Avalanche) with Cadillac sophistication.

The interior design and amenities are also pure Cadillac. Little touches, such as the stylish gauge cluster found in the Escalade, the retro clock, the quality leather seating using the Cadillac crest, the Bose stereo, and more, set the EXT apart from the Avalanche and mark its distinction. After a week of driving the vehicle, we came to appreciate what the Cadillac engineers were able to accomplish with this platform. Just as the Cadillac Escalade is far different in style and feel from the GMC Denali, so is the EXT from the Avalanche.