It seems strange that Cadillac's decision a few years ago to produce SUVs seemed like a risky venture. The Escalade has become an icon - it is the archetype luxury SUV, the one all the others have to contend with if they are to become king of the mountain. Cadillac took the idea of a luxury SUV to a new level, and made it the status symbol of choice for rap stars, actors, and athletes. The Escalade is no longer just a single vehicle. Now it's a line of vehicles: the Escalade, the Escalade EXT, and, most recently, the Escalade ESV.

Like the other Escalades in the line, this SUV is also powered by the 345hp, 380 lb-ft high-output version of the 6.0L Vortec engine. This is the most powerful engine you can get in any SUV (it has more horsepower than any other SUV, even though the engine in the 3/4-ton Suburban and Avalanche has more torque), and is backed by a Hydra-Matic 4L60-E HD electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Everyone loved the amount of power this engine provides, and felt the engine worked well in this vehicle. Balancing out the sheer power of this vehicle are extensive safety features, including a fully boxed frame with hydroformed rails, dual-stage airbags with GM's Passenger Sensing System, full-time all-wheel drive, StabiliTrak, and ABS.

The Escalade ESV is an extended version of the Escalade - it's 22 inches longer than the standard model. This expands the length of the interior by more than 20 inches, which makes the cargo area bigger and gives rear-seat passengers more legroom. The judges were pleasantly surprised with the comfort of the third row seating in the ESV, as well as the volume of space in the cargo area, in all of its configurations. Not only is the interior roomy, but it has a level of elegance that surpasses even other Cadillacs. Cadillac wanted the ESV's interior to use materials, lines, and colors that were inspired by Italian design, and the result was a tasteful, luxurious interior. While admiring the comfortable cabin, we also appreciated the Cadillac's cushy ride, which came courtesy of a torsion bar front suspension and a five-linkcoil-spring rear, with automatic air-leveling.

Cadillac designed the Escalade ESV to look similar to the Escalade and Escalade EXT, but with its own exterior attributes. The ESV shares the aggressive front end with the other two vehicles, and has HID daytime running headlights. This may be a luxury vehicle, but its towing ability should not be ignored. The Escalade ESV can tow as much as 7,400 pounds, and has recessed tow hooks up front and a Class VII trailer hitch in the rear, hiding under the step bumper.

One of the nicest attributes of this SUV is that not only does it bear the trademark wreath and crest, but it is a Cadillac through and through: it is large American luxury, with a high-horsepower engine and a great sounding exhaust, a very smooth ride, and an interior that is both luxurious and comfortable. Along with the amenities that make it a Caddy, though, are functions that also make it a great SUV: plenty of room for passengers and cargo, all-wheel drive, and great towing capacity. For those that are ready to hit the highway in style, the Escalade ESV is ideal.

Base Price: $56,160
Price As Tested: $59,000 (est.)
Engine: 6.0L OHV high-output V-8
Horsepower: 345 hp at 5,200 rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Suspension: Independent, torsion bars (front); five-link, coil springs, automatic air-leveling (rear)
Brakes: ABS disc (front & rear)
4WD/Transmission: Full-time AWD with open differential transfer case and StabiliTrak/Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 130.0 in
Length: 219.3 in
Width: 78.9 in
Height: 75.7 in
Curb Weight: 5,839 lb
Towing Capacity: 7,400 lb
Fuel Economy (city/highway): 12/16 mpg