It's Time To Confess My Irrational Love For The 2002 Cadillac Escalade

Illustration for article titled Its Time To Confess My Irrationalem/em Love For The 2002 Cadillac Escalade

The first Cadillac Escalade came out in 1999, and it was a bland, pointless Lincoln Navigator competitor that was basically indistinguishable from a GMC Yukon Denali. But the Escalade’s first revision, with its chunky fender flares and face like a knight’s helmet, remains a glorious moment for luxury SUVs.

There’s an old Escalade parked outside my window right now. In black, the perfect color. I’m currently hanging out in a fancy neighborhood, in 2018, and the 16-odd year old SUV looks every bit at home, like a cutscene from a teen movie. The only detraction from its magnificence is an artful stroke of yellow paint in the right rear quarter, undoubtedly from a mall parking garage incident, which is what might passes for “patina” in an alternate universe where Alicia Silverstone is our generation’s Steve McQueen.

The second generation Escalade was built on the GMT800 platform shared by the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, both of which were much more rounded and, [shudder] the Hummer H2, which was and remains an abomination I wish we could all forget. There were couple powertrain configurations but any Escalante without a 6.0-liter Vortec V8 and all-wheel drive wouldn’t be worth waxing poetic about.


I dig the goofy half-truck Escalade EXT and longbox ESV too, but the ‘Slade’s real pièce de résistance came in 2004 when it introduced heated and cooled cupholders. God, I fantasize about such decadence all the time. Maybe I should just find one of these to buy.

GM claimed that enormous V8 engine made 345 horsepower, which you wouldn’t think would feel like much hooked up to a four-speed automatic and a 5,500 pound car, but nine seconds is a perfectly reasonable about of time to get to 60 mph as long as you’re fabulous enough to be flying in an Escalade.

“I’ll business that business to you right away, Mr. Business! Pleasure doing computer with you.”
“I’ll business that business to you right away, Mr. Business! Pleasure doing computer with you.”

Fuel economy was, of course, a “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” proposition. Luckily, if you were doing business in the back of your Escaladay, you most certainly could afford all the gasoline you and your truck-based luxury car could drink.


But the Escalade was never about numbers or objective performance. This was art on wheels; a monolith tantamount to Egyptian pyramids. Just as gaudy, only slightly heavier.

We jest that near-past nostalgia can’t wait to consume us and it’s weird to consider a design from 2002 “classic” but I really do think the second gen Escalade is quintessential SUV opulence from an era when gas was cheap, bling was in and Cadillacs still looked good with wreaths. More so than the Hummer.

I can smell the plastic and cash money from here.
I can smell the plastic and cash money from here.

There’s a reason “Escalade” is the only Cadillac nameplate that survived the company’s Great Numerating, even if it is an absurd and weird word–the people selling these things know they got it right the first time. Er, second time.


The new Escalade is fine, I guess. But I actually do think the most luxurious GMT800 will be remembered as a classic. At least, if we end up with a future where outlet malls are imagined as religiously significant.

Shoot, I’m talking myself into it, I kind of want to buy one now. See you at Litwood.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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Ash78, voting early and often

My kids have a game called “Escalade on stock wheels” where they punch each other if they see one.

It’s how I promote non-violence in my family.