Conestoga wagons still trundle across Texas on 22-inch wheels, packed to their square corners with people and cherished possessions. Like suntan lotion and those chairs that come in bags and big blue Igloo coolers full of my son-in-law’s odd beer. And hot-dog buns and junk food, of course.
We were beach-bound in an SUV so big that the people way in back resided in a different ZIP code.
Well, maybe not. But the first time I stood next to the towering 2013 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum, I wondered if the air was cooler up there on top than it was at ground level with the Democrats.
And could you maybe hang-glide off that thing? Probably not.
But the old-school Escalade kind of straddles two recent automotive eras.
Restyled five years ago, when gas was $2.50 a gallon and hamburgers were half-pound slabs, the behemoth Escalade reflects the tail end of an era when everything American got bigger – houses, couch-potato kids, dogs, significant others.
Moreover, the ’Slade is built ’50s-style on a heavy ladder frame at the GM Assembly Plant in Arlington, Texas.
But the pearl-white ESV I had recently still looked pretty 21st-century brash and blingy with its unusual vertical headlamps, sharply creased fenders and over-the-top grille — elements you see in the Cadillac CTS and SRX.
We could call it conflicted, I suppose. But I came to view it as Texas Giant, the wildcatter’s enormous station wagon.
At first glance, almost nothing about the Escalade ESV makes much sense in this lean, less-is-less period we’re in now.
The ESV is the stretched “Suburban” edition of the Escalade, and it’s longer than a State of the Union speech.
Like all Cadillacs, mine wore an exaggerated silver chain-looking grille up front with a huge Caddy crest in the center.
The Escalade also still sports those cheesy fake vents on the front fenders that could have been plucked straight off the shelf at Pep Boys.
But its slab sides looked mighty right with the big vertical head- and taillamps, and the big 22-inch chrome wheels shod with 285/45 tires gave the beast proportion.
It casts a pretty fine shadow, I thought – and I don’t care much for lumbering old SUVs.
If you’re altitude-challenged, by the way, you open the door and wait for the running board to automatically extend before jumping on it Elliot Ness-style and hauling yourself inside.
It’s worth the theatrics. Cadillac is getting to be as good with interiors as anyone in the luxury segment.
In the ESV, three rows of seats – buckets in front and back, and a smallish bench way back – were stitched in rich brown Tehama leather.
Likewise, its large dashboard was covered in brown leather with stitching on the edges. The dash rolled crisply over a broad band of polished olive ash and walnut burl trim.
Real aluminum covered the center stack and broad console, and the upper door panels were stitched in the same dark-brown leather as was on the dash.
Meanwhile, the lower dash and lower door panels were formed in matching light-tan plastic.
It was a nice place to rest after the climb in – and an interior fit for something with a window sticker of $83,540.
As you can probably imagine, leg- and headroom were more than adequate in the second-row seats, and I fit pretty comfortably into the bench seat in back.
All Escalades come equipped with a 403-horsepower version of Chevy and GM’s 6.2-liter V-8, mated in the ’Slade to a six-speed automatic.
The engine and nice interior give the Caddy some character that’s missing in Tahoes and Yukons. In fact, I think the over-the-top Escalade has aged better than either of its more reasonably priced cousins.
With nearly three tons to haul around, the burbling sweetheart of a V-8 in the Escalade works hard, but it generally felt plenty adequate.
Below 50 mph, the Escalade was smooth and fairly strong, pushing passengers gently into the seat under acceleration.
Above that, though, the engine must work against massive bulk and aerodynamics similar to those of a billboard.
The result is a middling 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway. Motor Trend estimates that the Escalade ESV will accelerate to 60 in a highly impressive 6.5 seconds, but the one I had didn’t feel quite that fast.
Nonetheless, once you get accustomed to the ESV’s height and length, it’s fairly easy to drive in moderate traffic. (Cutting and lane-jumping are not its strengths.)
The steering was too light and overly boosted, but it was precise enough that I had no difficulty keeping Giant between the lines on Interstate 45.
On smooth pavement, it rolled confidently down the road, happy to cruise all day at 80 as long as there was a gas station on the horizon.
But uneven pavement or potholes exposed its sturdy truck DNA, causing the ’Slade to crash down hard enough to elicit that harsh body-on-frame squirm you get in big pickups.
That squirm also served as a reminder that the Escalade’s burly chassis could facilitate towing 7,600 pounds — or, say, your neighbors’ Toyota Camry and Honda Accord chained together.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t even bother trying to get a taste of Giant’s, uh, handling. Let’s just say it was highly limited.
And while I trusted its reasonably strong brakes, I always gave people in front of me some distance.
So is it really excessive? Absolutely, and almost as expensive as a night in New York with The Donald.
But once you really load it with sort-of adults and kids and luggage and food, excessive starts to look like hugely capable.