Fifty years from now, cultural historians trying to understand the twilight years of the gas-guzzling SUV will ask themselves a series of questions: What were auto companies thinking when they created enormous cars with enormous engines that were destined for a life of traffic jams? What was the target customer-segment for these beasts of the road that were seemingly designed without the slightest regard for prevailing environmental or geopolitical circumstances? If these historians had to choose one vehicle as a typical case study in this endeavor, they could not start with a more suitable candidate than the 2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT. Pickup trucks have migrated from being utilitarian vehicles to being passenger cars: the majority of Toyota Tundras and Ford F150s we see on the roads are used for nothing more strenuous than the odd trip to The Home Depot. But the EXT is a particularly egregious example of excess.
With all-wheel drive and a monstrous 6.2-liter engine, the EXT could theoretically be used to haul around stacks of 50-gallon drums or tow manual log splitters. For outdoorsy types, there's even the option of an "open-air driving experience" with the release of the midgate panel behind the rear seats. But with a leather- and wood-trimmed interior, a bevy of multimedia cabin features, and enough chrome to make you squint, the EXT declares its true comfort-focused mission.
High-tech from high-up
Climbing into the driver's seat of the EXT, the first thing you notice is how high you sit above the rest of the road-going public. Visibility is good in all directions thanks to the EXT's tall stance and its pickup-truck design incorporating a removable glass rear windscreen. Our EXT came with the Information Package, which equipped it with an integrated navigational system and CD/DVD player. Like the 2006 Cadillac STS-V we reviewed recently, the EXT features a three-way tilting, in-dash LCD screen for navigation and audio control.
Cadillac's navigational systems have generally impressed us to date, and the unit in the 2007 Escalade EXT proved to be no exception. We found the interface easy to program, with the option to enter destinations by an address, a cross street, or a phone number. The Points of Interest (POI) database was well stocked--over 50 restaurant categories were listed, for example--and easy to navigate because of the integration of one-touch scrolling, which enabled us to get through long menus without having to tap the screen repeatedly. The scroll feature is also available to negotiate the bright onscreen map when manually programming a destination using the movable crosshair. The EXT's navigational system does not incorporate text-to-voice technology to read out street names, but the voice guidance is conversational, natural, and among the least robotic we've heard.
One feature that particularly impressed us was the intuitive means of adding a stopover on the way to a destination. With minimum effort, we were able to enter a waypoint into our journey without any major disruption of the original route--something that we were not able to do so easily with the navigational system in the 2007 Lexus LS 460L that we took to the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show last week. Another couple of features that we like on the EXT's navigational system are the Turn List and Route Preview functions. Turn List enables drivers to see a list of turn-by-turn text directions and to select a preference to avoid certain roads or turns before even setting out. Route Preview is a related function that we first saw in our review of the Eclipse AVN6600 head unit: it enables drivers to take a virtual journey to a selected destination by following the progress of the animated crosshair over a map of the chosen route.
Advanced music navigation
Also ranking high in the tech spectrum is the EXT's audio system. The eight-speaker Bose surround sound system with digital sound processing delivers a rich audio output, but we were more impressed by the interface for navigating digital files. The standard audio system is comprised of a six-disc in-dash CD changer that can read both MP3 and WMA files. The in-dash LCD screen provides full, clear ID3-tag information for homemade digital audio files--a feature that will delight digital audiophiles.
Our favorite feature of the EXT's audio system is its music navigational interface for selecting digital audio tracks and folders. To enable the music navigator, users must scan their MP3 or WMA discs--a process that takes up to 10 minutes, depending on the number of files on a disc. This is time well spent, however, as once all of the information is read, users can search their discs by folder, artist, or album, according to their preference. In addition, the music navigator features one-touch scrolling for long lists of music files and is one of the most sophisticated and intuitive music-navigation functions we've seen to date.
Hands-free calling is available in the Cadillac EXT, and can even be operated using a touch screen keypad. However, phone calls can be made only via GM's OnStar telematics service, and the system has no means of connecting to Bluetooth-enabled phones.