By on July 15, 2003

 Driving in the US state of Rhode Island is like being in a Mad Max movie. All lanes are passing lanes. Road rage is a given. Serious accidents are everywhere. To say you take your life in your hands is misleading. In fact, you put your life in the hands of madmen, fools and incompetents; drivers who alternate between homicidal and suicidal tendencies. To avoid the endless threat to life and limb, skill is not enough. You need luck, bravery, caffeine and a Cadillac Escalade.

Despite the Escalade's epic dimensions— six feet high and 16.5 feet long— its protection against the slings and bumpers of outrageous driving has nothing to do with the acres of sheet metal adorning its body-on-frame chassis. Like all SUV's, the Escalade is a truck. It's exempt from US automotive safety legislation, which mandates life-saving technology like passenger safety cells. Bottom line: when push comes to crash, you're at least as safe in a medium-sized German saloon. If not more. Lest we forget, the Escalade's high and mighty stance gives Caddy's big rig a genetic tendency to fall over when things go seriously sideways.

 Anyway, as any good SUV salesman would tell you, passive safety is for negative thinkers, losers and wimps. Out there on the mean streets of America's smallest state, the name of the game is accident avoidance. See and be seen. Intimidation. In a world where drivers size you up like a lion eyeing a gazelle, little things count for a lot. Little things like the Escalade's massive prow. Quite simply, the Escalade has the most aggressive face in the business. The Caddy's multi-louvered nose has all the fascistic scale and sullen symmetry of an 18th century English prison. It issues a stern warning to territorial interlopers to "back off" or be crushed. Attached to the Escalade's sumo superstructure, the front end is effective, pro-active protection against unwanted aggression.

The explicit threat continues inside. Obviously, I don't mean the interior itself. The Escalade's cabin is a typically American concoction of nasty plastic, tacky leather, slimy wood and butt ugly, mismatched switchgear. They— the infidels outside the gates— don't know that. What they do know is that the music blasting from the 'Sclade's stereo is loud enough to move your bowels from fifteen feet. I reckon it's the only original equipment system capable of "entertaining" an entire city block. More importantly, the built-in boom box tells nearby drivers and distant pedestrians that someone who doesn't mind bleeding eardrums is about to make the scene. Safe.

 All of which would count for nothing if the Escalade couldn't handle. I know it seems a bit weird to talk about the driving dynamics of a 7000 lb. passenger vehicle, but there's no getting around the fact that the Escalade's street cred depends on its ability to maneuver around solid objects with a prize fighter's effortless grace and infinite disdain.

Good news sports fans: the Escalade's handling is awesome. Porsche drivers would dismiss its whipped cream steering and remote control chassis as automotive Novocain, but I'd like to see them drive a 911 through a crowded supermarket parking lot with two fingers while sipping a large iced coffee. At low speeds, the Escalade is as nimble as one of Fantasia's dancing hippos. Drive thru or drive-by, the big beast is a pussycat on the pavement. As for the Escalade's road manners in more "challenging" situations, well… the official Cadillac brochure claims the Escalade's electronic road sensing suspension system combines "road isolation" with "enhanced control during emergency maneuvers". In practice, there's so much mass and so little feel that very few drivers could get themselves out of any real trouble, or make the Escalade do what car drivers tend to call "corner".

 Again, who cares? The Escalade's towering driving position gives you a near psychic ability to see dangerous drivers before they occur. One high speed trip over broken pavement, one experience of dry road hydroplaning, and you know to go slow. Throw in a 6.0L V8 with more torque than horsepower (380 ft. lbs vs. 345hp), and you have an SUV that never, ever tempts you to experiment with the limits of adhesion. In short, the Escalade's fingertip control and mushy handling protects you from both yourself and the demented legions swarming around you.

Is it any wonder that American soccer Moms, rappers and purveyors of non-prescription drugs have taken the Escalade to their hearts? Rhode Island may not be the worst place in the world to drive, but it's more than hazardous enough to highlight the evolutionary advantages of size, and justify the continuing success of Cadillac's premium-priced truck. OK, a single Escalade consumes more of the world's petrochemical resources than some third world countries. But most people value their life over political correctness. Who can blame them for that?

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