DALLAS, Tex. -- On the I-635 beltway cut through posh northside sections of Dallas, we're cruising in the center lane while encased in velvet comforts of the biggest and most luxurious SUV ever to carry the crest of Cadillac: It's the 2010 Escalade ESV in a glitzy over-the-top Platinum edition.
That moniker when applied to Cadillac's Escalade five-door wagon forges a grand wagon which measures even larger than the full-size Escalade.
Its overall length exceeds the Escalade by 21 inches, in fact, and there's about 20 inches of extra space applied lengthwise at the rear of the cavernous cabin which contributes more legroom for riders on third-row seats and three times the cargo space behind the third seats.
Call this one the super-size SUV as it compares to Chevrolet's Suburban in half-ton 1500 series but with all of Escalade's lavish features plus some class-topping muscle.
It also develops the highest gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) and top trailer tow numbers.
Escalade ESV configures with rear-wheel two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) traction.
The 4WD mechanism uses GM's automatic Autotrac system with a smart electronic transfer case delivering on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
And packed aboard that boxy structure you'll find every conceivable mechanical weapon for serious road combat, along with every convenience in a leather-wrapped cabin that cradles up to seven riders in the lap of luxury.
But our surprise is that the humongous ESV acts like a sprint champ.
Punch the throttle but prepare yourself for a neck-snap launch because this big wagon -- drafting more than 18 feet in length and tipping scales to a figure approaching three tons -- is charged with fire power.
Below the square-cornered hood on ESV there lurks an aluminum-block V8 engine which displaces 6.2 liters and applies variable valve timing (VVT) to optimize camshaft timing and enrich the low-rpm torque and high-rpm horsepower.
The plant produces 403 hp at 5700 rpm and torque of 417 lb-ft at 4300 rpm.
All of that muscle is translated through a six-speed automatic gearbox with clutch-to-clutch shifting and a wide overall ratio.
Only a handful of sporty performance cars pull so much power out of a V8 -- but how about an uber-lux and super-size sport-utility?
For 2010 issues the ESV engine gains GM's Active Fuel Management (AFM) technology which cuts by half the number of cylinders engaged in the combustion process when boosted power is not needed in order to conserve fuel.
Big engines generally denote a dog-thirsty appetite for lapping up fuel, but the AFM device works as a fuel-saver and turns the huge ESV into a rather efficient vehicle.
Federal EPA fuel-burn numbers for Escalade ESV climb to 19 miles per gallon for highway travel with 2WD traction.
Despite the best-in-class fuel economy, ESV's V8 also gets high marks for towing a trailer, capping at a 7800-pound tow capacity for the 4WD version.
Escalade ESV rides on the GMT-900 platform which has boxed frame rails stretching from tip to tail to forge a firm foundation.
Also, there's a wide track for front and rear wheels and a low center of gravity for the overriding structure, which makes the SUV quite stable in motion and, when coupled to a tuned suspension, enhances the ride quality and the vehicle's ability to move through a set of curves without much body roll.
The suspension is a coil-over-shock arrangement up front and a five-link design at the rear with coil springs.
A standard Autoride rear suspension device employs continuously-variable road-sensing damping with air-leveling shock absorbers for precise control over bumps.
The optional Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) variable suspension device controls wheel and body motion via a synthetic fluid in the shocks with minute iron particles in suspension.
By governing the electric current of an electromagnetic coil positioned inside each shock damper, the shock fluid's consistency can be changed instantly -- magnetically -- to effect the continuously variable shock damping.
The steering system is a rack and pinion mechanism, not that common among truck-based SUVs. It brings quick and predictable response from the steering wheel.
Brakes consist of a big disc on each wheel, with linkage to a computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS), traction control system (TCS) and GM's StabiliTrak anti-skid yaw controller.
The leather-wrapped passenger compartment of the Escalade ESV contains three tiers of seats for as many as seven riders.
There's a pair of broad buckets on the front row, a second row in power fold-and-tumble buckets or split bench plus a pair of seats on the third row which fold and may be pulled out individually like a rollaboard suitcase to maximize cargo space.
At the back of the cargo bay, a power-assisted liftgate opens and closes with the tap of a finger button.
Safety equipment aboard ranges from frontal air bags for front seats to three-point safety belts for all seats and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), with curtain-style air bags for all three rows and new side thorax air bags added at the front seats.
For the standard Escalade ESV, a remote-control starter and rear parking assist device are included, along with leather upholstery, triple-zone climate controls, 14-way power heated front seats, adjustable pedals, power folding mirrors with heat elements, rain-sensing wipers, a roof rack and running boards, DVD navigation system with rearview camera, and a Bose 5.1 Digital Surround Sound system available to play DVD audio/video, CD audio/video, MP3 files as well as the subscription-based XM satellite radio service.