JAMUL, Calif. -- Dressed in shiny black body paint with shimmering chunks of chrome accenting the prow and those enormous wheels, a new 2007 edition of Cadillac's luxurious full-size Escalade SUV rolls along the bucolic Lyon's Valley Road in San Diego County trailing a rancher's truck.
When the opportunity to pass the slow-moving pickup comes on a rare straight stretch of the meandering route, we signal our intention, then nudge a plump steering wheel toward the passing lane and punch the go-pedal.
That's when it hits us: This thing's charged with massive fire power.
Drafting more than 18 feet in length and tipping scales just shy of three tons, our Escalade lifts off like a rocket-launched sports car.
It flies around the pokey pickup and zips into the illicit zone faster than we can say, "Officer, please don't arrest me now."
Clearly, Cadillac has lit the fuse on a new Escalade.
Below the square-cornered hood there lurks an aluminum-block V8 engine which displaces 6.2 liters and applies variable valve timing (VVT) to optimize camshaft timing to enrich the low-rpm torque and high-rpm horsepower
The plant produces 403 hp at 5700 rpm and torque of 417 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
Only a handful of sporty performance cars pack so much muscle out of a V8 -- but how about a hunky-big SUV?
Call it the Cadillac of sport-utility vehicles.
Yet the powerful new V8, exclusive to Escalade, is only the tip of this make-over tale because Cadillac has recast Escalade for 2007 on a rigid new platform featuring a wider track and lower center of gravity to enhance the ride quality and make maneuvering easier.
It's based on the new GMT-900 platform of General Motors which also supports other super-size SUVs of GM -- Chevrolet's Tahoe, Suburban and Avalanche, plus GMC's Yukon, Yukon Denali, Yukon XL and XL Denali.
The platform has boxed frame rails stretching from tip to tail to forge a firm foundation.
Wheels are huge now, with the standard size bumped up to 18 inches and optional chromed aluminum wheels stretching to 22 inches as the biggest factory-issued rollers on record.
The suspension is a new coil-over-shock arrangement up front with road-sensing damping and a five-link set at the rear with coil springs for precise control over bumps.
The steering system is a rack and pinion mechanism, not common among truck-based SUVs. It brings quick and predictable response from the steering wheel.
Brakes include a big disc at each wheel post, with linkage to a computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS), traction control system (TCS) and GM's seamless StabiliTrak yaw controller.
A new design for Escalade's external package mixes bold rectilinear elements with flashes of chrome and clean sculptural lines to make an aggressive statement.
With a thick bumper lip, squarish glimmering lenses stacking three high in corner headlamp clusters and an egg-crate grille reflecting bright chrome around the laurel wreath and crest of Cadillac, that daunting prow on Escalade looks like it's raring to trounce a stretch of rough pavement.
Sharp lines on body panels that follow the face also look serious, with a thick monotone slab of armor low at the sides and wheelwells flared around big all-season tires ringing shiny seven-spoke aluminum wheels.
Escalade has a sheer rake to the windshield and a bulging power dome on the hood, squared wheelwells on flanks with subtle fender flares but smooth sides on the doors, save for a chrome-streaked strip of protective molding.
And note the chrome power vents, those fender slats that dissipate hot air below the hood.
At the tail, the slab-faced liftgate is defined by taillamps -- vertical strips on each side and a horizontal version mounted on the trailing edge of a rooftop spoiler.
Escalade's new design extends to the handsome passenger compartment for a radical re-do in a layout which shows three tiers of seats for as many as seven riders.
The leather-wrapped cabin treatment comes with upgraded materials and tonal treatments in two choices -- Ebony or Cocoa-on-Cashmere.
There's a pair of buckets on the front row, a second row in power fold-and-tumble buckets or bench plus an optional bench on the third row that folds or may be pulled out 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.
Up front, Escalade's driver faces a new instrument panel set six inches lower than previously in order to improve the view of the road.
The panel contains round analog gauges, washed in backlit white LED backlighting, with white lettering and blue light inlays which turn the gauge needles blue.
The dashboard center stack is also clean in design with room for audio and climate controls plus an optional eight-inch touch-screen navigation system.
A Bose 5.1 Digital Surround Sound system is available to play DVD audio/video, CD audio/video, MP3 files as well as subscription-based XM satellite radio service. And a new eight-inch flip-down video screen for viewing by backseat passengers is part of the optional DVD video entertainment kit.
A larger power sunroof shows up on the list of optional gear. It measures 36.1 inches wide by 24.6 inches long and has express open/close plus auto close features.
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 on the option sheet.
Escalade 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.
Cadillac puts the AWD version on the street first with a MSRP of $56,405. The 2WD Escalade follows with its ticket punched to $53,850.