2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT

0112 Cadillac Escalade Ext 01

Carmel, California - It's tempting to dismiss the Escalade EXT for being ugly, and indeed it is ungainly and ungraceful, a jumble of squared-off edges and rectangles andatriangles punctuated by wreath-and-crest badges, a triumph of function over form. But then you realize there are few pretty pickups or sensual SUVs, and Cadillac's luxury sport-utility truck becomes easier to accept.

We've acknowledged time and again that General Motors' full-size truck platform, which has spawned superb pickups and full-size SUVs, including the second-generation Escalade that arrived earlier this year, is the best thing to come out of GM since the C5 Corvette. Perhaps we shouldn't complain, then, if Cadillac takes that platform's Suburban components, shakes them up in the product-development blender, and pours an Escalade EXT into our parfait glass.

We will point out, however, that if you're enamored of the Escalade EXT's ingenious Midgate concept--wherein this three-ton Cadillac slickly transforms from a five-passenger pickup with a small bed into a two-passenger pickup with a large bed--that feature is also available in the much cheaper Chevrolet Avalanche. What the Avalanche doesn't have, though, is the Caddy's Vortec 6000 V-8, which musters 60 more ponies than its Chevy sibling and 45 more than the Lincoln Blackwood, the EXT's most obvious competitor. Cadillac's other exclusives include StabiliTrak skid and traction control, standard electronically controlled dampers, all-wheel drive, and a full-luxe interior.

0112 Cadillac Escalade Ext 02

There's no denying the EXT's versatility and utility: The cargo area is lined with a thick, removable protective pad; the three-piece, reconfigurable cargo cover is both lightweight and sturdy; and the rear quarter-panels each enclose an insulated cargo hold with drainage, perfect for iced tailgate-party beverages or the catch from a fishing trip. And the EXT isn't bad to drive--we hustled it over a twisty road in California far faster than we expected to.

Still, we wonder what vehicles such as the Escalade EXT and the Blackwood portend for the future of American luxury cars. Sure, Cadillacs and Lincolns should be bold and brassy, but shouldn't they also be beautiful?

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