2003 Cadillac Escalade ESV 6.0 V8
A grand flagship vehicle, which ultimately slaps you with disappointment
Lots of interior parts are of sub-par quality, and as a result, numerous things were broken upon buying the vehicle, and more will go as you work on things due to their flimsiness.
The frame was BADLY corroding and flaking, especially on the rearmost portion of the vehicle around the bumper.
The engine developed an oil pressure problem; even after pulling the oil pan, and replacing the oil pick up o-rings and the sensor, it never corrected itself. It started to get worse and was constantly reminding me about low oil pressure around the time I got rid of the vehicle.
The exhaust manifold bolts began to snap off, starting at the rear, which would produce a noticeable ticking sound under hard throttle. Research showed that this is a VERY common problem among GM trucks of this age, and it usually requires pulling the cylinder heads to drill out the broken studs.
The passenger side window motor and regulator failed shortly after purchase.
The front differential was eating itself and started producing noise under load. A fluid change revealed large amounts of metal shavings in the fluid.
The driver's side recline motor quit working shortly after purchase. Only $50 for a new motor and an hour of time; the dealer offered to do it for $1500... yikes!
The recirculate blend door never worked.
Intermittent messages to service the ride control system and the Stabilitrak.
Driver's door door switch module quit shortly before I traded the vehicle in. Ended up with a totally unresponsive driver's door.
Numerous lights in the dashboard were burned out, and due to the bulbs being hard soldered in, unless you are handy with working on circuit boards, you are going to have to replace the whole unit with a new one.
The various drain plugs under the car are made of a VERY soft metal, and typically just round off out when you try and change the fluids
The parking brake has a mind of its own, and even after adjustments were made, sometimes it holds strong, but most of the time it doesn't do ANYTHING.
I bought this truck about a year before I wrote this review. I have always been a Toyota buyer, and my previous large SUV was an 89 Toyota Landcruiser. After picking up a '75 Cadillac Coupe Deville earlier in 2012 (see my review on that car here too, nothing but an outstanding vehicle) I decided that I wanted to give a newer American truck a chance. I did some searching and found this 03 Escalade ESV for a good price and condition.
I have to give it to Cadillac that they have some of the best designers in the business as far as their styling goes. The truck was gorgeous, was the Diamond White pearl color, and gave off the image of near royalty. The interior seats are comfortable and supple, and little touches like the heated front and rear seats, the wooded steering wheel trim, the Cadillac Crest embroidered in the headrests, and the power folding mirrors, just add to the level of luxury. I can see why celebrities want to own these, because as it stands, it is just an awesome vehicle.
The gas mileage is around 13 in town, and between 17-20 on the highway. Considering how large the vehicle is and the 340+ horsepower the engine has, it's not a bad feat. The tank is 30 gallons, so it goes quite a ways on one fill.
It uses a constant AWD system, which I never had the chance to use it in really deep snow, but even though you would have to be nuts to take this offroad, it WOULD be nice to have a center differential lock for the REALLY deep snow, depending on where you live.
Overall, the vehicle steers and rides very well, even with blown rear air shocks. The interior is cavernous, has A/C and heater vents for all three rows, and even me, being 6'4", could sit in the third row seats in comfort.
However... Once you pick the vehicle up and drive it around for a few months, it will start to show its fatal flaws:
The larger ESV and EXT Escalades on this generation were outsourced to Mexico for assembly, which really shouldn't be done on one of the most expensive vehicles in your lineup, and it shows in the build quality. I am an advanced home mechanic, and of the several vehicles I own, this was the newest and the ONLY ONE that was needing constant attention during my ownership.
There are a lot of electrical problems with the various vehicle systems, and when you consult the factory service manual, rather than listing how to test individual parts, it simply specifies that you use GM's $3000 scan tool... Even when I had a question about something and contacted Cadillac Customer Service, when they called a local dealer to get an answer, the dealer informed them that they were not giving out any information, and that I needed to bring the truck in. It's disheartening to see the manufacturer goes out of its way to prevent home repairs, especially considering that all the problems I had would have cost a FORTUNE to pay someone else to do.
As stated above, there are some very common and expensive issues on these vehicles, such as the front differentials, which usually last about 80,000 before needing complete replacement. Since mine had almost double that, I'm sure it's been done once, and it once again was on its way out again.
The drain plugs underneath the truck, are ridiculous. The transmission, and all four caliper plugs are made of a soft metal, which rounds off very easily. Even after using all the various methods to coax them off, they just ended up damaged and rendered the fluids unable to be changed unless you replaced the whole oil pan/caliper.
The rear axle for some reason DOESN'T have a drain plug, and requires you to unbolt the differential cover like the old 1960s cars. The cover was VERY corroded, and rusted chunks of it were fused into the axle housing, resulting in a very long and frustrating clean up.
The last straw was when I had to replace the driver's door module, and the armrest mounting point snapped off during reassembly due to its flimsy design. The dealer would only sell the armrest with the WHOLE door panel. The electrical problems, combined with the drivetrain problems, were obvious signs that the vehicle was at the end of its usable life, so I had little choice but to trade it in at a significant loss on a 2004 Lexus GX470, which is MILES ahead in the build quality department.
I would buy another Cadillac again, but I would keep to the tested and true models, like the early 90s FWD models with the 4.9, and the older RWD models similar to the '75 I own.
I took a stab at it, and really wanted to give it a chance. I liked the idea of owned an American branded flagship vehicle, but ended up going back to Toyota after less than a year.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 6th November, 2013
8th Dec 2013, 16:27
Sorry to hear you had so many problems with your Escalade. Keep in mind though it's just a glorified GM truck. For a long time Cadillacs were individual cars within GM, using mostly exclusive parts and engines. The old Caddys even had a plaque in the door that read "body by fisher - interior by Fleetwood". The days of the real Cadillac are history, as this generation of luxury car buyer cares mostly about 0-60 times, horsepower numbers, and high tech gadgetry. Long term ownership is no longer important to manufacturers and consumers alike. Every car these days is like a Bic lighter. Use it til it's done - then throw it away.
9th Dec 2013, 17:47
Sounds like this Escalade was poorly maintained. A lot can go wrong after 130000 miles if the previous owner did not maintain it well. The Suburban and Tahoe, which are built on the same platform, are very reliable and can reach 200-300k mileage easily if well maintained.
17th Dec 2013, 23:57
I also own a '75 Coupe DeVille with that same placard on the door sill that you speak of. Especially considering that it is almost 40 years old, it has been a remarkably reliable vehicle. It's constructed of very high quality materials, back in an era when cars were truly designed to only last 100,000 miles before being thrown away.
The chances are good that the vehicle may not have been maintained well, and I totally agree that Suburbans and GMCs commonly go 300k miles with no trouble. But things such as the design of the instrument panel bulbs, which required soldering to replace, just go to show it was built in a manner to cut costs, which really should not be done on your most expensive flagship vehicle.
However, that being said, the GM of 2003 is long gone, and they have recently fixed a lot of the fatal flaws that have plagued Cadillacs for many years.
8th Jul 2014, 08:02
Have this 2003 Escalade. Does anybody know what this metal loud noise is, coming from it every time I seem to accelerate fast? Thank you.
26th Dec 2015, 15:08
Thanks for the very detailed review.