A sports car or high-end sedan is the typical formula for a brand's “halo” vehicle.

General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac division has taken the contrarian approach, relying largely on the extroverted image of its hulking and bechromed Escalade to underpin the success of its turnaround efforts.

Cadillac plans much of the same with the bold redesign of its third-generation SUV. It comes with a generous helping of V-8 muscle — and enough chrome to blind any industry pundits who insist the large SUV species is headed for the automotive equivalent of the Le Brea tar pits.

Unloaded into a market segment where style, image and technological prowess trump fuel efficiency and practicality, Cadillac's new king of bling ups the ante for its lone domestic rival, the Lincoln Navigator, and challenges the status quo of the luxury SUV segment's upper reaches.

Shy of Porsche AG's 450-hp Cayenne Turbo, the new Escalade outclasses and outperforms just about every other large SUV on the road.

Sporting an aggressive face flanked by tri-level high-intensity discharge headlights, front fender grilles (in the spirit of the haughty Cadillac Sixteen concept car) and a muscular stance, the Escalade exudes Cadillac's luxury-with-attitude mantra, right down to its throaty exhaust burble and the optional 22-in. chrome “dubs” (i.e. 9-spoke alloy wheels).

A more steeply raked windshield, common among all of GM's new GMT900-based SUVs, accentuates the profile, while improving efficiency and reducing wind noise by contributing to a segment-leading drag coefficient of 0.36, Cadillac says.

Behind the wheel, traversing Southern California's narrow mountain roads, the Escalade maintains impressive poise and stability not enjoyed by previous Escalades, or many other SUVs, for that matter.

Make no mistake: The new Escalade is big, with nearly every exterior and interior dimension increasing over the '06 model. However, the boisterous Caddy hides its 5,818-lb. (2,645-kg) mass well, thanks, in part, to plenty of horsepower and advances in road-holding technology.

With 403 hp and 417 lb.-ft. (565 Nm) of torque provided by an all-aluminum 6.2L variant of GM's small-block OHV V-8 (with dual-phase variable valve timing, a first for the 50-year-old small-block architecture), the Escalade joins the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes-Benz's new ML63 AMG in the rarefied field of 400-plus-hp utility vehicles.

As an added benefit, city/highway fuel economy is rated, perhaps optimistically, at 13/19 mpg (18.1L/100 km/12.2L/100 km), which is slightly better than most of its rivals. GM's Active Fuel Management (formerly Displacement on Demand) cylinder-deactivation technology will be added to the 6.2L mill in the next year or two, a GM executive says.

The technology can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 25% and is standard on the 5.3L V-8 in the all-new Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon.

Controlling the Escalade's newfound power is a full-time, electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system and GM's new 6L80 6-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is impressive, yet suitable for everyday driving.

Equally impressive is the surefootedness of the big 'Slade. A new independent, coil-over-shock front suspension replaces the antiquated torsion bar setup of the previous GMT800-based Escalade. A 5-link arrangement controls a solid rear axle.

Electronic, road-sensing shock absorbers and larger, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard at all four corners and provide level, effective braking with little dive. Gone is the mushy brake pedal that hindered the outgoing platform.

Combined with a stiffer, fully boxed frame, wider track, new rack-and-pinion steering and larger wheels (18-in. are standard), the Escalade's chassis produces uncanny road feel for this behemoth.

Body roll is minimal, and, while not exactly sporting, the SUV can hustle toward apexes with confidence.

Inside, the Escalade shines, with levels of build quality and material refinement that are as good or better than anything ever produced by GM. To the editorial eye, overall fit and finish are comparable to that of more expensive competitors.

The dashboard is lower and pushed forward, compared with the new Tahoe and Yukon, while low-gloss, soft-touch plastics, Nuance leather and wood and chrome trim abound.

In addition, special attention was paid to reducing interior noise levels through the use of sound damping and covers on the firewall, floor and dash. The result is a serene cabin that is up to 20% quieter than the '06 model, the auto maker says.

The 4-8-passenger Escalade also coddles occupants with myriad electronic gizmos and safety equipment, including climate-controlled seats; power Fold and Tumble second row seats; rearview camera system; DVD navigation; and an intelligent remote engine starter integrated into the climate control system.

When activated, the remote start system maintains a 64° F (29° C) cabin temperature and, in freezing temperatures, activates the heated seats.

In addition to standard stability control and rollover mitigation systems, the Escalade features a “360° Safety Perimeter,” which includes a lengthened frontal crash structure and 3-row side curtain airbags with rollover protection tethers.

Cadillac Escalade Product Manager David Schiavone expects the new model to continue to sell about 60,000 units annually.

At full output, standard Escalades will account for about 53% of sales, with ESV and EXT models reaching approximately 27% and 20%, respectively, Schiavone says.

Priced at $57,280, the same as the outgoing model, the '07 Escalade represents a good value for the style, performance and content offered.

Major competitors include the Range Rover Sport Supercharged ($69,085), Lexus LX 470 ($68,090), Lincoln Navigator ($55,285) and Infiniti QX56 ($52,800).

Mercedes-Benz's new fullsize GL-Class also may prove a formidable opponent when it launches in May.

The only thing the new Escalade lacks is a full-time 4-wheel-drive system with dedicated off-road capabilities. But as most owners will be busy polishing chrome for a Sunday cruise rather than navigating a mountain trail, the vehicle's highway-focused demeanor is more fitting.

’07 Cadillac Escalade
Vehicle type Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 6- or 8-passenger sport/utility vehicle
Engine 6.2L (6,195 cc) 90° OHV V-8, aluminum block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net) Power (SAE net): 403 hp @ 5,700 rpm
Torque 417 lb.-ft. (565 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 103.3 x 92
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 116 ins. (295 cm)
Overall length 202.5 ins. (514 cm)
Overall width 79 ins. (201 cm)
Overall height 74.3 ins. (189 cm)
Curb weight 5,818 lbs. (2,640 kg)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg) 13/19
Market competition Infiniti QX56; Lexus LX 470; Land Rover Range Rover; Lincoln Navigator; Mercedes GL-Class; Porsche Cayenne