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A week with the Cadillac Escalade: A lot of bling, but not much space

It seemed like a good idea at the time. My brother from Great Britain would be visiting in Toronto for a week. The plan included a couple of days at the in-laws' cottage near Kingston, Ont., plus a day-trip to Ottawa. We'd be five adults in all – six if you include Chloe, who's 49 in dog years – so we needed space. There would also be rough cottage trails to traverse.

Also, wouldn't it be a treat for my brother – who drives a Honda Civic diesel back home – to ride in something quintessentially North American? Eureka! What could be better than a Cadillac Escalade? A massive SUV with a huge rumbling V-8 and all the subtlety of a crack dealer's man jewellery.

We live west of Toronto and the Escalade is in Oshawa, Ont., so we arrange to pick it up en route east. We squeeze ourselves into our tiny VW Golf while I assure everyone that we'll be able to spread out once we transfer to the Escalade.

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First oversight: I hadn't checked whether the Escalade in question was the uber-size ESV version or the merely full-size regular Escalade. Of course, waiting for us was the stubby.

Second oversight: It hadn't occurred to me that the Escalade might have second-row captain's chairs – which, of course, it did. So now we need to use one of the third-row seats for passenger five. Which means cargo space is reduced by about a third – and there was surprisingly little of it to begin with. The Escalade may be big and tall on the outside, but the rear deck is a long way off the ground, so the hold is shallow. Official cargo volume behind the second-row seats is 52 cubic feet. Compare that with 85-95 for typical minivans.

Sure, we get everything in, but not with the space to spare that I had promised.

And then that infernal whining begins from the third-row seat. Legroom is conspicuous by its absence back there – almost a full foot less than in a Chrysler Pacifica, for instance. The seat is so low to the floor that even a small adult is forced to sit with knees pointing skywards. And no, the second-row buckets can't slide forward to let steerage passengers un-crank their knees.

Truck-based SUVs are not nearly as spacious as people think . But even among its peers, the Escalade's third-row seat is as welcoming a third-world prison cell.

At least the drive lives up to expectations. The 6.2-litre V-8 motivates the Escalade's 2,649 kilograms with imperious authority, accompanied by a rich, aggressive rumble. It's a superb highway cruise missile: regal driving position, commanding visibility, surprisingly little wind noise, and the engine loafing lazily in top gear of the eight-speed automatic that replaced the former six-speed for 2016.

The ride on regular pavement is not exactly plush, but the suspension handles the cottage trail with relative aplomb. Returning from Ottawa to the cottage, we take back roads, which the Escalade negotiates with a poise – if not quite agility – that belies its size. It isn't even the gas-hog you'd imagine: we average 11.9 litres/100 km for the week, most of it with four or five passengers and A/C running full tilt. Yes, it was mostly highway driving, but we also endured lengthy bouts of stop-and-go misery in the nation's capital.

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So, here's the thing: if big, brash bling is your thing, the Escalade delivers it in spades. It also supplies a surprisingly decent driving experience. And with a tow rating of 8,100 pounds, it can tug the expensive toys to accessorize your "I've-got-it-so-I'll-flaunt-it" lifestyle. But, be honest. Don't try to kid anyone that you bought this Escalade (or Tahoe or Yukon) because you needed the space.

Of course, the 20-inch-longer ESV version would provide more room for people and stuff. But if you really need maximum space, swallow your pride and buy a minivan. With the money you save, you could also buy a terrific little Cadillac ATS sport sedan to drive the rest of the time. Now there's an idea.

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