Most guys (or girls) who are into cars will have a near-endless list somewhere in their mind of cars they would like to drive/own before they die; it’s a symptom of having a passion for an industry where there is so much choice that barring winning the lottery it remains likely that these ambitions will remain unfulfilled. The reality though is that many of these dream vehicles are pretty unlikely to live up to our expectations, especially when they involve cars from our youth or in my case cars from the other side of the pond.
Because I love all things SUV so much it’s probably not much of a surprise that a lot of my ‘list’ comes in the form of big off-roaders with throne like seats and lazy automatic gearboxes, and more often than not have never been officially sold on this side of the Atlantic. When I went to visit my friend in Birmingham recently I was persuaded to watch ‘Zombieland’ – a film about a post apocalyptic US where the few survivors roam around in these massive behemoths…in particular a mid 00’s Cadillac Escalade and Hummer H2, two vehicles which rank pretty highly on my dream drives list. The fact they are pretty much destroyed doesn’t matter as they both get considerable screen time and are used to run over numerous zombies throughout the film.
Both the Hummer and the Escalade are based on similar GM truck underpinnings and launched way back in the hey-day of the early 00’s when fuel was cheap and the American obsession with supersized vehicles was reaching it’s peak; admittedly there are still similar sized vehicles to these on sale today but they do not sell in nearly such large numbers and nor do they achieve such appalling mpg…single digit fuel economy was not unheard of in the H2 especially.
The Escalade is a vehicle I’ve spoken about before and each of it’s generations holds pretty strong appeal for me (barring the awkward first gen version), but it was this second generation model which really grabbed the attention of the global market with it’s bold styling and presence in just about every hip-hop video of the day. For many people the latter ruined the Escalade due to it’s association with ‘bling’, ‘spinners’ and lashings of chrome, but the brutal but handsome look of the stock models really drew my eye and although maybe not as expensive looking as more modern examples it still manages to remain desirable to these eyes.
Inside is where the Escalade really lets itself down however; even when it launched it was rightly criticised as not having an interior fit for a $50k+ vehicle, and time has not been kind to the pick-up derived dashboard plastered with fake wood amongst basement bin plastics. I guess the cabin is probably not much worse than similar vehicles of the time, but when you consider that my own BMW X5 was launched a good 2 years before this Escalade it really shows the massive chasm that existed between US automakers and European rivals. As with the exteriors, many of these Caddy’s had their interiors pimped out too complete with enough LCD screens and DVD players to fill up an electrical store, but if anything they highlight the age of the vehicle and so as such again it’s better to have a stock version.
The H2 was launched a year after the Escalade and garnered even more attention thanks to its extremely polarising looks and size; often decked out in bright yellow paint with a massive chrome grille and wheels it quickly became a questionable icon of Americana at a time when the War on Terror and spiralling consumerism were daily features on news screens around the world. The brash styling was based on the original Humvee (later renamed the H1), ironically a vehicle with roots heavily in a military transport for the US Army; the H2 was a lot more user friendly than it’s larger brother though, and thanks to those pick-up based roots it was also able to be sold at prices which merely matched other large SUV’s (rather than at $100k+ like the H1). Aside from the bold styling of the Hummer it’s sheer size is another talking point for many people…I know for a fact it wouldn’t fit in the parking spaces at work (although my X5 barely does to be honest), and getting around suburban streets would prove a major challenge in the UK, not to mention the fact that like the Escalade it is only available in LHD.
Inside the H2 is a little less cookie-cutter than the Escalade thanks to a body which is wider and so means that GM could not use the same dashboard as in it’s other SUV’s. It’s relatively characterful with it’s large knobs and chunky details, but still remains plastic fantastic and at risk of being pimped by a formerly ghetto-licious owner. As the H2 soldiered on until the brand’s demise in 2009 it was subjected to a brief makeover in 2007 and then it gained a few nicities like standard-fit navigation screen, metallic accents and less utilitarian dials…if I was in the market for a H2 I would definitely be on the lookout for one of these models, although they likely won’t be cheap due to the emotional ties many Americans (and other nations) feel with these former symbols of American power. Practicality wise the H2 is pretty appalling considering it’s size (the Escalade is better in this respect but still has rubbish rear seats), but then that’s rarely the reason people buy cars like this.
Seeing as though both the Caddy and the Hummer are based on a truck chassis it is no surprise that they drive pretty much like trucks; the V8’s under the bonnet do a pretty good job at shifting them in a straight line (even when coupled with the standard 4 speed automatics), but handling is not going to be the strong point of any vehicle this size let alone with a raised driving height and 3 tonnes of weight to lug around corners. Interestingly both the Escalade and H2 also came in quasi pick-up versions with a short bed out the back, whilst the Escalade also came in extended length format with a larger boot…these versions are still visually attractive and I wouldn’t say no, but me being me it’s the regular stock versions which hold most appeal.
Due to the advancing age of both vehicles and the fact they weren’t ever offered officially in the UK it remains highly unlikely I’ll ever get the chance to even sit in one; the few which are for sale tend to be either highly personalised former footballer’s cars or have been subjected to conversion into a tacky stretch limo (although admittedly I have been in H2 limo before), and even if I was to find a decent one the LHD-ness, running costs and size of the beasts mean I would never be brave enough to buy one. Still if I ever end up in the land of the free I may partake in one, or if there ends up being a Zombie Apocalypse then I know what sort of vehicle I’ll be on the lookout for!