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    Big Appeal in Big Trucks

    By Philip Ruth

    September is Folsom Street Fair month, and it’s a high holiday of excess pleasure. People come from all over the world for a straight shot of San Francisco raunch, and it’s a chance to satisfy your more extreme desires. The big trucks we’re examining this week—the Cadillac Escalade and Ford F-150 Raptor—are similarly indulgent. They’re the automotive equivalent of entering the fair gates with a flank of abs and a slave at the end of a chain leash. The first thing these extroverted trucks do is get you noticed.

    That’s after you’ve paid a handsome sum. The 2018 Raptor starts at just over $50K, and the tested top-grade Escalade Platinum begins at an eye-watering $94K. That kind of financial commitment means that buyers keenly want what these giants have to offer. Which is what, exactly? Why not just get a tamer F-150 XLT, or the Escalade’s kissing cousin, the Chevy Tahoe? Both are fine choices, and these less-expensive versions are almost equally functional in day-to-day use.

    None of those, however, look like the Escalade. Its massive grille and meaty wheels give it a thundering presence that transcends practicality. If the Escalade were a person, it would light up a room from its first step in. This wasn’t always the case here in San Francisco. When I arrived here in 2000, luxury SUVs were emblematic of dot-com excess, and my Escalade testers were met with sneers and side-eyes from other drivers. Since then, these road-going leviathans have become normalized, and so onlookers feel freer to note the Escalade’s visual sparkle. That’s nice if you like people to share in your good feelings for your ride.

    Inside, the Escalade is a visual and tactile feast, with a richly contoured instrument panel and throne-like bucket seats. It’s exactly what you’d want to fall into after a long work day, although you’d probably want to limit your use of Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system, which has maddeningly inconsistent touch recognition, as do the climate controls. If I were Cadillac, I’d strip out the center stack and replace it with a Tesla-like tablet screen.

    But if I were Ford, I’d leave the Raptor alone. Where the Escalade can be hesitant on San Francisco’s hills, the Raptor felt like it was here to conquer, and I came to think of it as the largest muscle car I’ve ever driven. The fact that the Baja-ready Raptor is obscenely overbuilt for city streets just heightens its appeal, giving it an action-figure swagger that’s matched by finely-tuned steering and brake-pedal responses that maintain firm control.

    This emotional experience ends up being why many pay the premiums for these beasts. Reaching for the Escalade’s key fob, I could already feel myself relaxing into the driver’s comfy cove. When I unlocked the Raptor, I was eager for some fun. The sheer sizes of these two would make them persistently impractical for urban use, but just like a drool-worthy dom at the Folsom Street Fair, they got more than their share of admiration.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at