2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Review
By Roger Boylan
Only a moron could love this oxymoron, I thought, on first hearing about this vehicle. Cross-breed an Escalade, ultimate gas-guzzling status symbol for the flashy and vulgar, with a Prius, frugal icon of the hairshirted? How ridiculous. But after a week with a champagne-hued Escalade Hybrid I’m disinclined to think of it as ridiculous; unexpected, maybe, or paradoxical, but no more than, say, Winston Churchill in a maroon siren suit. Because, even dressed like a giant baby, Winnie won the war. And this Escalade is an oxymoron that works.
I first learned how good the GM hybrid powerplants are when I tested a Silverado Hybrid, the Escalade’s humble and much more affordable country cousin, with which it shares a BMW/Chrysler/GM/Mercedes-Benz-derived hybrid-powerplant combo. This 332-hp 6.0-liter V-8, with cylinder deactivation (“Active Fuel Management,” in GM-blather) and variable cam timing, makes 367 lb.-ft. of torque, and is hooked up to a 300-volt electrical system that combines the gas engine with a pair of electric motors for a total power tally of 369 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque, compared to the regular Escalade’s 403 hp and 417 lb.-ft. respectively. The Escalade Hybrid’s payload is 1,369 lb., a mere 241 lb. less than the standard model’s, and its towing capacity is 5,800 lb. rather than 7,900 lb., but that’s still potent enough to haul most trailers. The two electric motors are energized by a huge battery, warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles, sealed in a box under the Escalade’s second row of seats.
The Escalade has a solid-axle rear suspension design, which is why those annoying, if functional, little third-row seats can’t be lowered into the floor but have to be either tumbled forward, with some effort, or with somewhat greater effort physically lugged out and deposited in your garage, there to gather dust and cobwebs for the duration of your love affair with your Escalade, however long that might be. Mine lasted a week, but would have lasted much longer if the thing didn’t cost half as much as my house: MSRP is $73K, which is pretty astronomical, even given the likelihood of hefty discounts and the $2200 hybrid tax break from Uncle Sam. Is it worth it? Not for me, because I don’t have the dough, but if you do, go for it. Teaming up luxury with good fuel economy is a way of indulging yourself with a clear conscience.
And by all means, go ahead and indulge yourself. The Escalade Hybrid is a fine vehicle: powerful, serene of comportment, and sumptuous, furnished with magical gizmos and the finest soft stitched leather and real, albeit fake-looking, wood (rule of thumb: the more genuine the wood, the more fauxit looks). The truck is handsome, well-built, and comfortable, and far quieter than a 6,000 lb. SUV with a big V8 under the hood has any right to be: On more than one occasion I spooked pedestrians in parking lots by creeping up on them, cackling under my breath, in otherwise total silence. (As “full” hybrids, the Escalade Hybrid and its siblings can get around on electric power alone under 30 mph, whereas “mild” hybrids like GM’s own soon-to-disappear Chevy Malibu or Saturn Vue shut the engine down at idle but can’t do the solo-electric trick.) This silence is broken inside only by soft whirring and clicking sounds that indicate the transfer of functions among the three powerplants, but none of these noises is intrusive. Note that this silent, electric-powered forward progress results in zero emissions of carbon dioxide, yet another irritating fact about this great big in-your-face SUV to the eco-wackoes who just wish all SUVs would go away and that no one anywhere should have any fun except that certified green by Pope Al…but I digress.
To the point, then: saving gas. GM’s mileage claims are 20 mpg in town and 21 on the highway, as opposed to 12/19 for the ordinary Escalade. After my week at the wheel I’d say those claims are, if anything, conservative. The pointer in my fuel gauge hardly budged from “full” for the first two days, even after two 70-mile commutes. According to the up-to-the-second readouts supplied in the truck’s Driver Info Center at the bottom of the speedometer, I got anywhere from 35 to 45 while highway cruising (on 4 cylinders about half the time) and up to 50+ tooling around the mall on electric power, averaging 20 overall. This is a 50 to 60% improvement over the standard Escalade, and even marginally more frugal around town than V-6 Camrys, Accords, and Altimas. The only time gas mileage really drops back into traditional SUV territory is when you get tired of ambling along and decide to kick up some dust, which is also the only time you actually hear the engine in this thing; for the 8 or so seconds it takes you to go from zip to 60 you’re gulping the gas at a rate of 6 to 8 mpg, but once you’ve settled into cruise control mode at an even 70, you’re back to respectable, even astonishing, figures in the 20s and 30s. At the end of my week with the luxobarge, during which I put in a lot of much-enjoyed drive time, I had a fuel range of 160 miles left, out of the 465 I’d started with. Brilliant.
But the Hybrid hands you back your cake after you’ve eaten it by giving you all this and luxury, too. Inside, the traditional leather and wood is supplemented by prestige touches like Magnetic Ride Control, 22-inch chrome wheels, GPS navigation, OnStar, Bose surround-sound stereo, XM satellite radio, a backup camera, 14-way power-adjustable air-cooled seats (not a bad idea in Texas summers) with lumbar adjustment, the latter an important consideration for those of us beyond skateboarding age; a video entertainment system; remote vehicle start; and powered pedals, rear-view mirrors (with blind-spot detection system: ingenious, and useful too), liftgate, and running boards. Everything has a quality feel. Clear and elegant gauges adorn the instrument panel. The dashboard surface blends leather with soft-touch plastic; panel fits are tight, and the textures of the interior appointments are subtle and pleasant to look at. The seats are all exceptionally comfortable-although, as mentioned, the third row, clad in the same fine leather as the others, is a major irritant, owing to its stubborn inability to disappear unless bodily removed. But once you do that, you have a broad and deep cargo space suitable for family things, and the haulage of home improvement materials. Externally the Escalade, with its unique, portcullis-gate grill, wide stance, and chiseled lines, cuts a muscular yet elegant figure, somewhat like the Governor of California, or Wotan. For those who care, it’s unmistakably an Escalade. Even the side vents look good.
No doubt in my mind; GM hit a home run with this car. Problem is, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the bleachers to see it. I ran an Internet search of all the GM dealers in my south-central Texas region, and not one had an Escalade or Tahoe/Yukon Hybrid for sale; only two even managed Silverado Hybrids. Get them out there, footsoldiers of the once-mighty General! Fill the lots! That way, prices might come down and give the working stiff a chance, and the highways of America will be filled with the sounds of (hybrid) silence. And the sunlit uplands of the future, of which Churchill spoke so longingly, will once again be in view.
So: Ridiculous? Only to those that can’t have one. This is a vehicle to desire.
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