Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Test Drive and Review

By dancurranjr On February 27th, 2009

escalade-hybridThe bottoms of the doors are boldly emblazoned with “HYBRID” in a badly tracked font, letting the world know you’re not a totally selfish knuckle-dragger. In fact, Cadillac’s Escalade Hybrid carries so much prominent badging that you get the impression it’s a rolling apology. Hey, if it gets you a thumbs up instead of being flipped the bird, it’s all good.

The biggest immediate concern, of course, is what kind of fuel economy this electrically enhanced full size traditional SUV returns. Let’s temper our results by saying that the weather was cold when we drove this big Caddy, and hybrid mileage isn’t quite so amazing when frigid breezes are blowing. The two-mode hybrid system that General Motors has developed for its big trucks is a smooth operator, and the V8 is equipped with seamless cylinder deactivation for an extra economy edge, too.

The Escalade lends itself to extended highway running. The seats are very comfortable, trimmed in the expected leather. Overall, the interior is nicely done, and the materials are mostly high quality. The design of the dashboard is clean and refined, but none of what’s inside the Escalade is strikingly exclusive to any of its GM siblings when well equipped. The difference is that everything is pretty much standard in the Escalade Hybrid, big whoop. The interior, while quite comfortable and blessed with good ergonomics, doesn’t differentiate itself enough for the rareified $75,000 price tag, and there are some areas that feel cheap.

The door panels and other plastic trim throughout don’t feel or exhibit fit and finish to support the initial impression the Escalade makes. It’s all quite acceptable, mind you, and a lot of that premium price is tied up in the hybrid hardware, instead of door panels stitched by hand from Yak leather. Cross-shopping the Escalade with similarly priced competition, like the Range Rover Sport, will point up the fact that the Caddy is hauling the interior of a $45,000 vehicle.

Leaving the desire for more Zebrano wood and diamond-stitched cowhide door panels aside, the Escalade drives like a million bucks. The steering is settled and accurate, requiring little correction to keep the Escalade on its intended course. There isn’t any steering feel to speak of, though, even amongst peers, GMs trucks feel more numb than is preferable. The ride is also supple, soaking up bad pavement without much head toss. In short, the Escalade is a very benign, almost big-car-like drivin experience. There’s a video-game screen that tells you what the hybrid system is up to, but other than that, and an occasional whine from the electric motor, transparency is the order of the day.

As a family vehicle, the Escalade offers great space, lots of comfort, media toys for those that want to be entertained, the gamut of stuff. Stuff that you can get on a much less expensive vehicle, even on the same platform. The third row, too, isn’t blessed with any sense of legroom – got to make room for that full frame and live rear axle. General Motors own Lambda crossovers (GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave) offer more legroom back there, better space efficiency, and more miles out of a gallon of fuel, even without a hybrid powertrain.

Also on the minds of families, how does it hold up to kids? Mounting child seats will be the first challenge. LATCH anchors are installed on two of the three center row seats. Logically, you’d assume that would mean the outboard positions. With the 60/40 split of the second row seat, though, only the middle and passenger side position have LATCH anchors. GM says that it’s a safety issue, to keep excess stress of the seat frame on the 60-percent side. That may be so, but it makes it more inconvenient to put a child into the Escalade, and some seats may interfere with each other when mounted side by side.

Niceties like a power liftgate and power operated running boards that zip out underfoot whenever you open a door do make the high ground clearance more bearable, and there is a place for the Escalade Hybrid. It’d be great for a long highway jaunt where you needed to pull a trailer, something the Lambda CUVs aren’t as good at. It’d be great to head to the White Mountains with, either for a ski jaunt, or pulling snowmobiles, or just for some klondike camping. Highway rides, however, are not where the hybrid system shines. Around town, or being used by a livery service would be perfect for the Escalade hybrid, uses where a traditional station wagon still excels, and is often more than most buyers need.

The ridiculousness of using the Escalade for normal family wagon use aside, this is a nice piece of hardware. It looks so fantastic in black that no other color needs to be offered, and it’s a pleasure to drive. The Escalade does do better on fuel than the non-hybrid version, but it’s still going to top out in the teens – we managed a 16.5mpg average with a mix of 60 percent highway, 40 city. Poking around in town with the ‘Slade warmed up would bump that average, as the hybrid system would operate off the batteries and shut the engine off a lot more readily. With so much mass, there’s really no way for it to do phenomenally better on the the highway. Sure, it’ll drop to 4-cylinder mode, but the first grade you come to will cancel that, too. In all, though, any effort to save some fuel is worthwhile in some way, and the pleasant driving experience trumps most of the frustrations with the Escalade Hybrid.

SOURCE:  Examiner

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