Cadillac Escalade Hybrid – allowing big to go green

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Now you can drive a real bling machine with a somewhat clear conscience.

If you’ve missed the Cadillac Escalade experience, but still have the burning desire to have a shiny new Caddy sitting on 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels parked in your driveway even in this challenging economic climate and even as political correctness dictates everything green, Cadillac has the answer.

Perhaps it won’t give you a completely clear conscience — especially if saving the world from three-ton machines is in your genetic makeup — but you can drive the Escalade much leaner with the new two-mode hybrid system.

And just so your neighbors know you are at least trying to do the right thing, Cadillac has “HYBRID” inscribed in giant letters on both sides of the big sport utility.

You won’t be bragging about horsepower — although it’s still pretty prodigious — and astonishing 0-to-60 times in this big SUV. You will, however, be pounding your chest over improved gas mileage while retaining solid performance and towing capabilities.
And you will still be living large swaddled in leather and wood and splendid isolation.

Actually what General Motors has accomplished with the Escalade hybrid — and the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids — is rather phenomenal, even if less than perfect.

Like all full hybrids, the Escalade is best around town from stoplight to stoplight because the gas engine is not running while waiting for the light to turn green. And if traffic is moving slowly enough, the Escalade can ease from a stop and reach 25 mph without using a drop of foreign oil.

We practiced this technique a few times coasting in and out of shopping centers and then idling along between 10 and 15 mph trying to reach home without the aid of the big 6.0-liter V-8. It seems to work equally as well in stop and go freeway traffic. The more stop the better the mileage. General Motors claims it’s possible to reach 30 mph on battery power alone, but we figure the need for speed will override the slow assent past 20 mph in most situations.

Keeping the thirsty V-8 at rest on occasion helped us obtain a nearly 20 mpg average for 200 miles. That is nearly astonishing in a 6,100-pound vehicle propelled by 332 horsepower.

The hybrid is rated at 20 mpg city and 21 on the highway with a combined average of 20 compared to the standard edition with a 6.2-liter 403-horsepower V-8, which is rated at 12/19 with a combined average of 15 mpg.

We think people who purchase an Escalade hybrid — base price $71,685 including the destination charge — aren’t as excited about saving an average  five miles to the gallon as they are bragging that their big luxury SUV goes 20 miles on one gallon of gas. But if you measured it at 15,000 miles a year, you would use 250 fewer gallons of gas, saving between $500 ($2-a-gallon) and $1,000 ($4-a-gallon), and thereby reducing the truck’s carbon footprint.

The new hybrid system, developed jointly by GM, BMW, Daimler and Chrysler, is called “Two Mode.” It features two sizable 60-kilowatt electric motors packaged within what GM calls an electric variable transmission (EVT).

EVT is like having two transmissions inside one, a continuously variable drive for light loads and the equivalent of a four-speed fixed-ratio automatic for high load conditions.

Like other hybrids, the Two Mode has a battery pack for storing electricity, regenerative braking to capture energy and the ability as noted to shut off the engine when the vehicle is stopped.

To help achieve better highway mileage, the 6.0-liter V-8 comes with cylinder deactivation technology, meaning that in cruising situations the engine will run on just four cylinders.

While the big V-8 develops a solid 332 horsepower, that’s 71 less than that made by the standard Escalade 6.2-liter engine the performance is still strong measured in terms of 0-to-60 in about 8 seconds.

All-in-all, beside the Hybrid whine, and the need for some extra foot pound pressure on the brakes, the Escalade was pretty benign; performing up to expected standards. Handling was as expected – comfortable ride with a minimal of wallow; but don’t try flogging it around corners – it does have a very high center of gravity.

The only real sacrifice is in towing capacity. The standard Escalade can tow up to 7,700 pounds. The hybrid’s tow capacity in 5,800 pounds; but that’s still a lot of towing power and we don’t see this as a drawback in very many cases.

Like the regular Escalade, maximum cargo volume is a large 109 cubic feet and there’s a healthy 60.3 cubic feet behind the second-row seats. Space behind the third row of seats is a shallow but still useable 16.9 cubic feet.

The third row is useable by adults giving the big Cadillac the capability of hauling up to eight people; although entering and exiting is not the easiest of exercises.

Note that the third row does not fold flat into the floor as in some trucks including the Lincoln Navigator, but the seats do fold down and can be removed in two sections, each weighing about 65 pounds.

The interior is lavished in luxury appointments including standard first-class leather upholstery and rich-looking wood trim. Quality materials are used throughout and fit and finish is excellent. A huge center bin will hold a purse, small laptop or a camera bag.

Dashboard controls are well placed and are easily decipherable, not always the case in luxury vehicles. Navigation likewise is easy to use even without providing all the street names on the map system, but we particularly liked the way satellite radio information is displayed on the screen. We did have some problems with point of interest retrieval. While we couldn’t call up a restaurant list we did find a list of gas stations within a fairly large radius. And the lovely analog clock that sits just above the navigation screen, while nicely designed it is very hard to read.

You should expect a lot of standard features when you lay out 70-grand, and you get many of them in the Escalade Hybrid. Such things as 22-inch chrome wheels, magnetic ride control, leather and wood interior, 14-way power front seats, tri-zone climate control, rearview backup camera, navigation, and a Bose 5.1 surround audio system are standard. We didn’t understand while a vehicle at this price point didn’t have a keyless entry and start system, so you’ll have to reach into and search your purse, briefcase or pockets for the key and fob to get you going.

Safety is also paramount. The Escalade has earned top five-star front and side crash ratings from the government. And virtually every safety device offered by GM is included. We especially liked the blind spot warning system that offers the warning in both side mirrors. In a truck as large as the Escalade you need all the help you can get when changing lanes.

The warranty is always an issue with hybrids, and Cadillac has included an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the hybrid system. The drivetrain warranty is also generous at five years/100,000 miles.

Our test truck included only one option, power retractable assist steps for $1,095 bringing the bottom line to $72,780. A non-retracting running board is standard.

If you aren’t concerned about being politically correct and gas mileage is not particularly important, and you don’t care about your carbon foot print, you might consider the gas- engine Escalade starting at $61,935. Even equipped like the hybrid, it will come in several thousand dollars less.

But we know that if you insist on driving a humongous vehicle you’ll do the right thing.


Base price: $71,680; as driven, $72,780
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8, electric motors
Horsepower: 332 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque: 367 foot-pounds @ 4,100 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 4-speed automatic, CVT
Seating: 2/3/3
Wheelbase: 116 inches
Length: 202.5 inches
Curb weight: 6,161 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 109 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,800 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 21 mpg highway, 20 city
0-60: 8 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: GMC Yukon Hybrid, Lexus RX 400h, Lincoln Navigator

The Good
• Reasonable fuel economy for big SUV
• Well executed interior
• Hauls up to eight people and tows 5,800 pounds

The Bad
• Third-row seat does not fold flat
• Getting in and out of third row can be difficult

The Ugly
• Price of entry is severely steep