By Larry E. Hall
The combination of conservation and ostentation seems idiosyncratic. The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a $70,000-plus 17-foot-long vehicle that can seat eight and offers real-world fuel economy in the low 20s.
Launched in August 2008, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid sport-utility vehicle is unquestionably the world’s blingiest hybrid. GM’s characteristic hybrid-logo-with-green-leaf is rendered in large, garish chrome letters in a fender vent the size of your fist—which sits at chest level to a standard-issue human being.
Let’s be clear: the four-wheel drive Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is nearly 17 feet long, weighs more than three tons and gets an EPA fuel economy rating in the low 20 miles per gallon. That’s not what most people think of when they hear “hybrid.”
But this is the hybrid for you if you want a luxury sport-utility vehicle that seats eight people, can tow up to 5,800 pounds and still maximize fuel mileage. It boasts fuel economy of 20 city/ 23 highway/21 combined. Those aren’t exceptional numbers by automotive hybrid standards, to be sure, but the city mileage is 40-percent better than a non-hybrid Escalade.
For 2012, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid’s exterior and interior is a rerun of the 2011 model. Other than additional anti-theft features and navigation system enhancements, there are no noteworthy changes for 2012.
It’s no surprise that the Escalade Hybrid shares the same hybrid system found in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC’s Yukon hybrid SUVs since all are built on the same platform and feature the same drivetrains. The hybrid hardware combines a modified 6.0-liter, 332-horsepower V8 gasoline engine, a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and a two-mode hybrid transmission that includes two 50-kilowatt motor generators. In order to keep the vehicle running at peak efficiency, this hybrid system is able to run in one of two separate modes—hence the name “two-mode hybrid.”
During low-speed, low-impact driving, the powertrain works just like other hybrids; it stops the V8 engine whenever possible so that it may draw power from one or both of the electric motors. With a deft foot on the go pedal, the big SUV can travel under electric power for around two miles at up to 35 mph.
The second mode is mostly for highway driving, at which point one or both electric motors can run concurrently along with the gas engine in order to provide a power boost. The two-mode transmission is the key to the whole system, which attempts to keep the engine running at the optimum rpm for low fuel consumption. Essentially, it manages a balancing act between the V8 engine and the electric motors. It is also responsible for making the transitions between the two modes practically seamless.
The two mode isn’t the Escalade’s only fuel saver. Four of the V8’s cylinders can take a rest and the engine can operate in an economical V4 mode from around 40 mph up to near 70 mph. Master this technique along with the characteristics of the two-mode, and the 26-gallon fuel tank will let you cruise for more than 500 miles on unleaded gasoline.
Exterior And Interior
Without the hybrid badging, there is little to distinguish the Escalade Hybrid from its conventional counterpart. Both express power and luxury, and the big, shiny offensive grille dominates everyone’s rearview mirror. Then there’s the 22-inch chromed aluminum-alloy wheels.
Unlike the Tahoe Hybrid on which it’s based, the Escalade takes no extreme measures to reduce weight and increase mileage. The front air dam is subtly different, but there are no other aerodynamic changes or mass reductions. It even has the standard Escalade roof rack. There is a slight difference between the base standard model and the Premium Edition. The Premium has a unique front fascia along with upper and lower grilles and a multi-spoke wheel design.
Inside is the same story; the Escalade Hybrid mimics its gasoline sibling, but there are some hybrid-specific features. The instrument cluster adds an additional gauge that monitors the efficiency of the vehicle, and the instrument panel has some hybrid graphics. Also, the standard navigation system screen can display a graphic diagram of the hybrid system and its operation.
The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid’s interior is a jazz quartet. The lavishness stretches from the wood trim to the leather. And no new-car smell is quite as scrumptious as a Caddy’s.
Basically, the Hybrid version of this big SUV is a complete option package that incorporates a raft of options offered on lesser Escalades. In addition to those include the aforementioned 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels, remote starter, heated and cooled front seats—all rows are leather—Bluetooth, USB/iPod port and an AM/FM/XM/CD Bose audio system with MP3 capability. Phew. Other standard features include a backup camera, power liftgate, and a blind-spot detection system in each side mirror.
All of which is to say, this is a large dollop of luxury laid on what is, in the end, a very large station wagon built on a pickup truck frame. But wait, there’s more.
The Platinum Edition adds LED headlights, upgraded leather with French stitching, heated and cooled cupholders and dual front headrest DVD screens with rear entertainment system featuring a total of three LCD screens.
For its size, the rear cargo area behind the third row is, well, puny, 16.9 cubic feet—enough room for a small grocery run, but not much more. For additional space, the third-row seatbacks can be folded, but this doesn’t yield a flat surface. The next step is tumbling the seats forward like the second-row seats. This is a pain-in-the-rear arrangement compared to competitors with a flat-fold third row.
The navigation system screen can display a graphic diagram of the hybrid system operation: electric power only, gas engine power only or a combination of both.
On The Road
If you have never driven a large SUV, it takes some time to become accustomed to its size and driving dynamics. Fortunately, sight lines are excellent and the blind-spot detection system and backup camera are welcome features. As for parking the big rig, it’s best to park head in, unless you are very adept at parallel parking.
For those familiar with a big SUV, the Escalade Hybrid driving experience is rather ordinary. Ordinary meaning that with a body-on-frame construction, independent front suspension and solid rear axle, the ride is slightly truck like. But only slightly. You will know when a big pothole is encountered, but it’s not a harsh event. Cadillac has smoothed the ride with a touring suspension that incorporates GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, which reads the road up to 1,000 times a second.
The Escalade Hybrid feels planted during cornering and stable when cruising at 70 mph on the highway. Forbes said, “Escalade Hybrid is remarkably composed around curves and on rough surfaces, and is a positive locomotive on a long road trip.” NADA Guides commented, “With a firm grip on the wheel and an eye for the next curve ahead, the Escalade performed far better than I expected.”
The Detroit News reported, “The ride literally glides along the highway. The 6-liter engine and electric motor produce absolutely silky smooth acceleration.” And about the steering, it says, “The electric rack-in-pinion steering feels exact without feeling overbearing. The Escalade is surprisingly easy to maneuver, and the advantage of the electric motor operating the steering system means it can tighten up at higher speeds and loosen up when silently cruising around parking lots.”
As if the Cadillac Escalade didn’t have enough bling already, the hybrid model adds a huge hybrid logo to the front fender vents. Hey, Cadillac can’t sell hybrids if folks don’t know they exist.
The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is available in two trim levels. The standard model has a sticker price of $73,850 for two-wheel drive and $76,400 for four-wheel drive. Stepping up to the Premium Edition, 2WD is priced at $83,295 and 4WD at $85,845.
If you want most of the luxury amenities, eight-passenger seating, the towing capacity, but none of the bling, the 2012 GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid could be a better choice. Priced starting at $62,825 this GMC hybrid is more than $10,000 less than the Escalade. If you want a luxury badge and are willing to give up some interior room, test drive Audi’s Q7 TDI. It’s a diesel-powered seven-seat crossover with a starting price of $51,450, including all-wheel drive. That’s $24,950 less than the base 4-WD Escalade and it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17 city/25 highway/20 combined.
The Hybrid For You?
It’s no Prius, but then it was never meant to be. If you need a really big eight-seat vehicle—and have a taste for luxury and the cash to match—this $70,000-plus hybrid SUV may be your cup of tea.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.