Full 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Review
What's New for 2009
New for 2009, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is the only full-size hybrid SUV aimed at the luxury-car demographic. This spacious cargo- and people hauler is powered by GM's two-mode hybrid technology.
Car owners don't just brag about horsepower and speed anymore. These days, image-conscious consumers throw around catchphrases like "fuel economy" and "carbon footprint." A growing concern for the environment (as well as the mere desire to seem concerned) has made the hybrid badge a status symbol, even among those who can afford to go buck-wild at the pump. This thinking has in part helped spawn the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, a large luxury SUV that offers impressive mileage for its class.
Like most hybrids, this Escalade is at its thriftiest when driven around town. Its fuel economy in city driving is an impressive 20 mpg; compare this to the gas-only Escalade's 12 mpg. General Motors' "two-mode" hybrid technology is behind this feat -- it's the same system that powers the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and the GMC Yukon Hybrid. Unlike the technology seen in GM's previous "mild" hybrids, this system allows the vehicle's electric motor to operate without the assistance of the gas motor -- provided the vehicle's speed and the driver's technique fall within the limitations of the electric power plant. When driving conditions become more demanding, the gas engine kicks in. The two-mode system gives drivers the best of both worlds: It sips gas around town and in stop-and-go traffic, but offers lots of power when circumstances call for it.
A stout 6.0-liter V8 provides the Escalade Hybrid's gasoline power. It uses cylinder-deactivation technology, which allows the engine to function like a more economical V4 when full power isn't necessary. The electric portion of the powertrain is comprised of two 60-kilowatt motors. Governing the proceedings is an electrically variable transmission that functions as a continuously variable transmission in light load conditions and as a fixed-ratio system (with four fixed forward gear ratios) when loads get heavier.
The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers significant gains in fuel economy relative to gas-powered models, but keep in mind that not all SUV drivers will operate it in a way that optimizes fuel economy. Heavy loads, steep inclines and even heavy-footed acceleration all call on the V8 for assistance, which, logically, causes fuel economy to plummet. And as for this Escalade's environmental benefits, we'll let you be the judge -- this is, after all, a 5,900-pound SUV.
If you're eager to invest in hybrid technology and can make some sacrifices in towing capability and passenger capacity, consider the midsize Lexus RX 400h. This five-seater offers impeccable luxury and is almost $30,000 cheaper than the Escalade Hybrid, which has a base price of just over $70,000. Also worth considering are diesel-powered Audi and Mercedes SUVs, which also provide improved fuel economy over conventional gasoline engines. But if you need a hybrid luxury SUV that seats eight and offers oodles of opulence and brute force to burn, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is the only game in town.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a full-size luxury SUV available in one trim level. An extensive array of standard equipment is included, such as 22-inch wheels, xenon headlights, leather upholstery, heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats with memory settings for the driver, tri-zone automatic climate control, a navigation system with real-time traffic, rear park assist with a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar and a rear-seat entertainment system. Also standard is a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system with an in-dash six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio. The only options are power-retractable running boards and an engine-block heater for those in cold climates.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid gets its power from a 6.0-liter V8 engine coupled to a pair of 60-kilowatt electric motors located inside what GM calls an electrically variable transmission. These engines combine to generate 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. Both rear-drive and four-wheel-drive versions are offered.
Optimized fuel consumption is achieved in two ways: At speeds of up to about 25 mph, the Escalade Hybrid can be powered solely by its electric motors. At higher speeds (and depending on driving conditions), its cylinder deactivation system can shut down four cylinders, effectively transforming the V8 into a more frugal V4. The hybrid battery pack is replenished via regenerative braking, which serves to capture energy that is normally lost when the Escalade Hybrid grinds to a halt. Rear-wheel-drive models have an EPA estimate of 20 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 20 combined; 4WD models have slightly less. Properly equipped, a rear-wheel-drive Escalade Hybrid can tow 5,800 pounds.
Standard safety equipment on the Escalade Hybrid includes traction control, stability control, OnStar, a rearview camera with park assist and full-length side curtain airbags. The SUV scored a perfect five stars in government frontal- and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Escalade Hybrid's cabin offers the same brand of unbridled luxury seen in gas-only models. The standard leather upholstery is soft to the touch and controls are thoughtfully placed and within easy reach. Build quality is beyond reproach, materials quality is excellent and the overall aesthetic is unapologetically sumptuous.
A standard third row allows the Escalade Hybrid to seat up to eight people. Disappointingly, though, these 50/50-split seats don't fold flat into the floor and must be removed manually. This can be a chore, since each seat weighs more than 60 pounds. With the third-row seats out of the picture and the second-row seats folded, cargo capacity maxes out at a spacious 109 cubic feet.
Thanks to its electric motors, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid accelerates and brakes with all the ruckus of a whisper. This trait contributes to a cabin whose stillness rivals that of a library reading room. And transitions between gas and electric modes are seamless enough to be pretty much undetectable.
The Escalade Hybrid offers a braking feel that's marked by appealing firmness, thanks to its regenerative braking system. But acceleration isn't particularly brisk, and it's hampered in part by the SUV's hefty curb weight. Low-end power is abundant, though, which helps with trailer towing and city travels.