Launched in August 2008 as a 2009 model, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid sport-utility vehicle is unquestionably the world’s blingiest hybrid. General Motor’s characteristic hybrid-logo-with-green-leaf is rendered in large, garish chrome letters on a fender vent the size of your fist – which sits at chest level to a standard-issue human being.
Let’s be clear: the 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, the big Caddy’s 20 mpg city is the same city mileage as a Toyota Venza crossover with all-wheel drive powered by a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an automatic transmission. On the highway the Venza does go farther on a gallon (two additional miles), but the Escalade Hybrid still manages to push its enormous exterior through the air at the rate of 23 mpg.
For 2013, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid’s exterior and interior is a rerun of the 2012 model with no significant changes and returns with either rear- or four-wheel drive. Prices also carryover from 2012. 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, RWD is priced at $83,295 and 4WD at $85,845.
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 drivetrain. The hybrid hardware combines a modified 6.0-liter 332 horsepower V8 gasoline engine, a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and an electrically variable transmission (EVT). The transmission is made up of two 60-kilowatt (80 horsepower) electric motors, three planetary gearsets and four fixed gears that use the same space as GM’s six-speed automatic transmission. Essentially the EVT has two drive modes – hence the name “two-mode hybrid.”
The magic of the two-mode hybrid system is that the hybrid system itself generates the electric power used to propel the vehicle. When the regenerative brakes are applied or the vehicle is coasting, the electric motors within the hybrid system produce electricity that is stored in the battery pack. This stored energy is then used to move the vehicle, and the cycle repeats itself continually to increase fuel economy.
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 time one or both electric motors can run concurrently along with the gas engine in order to provide a power boost. The two-mode transmission 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. The V8 engine employs cylinder deactivation technology (known at GM as active fuel management). 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.
Not as dramatic in saving fuel as cylinder deactivation, an electrically driven, 42-volt variable-assist power steering system provides up to a 0.5-mpg fuel economy improvement compared to the common belt-driven hydraulic systems. Hey, 0.5-mpg here, 0.5-mpg there, it all adds up.
Exterior And Interior
Like its Tahoe and Yukon hybrid cousins, the Escalade’s styling dates back to 2007, but it has aged far better. Up front, the multi-faceted chrome grille, inspired by the Cadillac Sixteen show car of 2003, is so overwhelming that the huge headlights are barely noticed. Covered with chrome trim and rolling on 22-inch chromed aluminum-alloy wheels, the Escalade Hybrid still looks fresh and commands the same attention and esteem it did when introduced.
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 hybrid 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 the Escalade Hybrid mimics its gasoline sibling, which means seven or eight people can ride in leather-wrapped comfort. Second-row passengers get nearly as much luxury as those up front. Heated leather captain’s chairs are standard, though leather, heated three-person bench is a no-cost option. Not only are the second-row seats comfortable, they also feature individual audio and climate controls.
The driver and front-seat passenger ride high, but the dash is positioned low, furnishing an expansive view out of the large windshield. A distinct instrument panel is a defining attribute of the interior. It includes gauges with white needles and blue light inlays with continuously lit, white-LED backlighting.
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.
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 included 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels, standard are 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. About the Platinum Edition, Motor Trend said, “The wood inlay worthy of a Louis XIV armoire and French-stitched leather everywhere make this the best-finished cabin in an SUV as far as I’m concerned.”
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.
On The Road
If you have never driven a large SUV, it takes some time to become acclimated 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 reported, “Escalade Hybrid is remarkably composed around curves and on rough surfaces, and is a positive locomotive on a long road trip.” NADA Guides remarked, “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 reviewer reported, “The ride literally glides along the highway. The 6-liter engine and electric motor produce absolutely silky smooth acceleration.” And about the steering, he 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.”
Regenerative braking systems are often dissed because of their quirky feel. But Automobile Magazine said, “Countless hours of seat time went toward blending the EVT’s regenerative braking with the Escalade’s physical braking system, and the transitions between the two are indistinguishable.”
Is The Green Tech Worth The Greenbacks?
Because Cadillac equips the Escalade Hybrid with a long list of standard features, an apples-to-apples comparison to the various gas-powered Escalade models is difficult. The closest is the base Hybrid versus the Luxury trim edition, priced at $67,395 for rear drive, $69,945 for 4WD, a $6,455 premium for the Hybrid. But comparisons should also include fuel mileage. The gas engine Escalade’s EPA ratings are 14/18/16 combined for RWD, 13/18/15 for 4WD. The Hybrid’s numbers are 20/23/21 combined for both rear- and four-wheel drive.
If you want most of the luxury amenities, eight passenger seating, the towing capacity, but none of the bling, the 2013 GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid could be a better choice. Priced starting at $60,635 this GMC hybrid is more than $13,000 less than the Escalade and has the same EPA fuel economy ratings. 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 $52.000, including all-wheel drive. That’s $24,400 less than the base 4WD Escalade and has an EPA fuel economy rating of 17/25/20 combined.
As for cost of ownership, the 2013 Escalade Hybrid is too new to calculate. However, Vincentric, an automotive analysis firm, just released its 2012 Hybrid Analysis and since there is no price increase for the 2013 Escalade, this report is a good guideline. Comparing the gasoline Escalade to the Escalade Hybrid, Vincentric shows that the hybrid model would save $4,986 in gasoline costs over five years.
The Cadillac Escalade is certainly no Prius, but then it was never meant to be. If you need a really big seven- or eight-seat vehicle – and are flush enough to bankroll the taste of luxury, this $70,000-plus hybrid SUV may be your cup of tea.
What’s Next For The Escalade Hybrid?
General Motors had planned all-new models of its full-size sport utilities, including the Escalade, for the 2013 model year, but put off production as it worked its way through bankruptcy. Now, according to gminsidenews.com, the automaker is leaning towards canceling almost all of the hybrid variants of the new SUVs and trucks that are scheduled to debut as 2014 models at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in January or 2013 Chicago Auto Show in February.
The Escalade Hybrid may escape the chopping block. If so, it will continue to be built upon GM’s full-size truck platform, including a live rear axle for towing, and will not switch to a crossover design. Fuel economy gains will come from weight reduction, a smaller displacement V8 engine, upgrading the battery to a lithium-ion pack, revised electric motors and possibly, an all-new four-mode electrically variable transmission.
Prices are manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.