The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a four-wheeled contradiction in terms.
Introduced in 2009 at a Florida auto show, appropriately enough, it was the only full-size luxury hybrid in General Motors’ stable. If ever there was a vehicle that demonstrated how going green is mainly for the rich, this is it.
Still, if you can find one, you will still find yourself piloting a surprisingly nimble, reasonably thrifty (all things considered) and commodious SUV that is absolutely chock-a-block with convenience features and luxury goodies.
A full leather interior, power front seats with multi-setting heated cushions and backs, wood-trimmed steering wheel, power tilt steering, power adjustable pedals, power sunroof, Bluetooth, backup alarm, remote vehicle start, power rear tailgate, XM satellite radio and side blind zone alert all came with the 2010 Escalade Hybrid.
Options include a rear entertainment system with overhead screen, a pair of wireless headphones and remote control, and power retractable assist steps that automatically fold down when you open the doors.
Designed jointly with BMW, Mercedes and Chrysler, the Escalade’s hybrid system is what the company described as a “two mode” set-up. At low speeds, the vehicle is propelled by battery power alone – depending on how you drive it. During highway cruising, the electric motor augments the vehicle’s V8 engine to help reduce fuel consumption.
On-board computers keep track of your driving habits and apply the electric power accordingly. The engine also automatically shuts off when the vehicle stops and it comes with regenerative braking to help recharge the 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
Despite the fact that it has a continuous variable transmission (CVT), the whole system actually works surprisingly well and the back-and-forth between battery power and internal combustion motivation is seamless and unobtrusive.
If you executed a jackrabbit start away from a stop light, for example, the system automatically reverts to pure engine power. But if you accelerate gradually, it stays with the electric motor until about 20 km/h, and when the engine cut in, you can barely sense the change. On the highway, the transition is undetectable.
The powertrain is kind of intriguing. The V8 engine displaces 6.0 litres and, in this configuration, developes some 332 horsepower, in tandem with the electric motor. It’s mated to an electronic continuously variable transmission and the vehicle features full-time all-wheel drive.
This engine also has GM’s active fuel management system, which shuts off up to half of the engine cylinders during highway driving. Still, you’d be lucky to get more than about 11.0 litres/100 kilometres around town. Definitely better than the non-hybrid model but still nothing to write home about. That said, it takes regular gas, no problem.
Only one safety recall to report from Transport Canada and it concerns the fuel supply system, which could let in moisture and cause the vehicle to stall unexpectedly. This glitch actually affects early and 2009 Escalade models, and is a widespread recall involving many GM light trucks for this year.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has six technical service bulletins out there for the 2010 Escalade Hybrid. These all appear to be electrical in nature and involve a possible short in the wiring and steering wheel assembly that could result in wonky cruise control and random instrument panel warnings for the traction control and braking systems.
Consumer Reports didn’t have a lot of info on this one, perhaps because it was such a low-volume model. But the non-hybrid 2011 Escalade received mostly good grades and garnered an “average” used car prediction.
Marketing researcher J.D. Power, meanwhile, gave the 2010 Escalade Hybrid full marks for overall quality when new, but well below average grades for overall performance and design. Interestingly, the Escalade’s comfort and style seem to be problematic for this organization.
2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
Original base price: $94,295
Engine: 6.0-litre V8/electric motor
Horsepower/torque: 332 horsepower/367 foot-pounds
Fuel economy: 10.4 litres/100 kilometres city, 8.5 highway (V6), with regular gas
Some alternatives: Chrysler Aspen Hybrid, GMC Yukon Hybrid, Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).