11.18.2008

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Review



The temptation was huge to simply let the picture above be the review: A Cadillac Escalade, the ultimate Sumo-class luxury SUV, with the word "H Y B R I D" emblazoned on it.

That would be the easy way out, though. The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid deserves...heck, demands...some serious discussion. After all, the mass perception of hybrids revolves around cars like the Toyota Prius...small fuel-sipping machines that, while luxurious by the standards of even a decade ago, make a show of shunning wretched excess.

Sure, the movement has been to larger hybrid vehicles of late...from the Ford Escape Hybrid to the Nissan Altima Hybrid, but those haven't fully penetrated the public consciousness yet.

And yes, the Lexus LH600 L hybrid sedan, at $105,000 plus, is somewhat more of an apparent contradiction than the Escalade Hybrid, but it's largely invisible...looking like its gasoline-powered variant, the LS460, it slips through traffic unnoticed.

Not the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. There are NINE...count them...NINE exterior badges proclaiming the word "H Y B R I D", prompting the inevitable questions from fellow motorists, who then have to deal with the answers:

A base price of $72,865.

A curb weight of 5,717 pounds.

403 horsepower from a 6.2 liter V8 gasoline engine.

0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds.

So what could the payoff possibly be? Where's the hybrid come in here? With an EPA estimated 20 miles per gallon city, 21 highway.

Now those aren't earth-shaking numbers, certainly not compared to misers like the Prius (which gets 48 city/45 highway). It misses the TireKicker Top Ten Fuel Saver list. But it is a 50% improvement in mileage compared to the gasoline-powered Escalade, which beats the 38% improvement GM's engineers got with the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid (although the Chevy's raw mpg numbers are higher).

So, if you have to have a Cadillac Escalade, the Hybrid has its upside in gas savings. Which leaves the question: Do you? Have to have one, I mean?

Well, "have to" is a loaded phrase. As I walked around the Escalade Hybrid when it arrived, looking over the GM PR materials, I was thinking about what a tough sell this particular vehicle was likely to be.

Then I spent a week driving it.


Lord help me, I want one. If GM wants a "yes" vote on bailout money, they just need to send 100 of these to the Senate wing of the United States Capitol with notes saying "Return whenever...or not." The Escalade is luxury and refinement taken to a degree where I'd argue that it's the best car to wear a Cadillac badge in at least 40 years. It imparts a sense that you're not just driving any old thing...you're driving a Cadillac. And covering 150 miles while barely seeing the fuel gague needle move off "F" is a bonus.

Getting 20 miles per gallon in the city out of a three-ton, 400-plus horsepower SUV is something that I would have classified as "the dog riding the bicycle". It doesn't matter how well he does it, it's just that it can be done at all. But the Escalade blows that away by being a really great car that makes you want it. And if that's not proof that American car-building ingenuity is alive and well, then I don't know what is.

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