Well, this is a first - I never thought I would be nervous about picking up a test car.
But, given the spate of gang-related shootings in Vancouver lately, I have to admit I was a titch skittish about driving around in a Cadillac Escalade. This particular tester had a glossy black paint job, pimped-out alloy wheels and tinted windows - the quintessential gangsta ride.
Fortunately, Hybrid logos were festooned all over my test car, so if I did happen to stray into a turf war, closer inspection would reveal that there was a middle-aged auto scribe behind the wheel, and not a Glock-toting gang-banger.
With that out of the way, the Escalade Hybrid is a four-wheeled oxymoron.
First of all, no self-respecting tree-hugger would be caught dead in one of these things - hybrid or no.
Secondly, who's going to pay the 100-large it costs to get behind the wheel of this vehicle? Fully loaded, the non-hybrid version is at least $10,000 cheaper.
Thirdly, buyers typically in the market for this kind of rig couldn't care less about hybrid technology or cleaner air and lower gas bills; they want bling, end of story.
And last, but hardly least, why on earth would General Motors build this behemoth in the first place? I don't want to kick them while they're down, but the technology in the Escalade Hybrid would surely be put to better use somewhere else.
Wait, I know the answer to that last question. In a nutshell, the company makes more money on this kind of vehicle and, its current problems notwithstanding, GM still has not gotten the message when it comes to building and selling affordable, thrifty cars in Canada.
Even if it does have a battery-powered electric motor, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid still epitomizes everything that is wrong at GM. Still, it is a low-volume vehicle and GM won't be building that many of them.
And it is agreeable to drive, not to mention being as comfortable as your favourite armchair. Step up into the cockpit and you 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.
For example, it has 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, back-up alarm, remote vehicle start, power rear tailgate, XM satellite radio and side blind zone alert. This last item features a small indicator light built into the outside rear mirrors that blinks when another vehicle is in your so-called blind spot. A good idea.
My tester came with a rear entertainment system ($2,295) that includes overhead screen, a pair of wireless headphones and remote control. It also had power-retractable assist steps ($1,425) that automatically fold down when you open the doors. I loved this last feature and it made climbing up into the Escalade a much more civilized experience.
Now, about the hybrid drive system. Designed jointly with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler, it is what GM calls a two-mode setup. At low speeds, the vehicle is propelled by battery power alone - depending on how you drive - and during highway cruising, the electric motor augments the vehicle's V-8 engine to help reduce fuel consumption.
Onboard computers keep track of your driving habits and apply the electric power accordingly. The engine is also automatically shut off when the vehicle stops and it has regenerative braking to help recharge the 300-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack.
The whole system actually works nicely and the back-and-forth between battery power and internal combustion motivation is seamless and unobtrusive. If you execute a jack-rabbit 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 cuts in, you can barely sense the change. On the highway, the transition is undetectable. I was pretty impressed with whole setup.
The powertrain in the Escalade is kind of intriguing as well. The V-8 engine displaces 6.0 litres and, in this configuration, develops some 332 horsepower, in tandem with the electric motor.
It's mated to an electronic continuously variable transmission and the vehicle has full-time all-wheel-drive.
This engine also features GM's active fuel management system, which shuts off up to half of the engine cylinders during highway driving. GM hasn't released its official fuel economy ratings, but the on-board fuel consumption guide indicated about 15.0 litres/100 km around town. This is better than the non-hybrid model, but still no great shakes.
All things considered, the hybrid drive system is this vehicle's strongest point. If you did away with all the glitzy flim-flam and halved the price, you'd have a useable, reasonably economical vehicle that is much more driveable than it appears.
2009 CADILLAC ESCALADE HYBRID
Type: Full-size SUV
Base Price: $94,295; as tested: $99,665
Engine: 6.0-litre V-8
Horsepower/Torque: 332 hp/ 367 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): not available; regular gas
Alternatives: Chrysler Aspen Hybrid, GMC Yukon Hybrid, Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Lexus RX 400h
- Well-behaved drivetrain
- Far too big