Matching a Cadillac Escalade with a hybrid power train seems ridiculous, but the Cadillac brand is made for taking cars over the top, then finding another top to go over. The Cadillac Escalade, in particular, serves as an example of American excess, a big luxury SUV cruiser never meant to be taken off paved surfaces. Although adding a hybrid power train mitigates the generally poor fuel economy of the gas-only version, its more important function is to highlight the popular green trend. And the Escalade Hybrid makes no secret of its greenness, sporting hybrid signs and badges from every angle.
The hybrid power train in the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is shared with that in the and Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, the latter model voted the 2008 Green Car of the Year by the Green Car Journal. With this system, the Escalade Hybrid delivers similar economy, whether it's creeping through downtown traffic or sailing along the interstate. As standard, it comes packed with useful cabin tech, such as navigation, Bose audio, and Bluetooth support.
On the road
We had the opportunity to take the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid on a road trip and were treated to its luxuries from the get-go. The power lift gate blinked the taillights in warning as it opened access to the cargo bay, and the running boards folded down automatically, making it easy to step into the truck. The third row seats weren't quite as kind, requiring some muscle to get them out of the way.
Our gear safely packed away, we guided the Escalade Hybrid out through downtown traffic. The hybrid power train can carry the heavy truck forward under electric power alone, but that involves a light touch on the accelerator for which we generally didn't have patience. If you don't want cars honking behind you, give it some gas. That said, the transition from electric-only to its engine running is smooth.
In narrow lanes, the big truck is unwieldy at best, but the steering responds well enough to keep it in its lane. Of particular benefit is the blind-spot detection system, which lights up a signal in the side mirror if a smaller car in the next lane slips below the Escalade's high sight lines. Also helpful is the XM NavTraffic overlaid on the navigation screen's maps, which warned us of an incident 5 miles ahead on our route. It was easy enough to hit the Avoid button and have a new route automatically programmed into the navigation system.
Finally out on the freeway, the Escalade was cruising at speed. Heated and cooled front seats with 14-way adjustment, leather, wood trim--yes, this is definitely a Cadillac. But wait, what sort of ride quality is this? The jolts and bumps from the road were palpable in the cabin, not something we would expect from a brand that used to produce big, long sedans that floated down the long, open roads. Platform-sharing has the Escalade Hybrid built on the same GMT900 platform as other big GM SUVs and pick-up trucks, which aren't known for smoothing out the road.
70 mph on the freeway isn't optimal driving for most hybrids, as you can't take best advantage of all that instant torque from the electric motor. But the Escalade Hybrid has another trick up its sleeve: cylinder deactivation. Its big 6.2-liter V-8 stops sending fuel to half its cylinders while cruising at speed. But the engine mode indicator showed that this feature is kind of sensitive. In low, rolling hills, a little gas applied intended to keep the car's speed up inevitably resulted in those four extra cylinders kicking in. Just like the electric mode, it would take a very gentle touch on the accelerator to use the truck's fuel-saving features to their fullest.
In the cabin
The dashboard of the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is familiar territory with GM's standard navigation and audio system controlled by a touch-screen LCD. The interface is well-thought-out, using tabs across the top to make selections for things such as audio sources. The tabs also let you choose to display a full-screen map or a split between the map and current audio source.
Although the navigation system is DVD-based, it responds well, refreshing the map quickly enough and keeping good track of the Escalade Hybrid's position. It offers the usual categories for points of interest, but doesn't go really deep with individual retail locations.
Destination entry is intuitive and easy with a large onscreen keyboard. Route guidance is also decent, but doesn't have text-to-speech, so it won't read out the names of streets.
The only really remarkable feature of the navigation system is XM NavTraffic, which GM integrates really well. Not only will the system warn you about slow traffic on a programmed route, giving you a detour button right on the warning, it will also raise a warning if it finds a traffic incident within 10 miles on the current road. For example, if you jump on the freeway and there's an accident 5 miles down the road, the system will proactively warn you.
The stereo uses the same interface, but is lacking in audio sources. It comes with a six-disc changer right below the LCD, along with XM satellite radio. But the only option for an external MP3 player is a set of RCA jacks set into the back of the center console, a placement intended for the rear-seat passengers to take advantage of the entertainment package in the back. The rear-seat entertainment includes an LCD hanging from the ceiling, which can show DVDs or input from a composite video jack next to the RCA jacks.
Music and DVDs play through a Bose 5.1 channel audio system, broadcasting good-quality sound. We would classify it as above-average, not as good as really high-end systems, but better than the six-speaker audio found in many cars as a base system. This Bose system has a lot of power, but separation is poor, leading to muddled frequencies.