Hybrids are all the buzz, but most are small cars with mega-mileage numbers.
General Motors, however, has developed hybrid versions of its full-size SUVs. One, the Cadillac Escalade, is the only full-size luxury hybrid on the market.
The gas-electric Escalade has a base price of $71,685. That's a ton at a time when the economy is slumping and vehicle sales are at a standstill, but Cadillac points out that the hybrid costs only $3,600 more than the standard Escalade and gets roughly 50 percent better mileage.
The Escalade's fuel mileage is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway. By comparison, the non-hybrid Escalade is rated at 11 mpg city and 15 highway. In my week of mainly city driving, the test truck's onboard computer showed an average of 19 mpg. The two-wheel-drive hybrid is capable of towing up to 5,800 pounds.
GM's full-size hybrids are technically impressive. They can go from a stop up to 30 miles per hour on electricity alone. Key to the system is GM's new electronically variable transmission that contains two 60-kilowatt electric motors. Simply put, the transmission can operate in two modes, one with continuously variable ratios for light loads and one with four fixed ratios for heavy loads. A sophisticated computer system decides whether to move the vehicle with electric power, gasoline power or a combination of both. Regenerative braking also helps charge the battery. GM says its two-mode transmission is unlike that used by any other hybrid.
Power for the transmission's two electric motors comes from a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack stored under the second seat. The battery pack does not interfere with getting into or out of the second or third seats.
The battery also runs the air conditioning compressor and electric power steering. It is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles.
The gasoline engine is a 6.0-liter V-8 with 332 horsepower. The engine also uses GM's active fuel management system that shuts down cylinders when cruising on the highway. The engine operates in four-cylinder mode more often because the hybrid's electric motor delivers about 30 horsepower.
The engine often shuts off when the vehicle is stopped. If you step gently on the throttle, initial acceleration comes from the electric motor. I found myself accelerating very gently to see how far I could go on the electric motor before the gasoline engine kicked in.
The hybrid Escalade is certainly luxurious. Standard equipment includes heated and cooled front seats, navigation system, rearview camera, XM satellite radio, Bose surround-sound stereo, OnStar, power tilt steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, three-zone climate control, heated windshield washer fluid, power liftgate, magnetic ride control, anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control, 22-inch chrome wheels and a heavy-duty towing package.
The front seats are especially noteworthy because they offer excellent support without feeling confining. The instrument panel has elegant gauges, few seams and surface textures that are rich and inviting. The layout and design of the radio and climate controls is simple and clean. Large knobs have a quality feel.
The base price of the test vehicle was $71,680. The only option was power retractable running boards. The sticker price was $72,780.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and an eight-year, 100-000-mile warranty on hybrid components.
2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
Engine: 6.0-liter, 332-hp V-8
Wheelbase: 116 inches
Curb weight: 5,727 lbs.
Base price: $71,680
As driven: $72,780
Mpg: 20 city, 21 hwy.
To get in touch with Tom Strongman, send e-mail to email@example.com.
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