I see a lot of Cadillac Escalades on the road where I live in Los Angeles. I don't know if it's Tony Soprano or what, but these big ol' things are popular around here. When I got a chance to drive the 2009 Escalade Hybrid I was pretty excited to see what all the, er, excitement was about, and now I'm just confused. Are people really that influenced by trends and good looks? Because as far as I can tell that's just about all the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid has to offer.
The Escalade Hybrid is cumbersome, plasticky and overpriced, and it gets truly awful gas mileage. While it's rated by the EPA to get 20/21 mpg city/highway, in my hilly area this monster could barely crack 13 mpg, even with my attempts to keep the needle in the "green" area. So, don't let the ginormous hybrid decals fool you; this behemoth is no planet-saver. I really can't see what makes the Escalade Hybrid so popular.
I have to admit that the Escalade Hybrid drives nicely, for an SUV. The V-8 is coupled with a Two-Mode hybrid system that assists the engine during acceleration. The ride is smooth over rough roads and minor bumps, but turning requires caution because of its squishy ride.
I had no trouble remembering that I was driving a massive truck; from the giant steering wheel to the giant side mirrors, everything about the Escalade Hybrid is huge. Except interior space. Oddly, for such a large vehicle, the interior felt cramped. This SUV feels wider than it is long, with a third row that is fit only for children, and virtually no cargo space when the third row is in place.
I got lots of looks and comments during my week in the Escalade Hybrid, and I spent a lot of time shaking my head and trying to see the appeal. There is a bunch of technology in the Escalade, but none of it seems to integrate well. It's like Caddy just tossed in a long list of options without thinking how they would be used. There are two different buttons to open and close the sunroof. There is a great remote-start function, but the Escalade Hybrid still uses an old-school key. Even though you can start the car from your living room via the key fob, you still need to insert a key and turn it to drive off in the Escalade Hybrid. You get OnStar with Turn-by-Turn Navigation in the Escalade Hybrid, but there's also a DVD-based navigation system. Cadillac was clearly swinging for the fences with this Escalade, but, wow, did they miss with me. This is one trend I'm happy to avoid.
If you go for big, shiny and flashy, then the Escalade is for you. It's huge; it commands the road and demands to be noticed. Helping out with that is the chrome that virtually drips off the SUV's body like tinsel on a Christmas tree. A massive five-corner chrome grille with the Cadillac emblem in the center dominates the front of the Escalade Hybrid. Enormous, rectangular, vertical bi-xenon headlights own the corners, and a fearless front bumper sports a couple of fog lights that look teeny by comparison.
The hybrid's profile is equally shiny, with chrome trim on the windows, door handles, side mirrors, running board and roof rack. What really catch the eye are the 22-inch chromed aluminum wheels. Woooo, fancy! The rear of the Escalade has its share of shine, as well. There's a wide piece of chrome trim above the license plate, and the step of the tailgate is also chrome. Just for good measure, the rear wiper has a narrow strip of chrome trim. When the sun is shining, the Escalade can be blinding.
The Escalade Hybrid gets some added shine with chrome and enamel "Hybrid" badges on the front-quarter panels and C-pillars, and there's also a giant decal that runs along the bottom of the doors. There's another "Hybrid" badge on the tailgate and another decal on the rear window of the Escalade Hybrid, just in case you missed the other six. Cadillac wants to make sure that everyone knows that this SUV is no gas-guzzler. (Except it is.)
Because this SUV is so huge, Caddy helps out with things like running boards and wide-opening doors. Getting in and out was easy for me and my kids. The doors aren't too heavy for little arms to manage, and the power liftgate removes one more struggle from my day. The rear window also opens separately from the rest of the tailgate, although I don't really see the advantage of that.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
When I first got into the Escalde Hybrid, I thought, "Wow, that's a lot of plastic!" As I spent more time in it, I found even more plastic. I didn't know what was the bigger contradiction: all the plastic in a supposedly "green" vehicle or all the plastic in a supposedly "luxury" vehicle. I'm not talking about cleverly disguised plastic that's textured and painted; I'm talking about cheap, lightweight, molded plastic. The bottom half of the doors are plastic. The door bins are molded plastic. The fake wood trim is "tap, tap," yep, plastic. The center instrument stack is set in flat, black plastic.
The seats and center armrest are covered in a supple leather. The front seats are heated and cooled, and they adjust in 14 ways, including height. The pedals also are power adjustable, and when you factor in the power tilt steering wheel, finding the perfect driving position is easy for drivers of any size. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and has controls for the audio system and the Bluetooth connection. I had no problem setting things up, and my phone worked well.
A large color touch-screen provides navigation and traffic information; it also shows a graphical representation of the SUV's hybrid system. The Escalade Hybrid comes with satellite radio, an MP3 jack and a six-disc CD changer. The touch-screen system's panel seemed clumsy and old-fashioned in its design. The DVD-driven navigation system didn't seem to be well-planned either. A drive just below the touch-screen houses the map info, and I could hear it running as soon as I started the car. Most navigation systems are housed somewhere out of the way; with little people who like to press buttons in the car, I think out of the way is generally a good idea.
Storage isn't a problem in the Escalade. There are plenty of cupholders and bottleholders. A decent-sized center console bin holds all the essentials; the top of the large armrest is a great place to set electronics. There are two seatback pockets and four door bins.
The second row folds and tilts to provide access to the third row, but it's heavy and cumbersome to use. Usually, my kids had jumped over the seatbacks long before I had managed to tilt the second-row seats. I also wasn't fond of the rear seat belts. They have a cozy little pocket to hide in and tend to flop around while little ones are trying to buckle up.
There was plenty of room in both the second and third rows for child-safety seats, and a rear-facing infant-safety seat could easily fit in the second row. The Latch connectors are easy to access and not hidden at all.
The third row is fairly mediocre. It only sits about 3 inches off the floor, so legroom is nonexistent. I'd feel awful asking an adult to sit back there. It was bad enough when I climbed back there to check it out. I almost couldn't get out! When the third row is in place, there's almost no cargo room. I could fit a few grocery bags or backpacks back there, but that was it. Folding the third-row seats is a chore, as well. It's a two-part process that involves folding the seats, then tilting them forward. It's awkward and clumsy and leaves large tracks on the cargo floor - just perfect for collecting gunk - instead of a nice, smooth floor like in other SUVs.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cadillac has included some of the latest safety features in the Escalade Hybrid. It has traction control and stability control to make sure all four wheels are doing their jobs. Its four-disc antilock brakes are powerful enough to bring this beast to a stop when you need to.
Bi-xenon headlights illuminate the road ahead, and a blind spot warning system helps you be aware of what's around you. A backup camera and rear sensors warn you about objects or people that are behind the SUV, and they help to greatly improve this SUV's not-so-great visibility. The Escalade Hybrid's wipers come on automatically when they sense rain and have heated washer fluid to keep the windshield clear in the iciest weather.
The Escalade Hybrid has front-impact airbags for the front passengers and side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats. However, it doesn't have side-impact airbags, which is something we'd like Cadillac to improve upon.
In Diapers: Easily accessible Latch connectors and wide seating makes it easy to install child-safety seats.
In School: Running boards make it easy for kids to climb in, but floppy seat belts provide challenges inside.
Teens: It's got a coolness factor of 10.