It's like driving an oxymoron: A giant SUV whirling along on just electric power.
But that's what the 2011 Cadillac Escalade hybrid does.
It quietly uses its gas-electric hybrid powertrain to whisk away the driver and up to seven other people in more style and luxury than anyone deserves â€” except of course, Cadillac owners. If anyone is looking for one reason to give rich people a tax break, look no farther than the front bumper of this fantastic SUV.
For a brand dead set on taking on the luxury European carmakers, this car has no place in that lineup. Cadillac's cars are sleek and sporty. They want to attack corners and then dart away into the night. The Escalade has none of those Euro-centric charms, sitting atop the Crest and Wreath food chain.
That's why I like it so much. From its massive grille to its giant vertical tail lights, the Escalade hybrid sticks out like a Yank at a World Cup match. It's brash and bold and probably wears white socks when it wants to be comfortable. It's the Ugly American everyone hates because they really like it.
They should: This SUV is very likeable. It may be big, but it still gets decent gas mileage â€” its 20 miles per gallon in the city matches the likes of many midsize sedans â€” and its 23 mpg on the highway shows that hybrids are not strictly city crawlers.
Yes, the Aniline leather encased interior is supple and over the top at the same time â€” but isn't that what luxury is about? My ultra high-end Platinum hybrid edition costs $89,000; it better offer me out-of-this-world luxury. If we lived in a utilitarian world, all vehicles would ride around on 15-inch steel wheels and every vehicle would be red.
The Escalade hybrid flaunts its 22-inch big wheels and glides with just the right touch of arrogance that says, "I've made it, you haven't, now get out of my way." Is anything more American?
If this SUV were an airline mileage card, I'd always get bumped to first class and even get a special little lounge to rest my frightened bones after an enhanced pat down.
Then again, if I owned the Escalade Hybrid Platinum, why fly?
Just do the math: The 1,150-mile trip from Detroit to Orlando would only cost $150 in the Escalade hybrid, burning up 50 gallons of fuel at 23 mpg on the highway. A single plane ticket costs more and, in the Escalade, I could take my six closest friends, have the legroom of a king and magnetic ride control all the way there. (I mention six friends, because I like the Escalade more with the captain's chairs in the second row. If you have the one with a bench seat in the second row, you can seat a total of eight people.)Either way, though, the Escalade hybrid is no muss, no fuss and no TSA.
Plus, the ride literally glides along the highway. The 6-liter engine and electric motor produce absolutely silky smooth acceleration. At low speed, the electric motor alone can propel the Escalade hybrid, using no gasoline whatsoever, which is quite a feat considering this SUV can weigh as much as three tons.
The Magnetic Ride Control should change its name to Magical Ride Control because of the way it uses a magneto-rheological fluid to adjust the dampening system in about 5 milliseconds. It's constantly reading the road and smoothing out the ride.
The electric rack-in-pinion steering feels exact without feeling overbearing. The Escalade is surprisingly easy to maneuver, and the advantage of the electric motor operating the steering system means it can tighten up at higher speeds and loosen up when silently cruising around parking lots.
The regenerative braking â€” that system that stores the energy normally lost as heat during braking but instead, converts to electricity and then stores it back in the batteries â€” is unnoticeable.
The Escalade hybrid feels just like the regular Escalade, but still, it feels better.
The ride is quieter and the performance just as good.
Plus, the exterior is just downright beautiful. Even the regular non-hybrid Escalade denotes power and luxury. Its big offensive grille dominates anyone's rearview mirror, and the little hybrid badges let people know you're driving a hybrid â€” and if that wasn't important, no one would put the word "hybrid" on outside of their car.
But the real story of the Escalade hybrid is inside the cabin.
For the 2011 model year, Cadillac has added additional sound dampening throughout the cabin adding a new, laminated windshield and front side windows, as well as other changes inside and out to cut off the noisy outside world.
The entire cabin feels luxurious. The big front seats are comfortable and can be adjusted into almost any configuration conceived. The second row seats are just as nice as the front, with the optional DVD entertainment system screens mounted directly into the back of the headrest of the front seats.
The leather-covered dash features olive ash and walnut burl wood trim and touches of aluminum throughout. Nearly everything comes standard on the Escalade hybrid Platinum â€” as the name might suggest. From heated and cooled cup holders to the power lift gate that opens and closes at the touch of a button, it's luxury at your finger tips. Drivers and passengers feel pampered the moment they get in until the moment they hear the electric running board open up outside the vehicle, gracefully allowing for an easy exit.
It's also just a little obscene which makes it so good and bad at the same time â€” and American to its core. It's easily the Cadillac of Cadillacs.
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