2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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We're a year or so away from a fourth-generation Escalade, a vehicle that General Motors' North American President, Mark Reuss said will be "much less ostentatious" while speaking at a Detroit media roundtable last month. Considering the year or more left in the current Escalade's shelf life, Reuss could have chosen subtler wording, although the seeming gaff may not have been a Bidenism (or so as not to appear partisan, a Romneyism), but instead he could have simply been referring to the next-generation Cadillac SUV downgrading its chrome-laden showiness rather than inferring pretentiousness amongst its valued customers.

It is true, however, that this current Escalade, which was a must-have statement of rolling bling for rap and hip-hop artists a decade or so ago when it hit the scene, might be a bit over the top for today's more understated wealthy. Then again, Cadillac rival Infiniti didn't exactly go low-key when it recently redid its QX56 rival. I suppose Nissan's luxury brand shouldn't be used as a guidepost in the full-size premium SUV segment, as QX sales are infinitesimal compared to the big daddy Caddy. The Infinity needs to make a grand statement to even get noticed, so a better harbinger of the way to do it right might be the recently reworked Mercedes-Benz GL. But rather than deep dive into a full-on comparo between the three-pointed star and crested wreath in this review, as tempting as that may be, I think I'll keep it to the particular Escalade Hybrid I drove with the odd comment thrown in as to how it measures up to the competition.

If the Escalade's exterior wow factor somehow didn't grab your attention, wait until you climb inside and feel your eyeballs try to leap out of their sockets. The Escalade's interior, in a word, is rich. And it should be for an SUV that starts at just under $100k. And that's for the base Escalade Hybrid, priced at $96,705 including destination. The model I tested, in top-line 1SD trim, blows past the six-figure threshold to a staggering $113,055! I bet you never thought a Cadillac could cost so much? So is it worth it?

Like I said, the Escalade will make you feel rich every time you climb inside, or poor if you've experienced a sudden setback in your personal economic situation and a rather hefty car payment is due. That payment, by the way, would be almost $2,000 per month with no money down, and that's a lease with big residual left at the end of its four-year term. A 48-month finance payment would even be more. Of course, if you're an Escalade owner reading from the U.S. you'll think these numbers are way out of whack, but that's because you get the identical vehicle for about $25,000 less. Yah, so much for our Canadian dollar hovering just above parity for most of the last two years. Not only do we get taxed more than our American friends, and pay substantially more at the pump, but we pay more for just about everything else too, except maybe subcompact economy cars. Some automakers charge more for the privilege of selling to Canadians than others, mind you.

You've got to agree though, the Escalade delivers a lot of size to go along with the big, fat check needed to put one in your driveway. Size extends to that fancy interior. The first thing I noticed is the largest clock I've ever seen in a vehicle. It's massive! It's also quite beautiful, and I suppose any smaller and it might get lost on the vast tracts of acreage masquerading as a dash. That said this oversized look appeals to the nouveau riche more than the established set. You know the types. They aspire to the supersized Panerai or Kobold wristwatches, or worse, Bell & Ross, compared to those either from old money or acquired taste who'd rather go unnoticed with an A. Lange & Söhne or Patek Philippe on their wrist. Still, the Escalade's monster clock has a nice look too it, albeit more of a Nixon or Vestal than anything from a quality maker. I have a soft spot for fashion watches with cheap Asian movements, however, so it's good in my books. Really, Cadillac should do a smaller wristwatch version of it, stuff a good quality albeit inexpensive ETA automatic movement inside and give it away with every Escalade purchase. The one that's there now goes extremely well with the interior's overall look. The cabin is modern yet filled with all the trappings of luxury. Glossy woods that are actually wood, on the top-line 1SD edition at least (the lesser on still uses faux woodgrain if you can believe it – how gauche). The leather is the soft, supple kind, perforated and nicely double-stitched where it counts. Most of the plastic surfaces are soft to the touch, and the switchgear is pretty good too, albeit not to the level of a few of its competitors. It is based on the Chevy Tahoe, after all, and some of that model's low rent persona seeps through the façade here and there, but to be honest, not much.

Likewise, my tester's Hybrid running gear is the same as in the Tahoe Hybrid, too. The Escalade Hybrid uses the 6.0-litre V8 with GM's Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation system for starters, and then mates it to two 60-kilowatt electric motors and a 300-volt nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery for a combined 332-horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque. Unlike most hybrids there's no CVT messing up its driving dynamics, although unlike the conventionally powered Escalade the Hybrid's torque converted automatic makes do with four speeds instead of six. A four-speed is the horological equivalent of a quartz movement. It'll keep on ticking, but it doesn't have much marketing appeal and therefore doesn't spin well to luxury buyers? It's a unique two-mode automatic, however, specially designed to work with the electric motors, so in that way it's kind of like combining an analog watch with a digital. OK, that's just silly. It isn't like that at all, but I couldn't help myself now that I'm on this cool watch kick. In reality, technology-marketing challenges aside, I didn't notice any negatives when on the road. It worked perfectly, providing smooth, adept shifts that combine with its hybrid drivetrain for superb fuel economy considering the class. I managed to run a bit on battery power alone, which it's capable of, but nowhere near as far as GM's brilliant Volt. A plug-in Escalade Hybrid would be an improvement, although I don't think we'll see this happen anytime soon if ever.

The Escalade Hybrid benefits from a full-time all-wheel drive system that grips the road well, aided by standard 22-inch chrome-clad rims that look beyond brilliant. Its suspension is entirely independent, despite its pickup truck roots, not to mention that it benefits from Cadillac's impressive Magnetic Ride Control, so you'll be able to roll on down the highway in absolute comfort, or for that matter tackle the curves with surprisingly more speed than you could ever guess before the attempt.

Other Hybrid features include heated rear seats, while my 1SD tester added power-retractable side steps that kept knocking me in the shins (I'd probably get used to that in a few months), heated and cooled cupholders that I loved from the start, a rear DVD entertainment system with twin monitors integrated into the backs of each front head restraint, a powered moonroof, LED headlamps with IntelliBeam headlight control, and side blind zone alert to name a few highlight items not already mentioned. Of course, the regular Escalade is packed with premium features too, such as Bose audio, navigation, a rearview camera, a power tilt wood and leather-clad steering wheel, 12-way heated and ventilated leather seats, power-adjustable pedals, all of which are automatically grandfathered into the Hybrid model, so you shouldn't feel any lack of luxury.

You won't feel any lack of passenger or cargo space either, and if you do, I'm guessing your local Greyhound operator might have a used 45-foot bus available – or maybe a used Escalade stretch limousine would suffice? Seriously though, this is one ultra-large ute, not as mammoth as the Escalade ESV, what the Suburban is to the Tahoe, but nevertheless sizeable enough to make its statement in grand fashion.

The Escalade Hybrid starts at $96,705 over the base Escalade's $86,560 entry price, destination included with both, which I must say is more than $10k worth of cheap regular fuel. Of course, even the base Hybrid comes packed with more features than the least expensive conventionally powered Escalade, so it's not an apples to apples comparison. Just the same, if you spend the time to crunch the numbers you won't be spending more for the Hybrid just to save on fuel. That would be a foolish endeavor, as you'd never pay off the premium. Rather, go the HEV route to reduce dependence on oil and simultaneously cut down on emissions, while guiltlessly enjoying one of the largest most ostentatiously styled luxury SUVs on the planet.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: SUV, Hybrid, HEV, Cadillac, 2012, Escalade Hybrid, $75,000 - $99,999, $99,999+,

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