ABG First Drive: 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

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As of this month GM is adding a third model to its family of Two-Mode hybrids as the Cadillac Escalade hybrid becomes the first luxury SUV so equipped. The Escalade is of course built on the same GMT900 platform as the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. As such much of what goes in the places you can't see is exactly the same on all three vehicles including the entire powertrain. All three SUVs get the same 6.0L V8 paired up with the Two-Mode transmission. Unlike Chrysler's new hybrid SUVs all three GM trucks are available in either rear or all wheel drive.

The Escalade distinguishes itself from its siblings with unique front and rear styling and a significantly more upscale interior. If you thought the first two hybrid SUVs were expensive you haven't seen anything yet. The rear wheel drive Escalade price tag tips the scales at a mere $71,685 some $20,000 more than the Tahoe. That makes the Escalade the world's second most expensive hybrid behind the Lexus LS600h. Unlike the earlier hybrids GM is actually declaring that the Escalade hybrid commands a $3,600 price premium over a comparably equipped conventional model. We had a chance to take a short drive in the Escalade around Birmingham MI today.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
In short the Escalade driving experience was virtually identical to the GMC/Chevy versions. The firm brake pedal feel produced by the electro-hydraulic brake system remains and transitions between regenerative and friction braking were virtually indistinguishable. As in the other Two-Mode SUVs the 6.0L has been calibrated to stay in four cylinder mode much more of the time, instead relying on the electric motors to provide transient power for passing or climbing a grade. The EPA has rated the rear wheel drive Escalade at 20/21 mpg, 1 mpg less than the Tahoe/Yukon. In short it drives like a big, three ton SUV, albeit a very quiet one. Compared to its lesser siblings the heavier Escalade looses some towing capacity, dipping to 5,800 lbs for the RWD and 5,600 lbs for the AWD.

When asked whether the weak sales of the Tahoe and Yukon had impacted GM's decision making on the Escalade hybrid pricing, Cadillac officials acknowledged that it was one of many factors considered. Nonetheless this is one expensive truck. Cadillac plans to market this thing as what it is, an Escalade, but one that gets significantly better fuel mileage than a conventional model. The bold styling is apparently one of the main selling points of the Escalade and Cadillac chose not to mess with that and passed on giving the Escalade unique styling like it did with the Tahoe/Yukon.

The only distinguishing feature of the hybrid is all the hybrid badging of which there is plenty. The Escalade gets badges on the enlarged fender vents, the C-Pillars and the tailgate. Unfortunately like the earlier hybrids, GM has chosen to add large hybrid stickers to the both rocker panels, the top of the windshield and the rear window. Asked about it Cadillac officials explained that the badging is easily removable with a heat gun and dealers will do it for customers upon request. Perhaps GM should be shipping Escalades without stickers and having dealers apply them on request. On a $72,000 luxury SUV these things just look really tacky.

No one would talk about sales projections for the hybrid but Cadillac is expecting total sales in the mid to upper 40,000 range this year, down from about 58,000 in 2007. They do think that buyers of the Escalade might be more amenable to the price premium for the hybrid system. The Cadillac SUV gets almost the same mileage as the Lexus LS600h without sacrificing any cargo capacity to the battery. The Escalade is clearly not in direct competition with the LS but it does make an interesting comparison. Will the Escalade succeed in a market that is abandoning big SUVs in droves? Only time will tell.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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