2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
April 21, 2009

The 2009 Escalade Hybrid sacrifices no performance, capability, or luxury, yet it uses a fraction of the fuel.

To properly review the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, TheCarConnection.com editors drove the full-size SUV multiple times and reviewed a range of articles written on this green hybrid. This combination of internal and external research enabled TheCarConnection.com to provide a conclusive opinion on the SUV that will help you make an informed choice.

As the fourth variant of the Escalade Hybrid, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid joins the long-wheelbase Escalade EXT, the transforming SUV/pickup Escalade EXT, and the standard-wheelbase Escalade on which the hybrid model is based. For the record, these Cadillacs are all based on the same truck chassis as the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid isn't easy to distinguish from the standard Escalade at a distance; both offer a crisp exterior style that commands your attention with plenty of chrome. Inside, there's standard seating for eight, although legroom for the third-row seats is compromised because batteries for the hybrid powertrain are located under the second-row seats. The batteries also present an extra obstacle for climbing back to the third row. Front chairs are heated and cooled. Interior build quality and fit/finish on the examples we drove were excellent.

The real story about the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is its advanced two-mode hybrid powertrain that consists of a specific engine and transmission. The all-aluminum 6.0-liter V-8 features Variable Valve Timing and Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation). The hybrid electrically variable transmission (co-developed with Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Chrysler) utilizes two electric motor/generators and four fixed-ratio gears. Electricity for the motors is stored in a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack.

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The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is rated at a very respectable 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, yet the 6,000-pound-plus vehicle gets EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 21 mpg highway—that's more than 50 percent better in the city than the standard Escalade's 12 mpg. Acceleration is powerful and immediate, thanks to a high-performance axle ratio that makes up for the 71-horsepower performance differential compared to a standard Escalade's 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is capable of towing 5,800 pounds, and buyers have a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, just like with the regular Escalades. On-road performance for this full-size SUV is commendable, but you'll never confuse it with a Chevrolet Corvette from behind the wheel. Brakes are powerful and incorporate a regenerative feature to recapture energy that is sent to the battery pack for latter use. During our tests, the hybrid system routinely moves the Escalade on battery power alone to 25 mph and beyond in eerie EV-mode silence. At higher speeds, the V-8 quietly comes to life and seamlessly adds its power to the mix. The 22-inch wheels on our tester look great, but ride roughly compared to the standard 20-inch wheels and tires.

Controls inside are similar to those of the standard 2009 Escalade, and they work competently, without requiring extensive training or frequent trips to the owner's manual. The Cadillac's touch-screen center stacks earn kudos as one of the easiest and most logical to operate. The system's ability to save favorite tuning presets regardless of frequency (AM, FM, or XM Satellite Radio) makes perfect sense with the way people use the radio.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid provides a full complement of safety features, including head-curtain side airbags covering all three rows, in addition to front side airbags. The StabiliTrak stability control system includes rollover mitigation to help avoid situations that might lead to a rollover. On that note, the Escalade gets a low three-star rating for rollover likelihood from the federal government (largely for its high center of mass), but the Escalade earns top five-star ratings in the tests for frontal and side crash protection.

Showing that environmentally conscious drivers need not be without their luxuries, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid also includes tri-zone climate control, power-adjustable pedals, a magnificent-sounding Bose digital sound system, eight-inch touch-screen navigation system, rear-seat audio jacks, and power-actuated running boards.

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2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Styling

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid might be too brash for some, but it's sticking with tried-and-true styling.

The Cadillac Escalade is the vehicle that made GM's luxury brand relevant again among younger buyers, thanks largely to its brash styling and over-the-top luxury items. The new 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid stands to turn the same trick with the environmentalist crowd, combining the Escalade's trademark styling and features with a hybrid powertrain, adding up to one of the greenest full-size SUVs on the road.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that if you want to make a serious statement with your hybrid vehicle, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid might be your weapon of choice. This full-size luxury SUV, which Edmunds notes is "available in one trim level," comes wrapped in an unmistakable skin. Automobile Magazine says that the "crisp exterior style" is one that "commands attention, with plenty of chrome" glistening on the outside. Automobile Magazine reviewers add that, "from the front or rear, the look is unmistakably Cadillac." Unlike the rest of the Cadillac Escalade lineup, which features several body styles, the Hybrid Escalade "will be available only as a regular-length model," points out J.D. Power.

Although reviewers at MyRide.com report that, "superficially, the Escalade Hybrid is almost identical to the regular Escalade," some reviewers are disappointed by the amount of extra badging on this greenest of Escalades. ConsumerGuide, in particular, says that the Hybrid Escalades "have a ridiculous amount of special badging, including front and rear window appliqué and absurd lower door decals."

Once you move inside the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, you'll be treated to a well-styled interior that appeals on nearly every level. Edmunds loves that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's "controls are thoughtfully placed and within easy reach," while Automobile Magazine appreciates that they "work competently without requiring extensive training or frequent trips to the owner's manual." Compared to regular Cadillac Escalade models, J.D. Power reports that "the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid will have its own gauge cluster with a special tachometer and an 'economy gauge,'" which provides drivers with a digital display of their fuel efficiency. Many reviewers note that this prompts Cadillac Escalade Hybrid drivers to operate their vehicles even more conservatively than they might otherwise.

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2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Performance

If you've always wanted an Escalade but couldn't stomach the gas bills, you might want to consider a 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers tremendous fuel economy benefits—as one would hope—but it manages to keep a lot of the conventional Escalade's utility.

Under the hood of the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, "a stout 6.0-liter V-8 provides the Escalade Hybrid's gasoline power," states Edmunds, while "the electric portion of the powertrain is comprised of two 60-kilowatt motors." Although many view the Cadillac Escalade as more of a status symbol, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid can hold its own when it comes to more workmanlike tasks, such as towing. J.D. Power reports that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid "will be rated to tow up to 6000 pounds with 2WD and 5700 pounds with 4WD," although the conventional Escalade can haul trailers weighing up to 7,700 pounds. Automobile Magazine notes that the Hybrid Escalade puts out "332 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque," and while both those numbers are below the power ratings of a conventional Escalade, reviewers are still impressed by the Hybrid Escalade's acceleration. Automobile Magazine says that, "for such a massive vehicle, it accelerates hard," posting "mid-eight second 0-60 mph times," while Cars.com remarks that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is "certainly not lacking for oomph." The two-mode hybrid system means that "the electric motors can propel the Escalade up to 30 mph," according to J.D. Power.

The secret to the success of the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is its wholly unconventional transmission, which is a product of GM's experience building hybrid city buses. Edmunds reviewers explain that this system "functions as a continuously variable transmission in light load conditions and as a fixed-ratio system (with four forward gear ratios) when loads get heavier." While this system provides for excellent fuel economy, Automobile Magazine points out that it suffers from a traditional CVT drawback where the engine "revs to a particular RPM and hangs there while the vehicle's speed seems to play catch-up." Overall, however, reviewers are impressed with the system, which J.D. Power says "will be available with rear- or 4-wheel drive."

Those used to driving a conventional Cadillac Escalade will quickly attest to the fact that the vehicle needs frequent fill-ups, resulting in Cadillac-appropriate gas bills. Fortunately, the new hybrid system in the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid boosts city fuel economy by more than 50 percent, with an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city and 21 mpg highway rating. In their testing, ConsumerGuide reports that "an AWD Hybrid averaged an outstanding-for-the-class 20.0 mpg."

In addition to stellar fuel economy, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid handles as well as anyone could expect for a vehicle of its size. This luxurious Caddy boasts "a comfortable ride," according to Edmunds, while MyRide.com raves that it "handles smoothly and confidently for a vehicle of its size." ConsumerGuide reviewers point out that the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is "stable and confident in low-to-moderate speed changes of direction," while the "strong brakes have [a] reassuringly firm pedal feel."

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2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Comfort & Quality

The third row seems a little cramped for a full-size SUV, but otherwise the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a winner.

No matter how good interior comfort and quality are, it's hard to exceed the expectations set by a $70,000-plus price tag. While the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid might not exceed expectations, it certainly doesn't disappoint.

Passengers will find quite a bit of room to stretch out inside the spacious cabin of the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. Automobile Magazine notes that the interior offers "standard seating for eight, although legroom for the third-row seats is compromised because batteries for the hybrid powertrain are located under the second-row seats." Cars.com seconds that opinion regarding the rear seats, claiming they are "best suited for smaller people, at least for long drives." Up front is another story entirely, as ConsumerGuide reviewers find that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid features "big-rig space on wide, comfortable seats," while the second row offers "comfortable seats [that] furnish good headroom and legroom."

While the rear may not be the best place for full-size passengers, it definitely will hold a full-size load of cargo. Edmunds remarks that this "spacious cargo- and people hauler" offers a cargo capacity that "maxes out at a spacious 109 cubic feet," which is more than enough room for most families. However, to achieve that space you'll have to fold and stow the Hybrid Escalade's third row. Otherwise, ConsumerGuide reports that "only grocery-bag space is available behind the 3rd-row bench." Passenger-area storage is also better than average on the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, with ConsumerGuide reviewers finding "good cabin storage [that] includes a large bi-level console bin."

Although GM's interiors have received a tremendous amount of criticism regarding build and materials quality in the past, they’ve improved greatly in recent years and the Escalade is a prime example. Indeed, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com hold nothing but praise for the construction of the Cadillac Escalade's interior, with ConsumerGuide noting the "impressive assembly quality and mostly top-notch materials." Edmunds reviewers agree, reporting that $70,000 will buy you "build quality [that] is beyond reproach," as well as "materials quality [that] is excellent." Automobile Magazine simply adds to the mountain of compliments for the Hybrid Escalade, finding that "interior build quality and fit/finish on the examples we drove were excellent."

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's exemplary build quality also helps keep interior noise to a minimum, something that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid does better than most vehicles. Edmunds points out that the cabin's "stillness rivals that of a library reading room." Similarly, ConsumerGuide observes that "the Hybrid is nearly silent at ignition and at rest," with nothing but "a subtle electrical whirring noise" to let you know when you begin accelerating.

The only detriment to comfort in the Escalade is ride quality, which ConsumerGuide attributes to the Hybrid’s "extra weight and standard 22-inch wheels."

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2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Safety

Drivers of the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid can take confidence in the fact that they are surrounded by airbags and a big, energy-absorbent vehicle.

Crash tests have shown that bigger isn't always better when it comes to passenger protection, but the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid has both the safety features and sturdy body structure to protect occupants in all sorts of conditions.

The quickest measure of a vehicle's safety is its crash-test ratings, and on the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid those credentials are unrivaled. While the IIHS has not yet tested the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, the vehicle has performed very well in NHTSA tests. In those tests, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid proves itself worthy of the Agency's highest crash-test rating. In both frontal and side impact collisions, the Hybrid Escalade demonstrates that it can withstand a collision and protect its occupants with a high degree of safety. Editors at TheCarConnection.com find it worth noting, however, that the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid receives a mere three stars in rollover protection, but this isn't uncommon in the world of high-center-of-gravity SUVs.

Aside from crash-test ratings, consumers want to know what sorts of features will work to keep them out of harm's way. The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid boasts quite a few active and passive features, as Edmunds states that "standard safety equipment on the Escalade Hybrid includes traction control, stability control, OnStar, [and] a rearview camera with park assist." J.D. Power reviewers add that "dual front air bags" and "head-protecting curtain side air bags with rollover deployment," as well as "anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes," all come standard on the Hybrid Escalade.

Like most SUVs, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid suffers from some problematic blind spots. ConsumerGuide warns that "visibility astern and to the right-rear is hindered by the roof design," but the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers "standard rear obstacle detection and....available rearview camera" that help compensate for the poor sightlines.

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2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Features

Hybrid or not, the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is still a Cadillac and accordingly comes standard with a whole host of high-tech features.

Manufacturers typically offer hybrid versions of vehicles loaded with features to help make up for the hybrid price markup. That same strategy holds true for the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that this lux SUV is loaded to the brim with high-end features.

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is available in just one trim, but "an extensive array of standard equipment is included," notes Edmunds reviewers. Among the features shared by all Cadillac Escalade Hybrids are "leather upholstery, heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats...tri-zone automatic climate control, a navigation system with real-time traffic," and "Bluetooth connectivity." J.D. Power reviewers add that the Hybrid Escalade comes with full power accessories and a "Bose AM/FM radio with 6-disc CD changer" that also plays the standard "XM satellite radio with one-year subscription." Car and Driver states the obvious, pointing out there is "lots of luxury" to be found on the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, but all these standard features lead Cars.com to ask, "is the [Hybrid Escalade] too much?"

For those who answer no to that question, GM offers a few options for the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. MyRide.com reviewers point out that "just about anything you can get on the regular Escalade is available on its gas/battery-powered brother," including "High Intensity Discharge headlamps, and a power-assisted rear liftgate that opens and closes with the touch of a button." However, Edmunds warns that "options drive up [the] price steeply," but for those considering spending over $70,000 on a 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, a couple grand more might not be a cause for concern.

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