- Hybrid upgrade not all that pricey
- Strong acceleration
- "Normal" driving experience despite hybrid hardware
- Third-row seats hard to reach
- Hybrid battery impedes third-row legroom
- Rough ride from 22-inch wheel/tire combo
The 2010 Escalade Hybrid provides performance, functionality, and luxury, but uses far less fuel.
Launched for 2009, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is the fourth and newest Escalade model. It joins the standard Escalade sport utility, the long-wheelbase Escalade EXT, and the SUV/pickup combination known as the Escalade EXT. Each of these Cadillac models is based on the truck chassis found under the less-swanky Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs. The Escalade Hybrid adds GM's Two-Mode Hybrid drivetrain to the gasoline V-8 in the standard Escalade body, resulting in performance close to the standard item but far better fuel economy: 20 mpg in the city.
The Cadillac Escalade is the model that made GM's luxury brand relevant-even hip-among less-than-geriatric buyers, thanks to its brash styling and over-the-top luxury features. All Escalades offer crisp, imposing exterior lines that command attention and feature plenty of chrome bling. It's difficult to distinguish the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid from the standard model at a distance, unless you notice the fist-sized chrome Hybrid badge in the chest-level front fender vents. Inside, the look is more luxe than its truck origins would indicate, with color-keyed leather upholstery and detailing, and lots of elegant ash and burled walnut trim on high-line models. Translucent instrument needles glow with blue light.
The unique part of the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is its complex hybrid powertrain. The 6.0-liter, aluminum V-8 engine features not only variable valve timing but also what GM calls Active Fuel Management, meaning it can run on only four cylinders under light load. The Two-Mode Hybrid electrical continuously variable transmission (eCVT) contains two electric motor/generators and four fixed-ratio gears. Electricity to run the motors is stored in a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack located under the second-row seat. Total power for the engine and motors is rated at 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. Yet the hybrid system in this three-ton vehicle gives EPA mileage ratings of 20 mpg city, 21 mpg highway-more than 50 percent better in the city than the 12 mpg returned by the standard Escalade. Despite 71 few horses than the non-hybrid Escalade's 403-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8, a lower axle ratio keeps the acceleration swift and strong.
The 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is available with rear- or four-wheel drive, just like the standard model, and its rated towing capacity is 5,800 pounds. The powerful brakes recharge the battery before engaging friction braking; the transition is all but seamless. The Escalade Hybrid accelerates on battery power alone to 25 mph (less in cold weather) in eerie electric-vehicle silence. Unless they pay attention, drivers may miss the V-8 engine switching on and adding its power to the mix. Handling is, in a word, trucklike, albeit a well-damped and sound-insulated truck. But you'll definitely be aware that this tall, heavy vehicle has a live rear axle when you go across angled ruts. Our test vehicle's 22-inch wheels look great, but ride roughly compared to the standard 20-inch combination.
Except for the EXT, all Escalades seat eight, though the Hybrid's battery pack under the second-row seat makes climbing into the third row a bit of an obstacle course-and once there, it blocks legroom, effectively consigning the third row to children. Front chairs are heated and cooled. Interior build quality and fit/finish on the examples we drove were excellent. The controls of the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid are all but identical to those of the standard model and work competently without a need for extensive training or references to the owner's manual. The touch-screen center stack is easy and logical to operate, and the audio system's ability to save favorite tuning presets regardless of frequency (AM, FM, or XM Satellite Radio) is a bonus. The Hybrid differences are limited to a power gauge in the cluster and different digital messaging in the displays.
The 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid provides a full complement of safety features. The roster of airbags includes those for driver and front passenger, front side airbags, and head-curtain side airbags in all three rows. Cadillac's StabiliTrak stability control system includes rollover mitigation, which monitors driving parameters and dials down power as needed to help prevent situations that could lead to a rollover. But the Escalade still gets only three stars from the federal government for rollover likelihood (largely for its high center of mass), though it earns the highest five-star ratings in tests for both frontal and side crash protection. The IIHS has not yet tested the Cadillac Escalade, or its Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon brethren.
Because of its heritage, the 2010 Escalade Hybrid includes pretty much every luxury that Cadillac offers on this truck-based vehicle. The base Escalade Hybrid includes tri-zone climate control, a magnificent-sounding Bose digital sound system, rear-seat audio jacks, 8-inch touch-screen navigation system, power-adjustable pedals, and power-actuated running boards. Buyers can order the even-more-luxurious Escalade Platinum Edition as a Hybrid as well, adding such items as heated and cooled cup holders and a rear-seat entertainment package with two 7-inch DVD screens in the back of the front headrests.