2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
January 18, 2010

The 2010 Escalade Hybrid provides performance, functionality, and luxury, but uses far less fuel.

TheCarConnection.com has driven the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid to bring you this hands-on review that covers styling, performance, safety, utility, and features from on-the-road observations. TheCarConnection.com's editors also researched reviews from other sources to give you a comprehensive range of opinions from around the Web-and to help you decide which ones to trust. TCC has also compared the Escalade Hybrid with other fuel-efficient large sport utilities to give you alternatives as you shop for your next vehicle. High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided Cadillac Escalade Hybrid to produce this hands-on road test.

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.

Review continues below

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.

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2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Styling

It may be too brash for some, but the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid sticks with the tried-and-true styling that made Cadillac hip again.

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. But 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.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that if you want to make a serious statement with your hybrid vehicle, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid might be your weapon of choice. Automobile Magazine reviewers note that, "from the front or rear, the look is unmistakably Cadillac." Unlike the rest of the Escalade lineup, which features several body styles, the Hybrid Escalade "will be available only as a regular-length model," points out J.D. Power. This full-size luxury SUV comes wrapped in an unmistakable skin; Automobile Magazine says the "crisp exterior style" is one that "commands attention, with plenty of chrome" glistening on the outside.

Although reviewers at MyRide.com report that, "superficially, the Escalade Hybrid is almost identical to the regular Escalade," some reviewers gripe at the number of extra labels 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. Compared to regular Escalade models, "the 2010 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, as reported by J.D. Power. Many reviewers suggest that this will prompt Cadillac Escalade Hybrid drivers to operate their vehicles more conservatively than they might otherwise. Edmunds appreciates that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's "controls are thoughtfully placed and within easy reach," while Automobile Magazine remarks that they "work competently without requiring extensive training or frequent trips to the owner's manual."

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2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Performance

If you love the Escalade's persona and capability but can't stomach the low gas mileage, consider the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers tremendous fuel economy benefits-as one would hope-but it retains much of utility offered by the standard Escalade.

Under the hood, "a stout 6.0-liter V-8 provides the Escalade Hybrid's gasoline power," says Edmunds, while "the electric portion of the powertrain is comprised of two 60-kilowatt motors." The Hybrid Escalade puts out 332 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque, less than the conventional Escalade, but reviewers are still impressed by the Hybrid Escalade's get-up-and-go. Automobile Magazine asserts, "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 electric motors "can propel the Escalade up to 30 mph," according to J.D. Power. And reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that despite its status symbol appearance, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid holds its own in such workmanlike tasks as towing. J.D. Power notes that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid "will be rated to tow up to 6000 pounds with 2WD and 5700 pounds with 4WD," though the conventional Escalade can haul trailers weighing up to 7,700 pounds.

The Two-Mode Hybrid transmission is the secret to the success of the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. 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 the transmission provides excellent fuel economy, Automobile Magazine points out that the system suffers from the traditional CVT drawback: the engine "revs to a particular RPM and hangs there while the vehicle's speed seems to play catch-up." But for the most part, reviewers are impressed with the hybrid electric system, which J.D. Power notes is "available with rear- or 4-wheel drive."

A conventional Cadillac Escalade results in Cadillac-sized gasoline bills. Fortunately, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid boosts city fuel economy by more than 50 percent, with EPA ratings of 20 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. In testing, ConsumerGuide reports that "an AWD Hybrid averaged an outstanding-for-the-class 20.0 mpg." And while these figures are far from the 50 mpg of other hybrids, replacing a standard Escalade with an Escalade Hybrid actually saves more total gasoline than does replacing a 33-mpg subcompact with that 50-mpg hybrid.

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid handles as well as anyone might expect from a truck-based vehicle of its size. MyRide.com raves that this luxurious Caddy "handles smoothly and confidently for a vehicle of its size," and it boasts "a comfortable ride," according to Edmunds. Reviewers at ConsumerGuide call the Escalade Hybrid "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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2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Comfort & Quality

While the third row is cramped for a full-size SUV, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a very comfortable, well-appointed truck.

No matter how good the interior comfort and quality, it's hard to exceed the expectations set by a $70,000-plus price tag. While the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid might not surpass prediction, it certainly doesn't disappoint. The controls are all but identical to those of the standard Escalade and work competently without 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.

Passengers will find quite a bit of room to stretch out inside the spacious cabin of the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. ConsumerGuide reviewers point out 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." 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 agrees, saying the rear seats are "best suited for smaller people, at least for long drives."

Beyond the seats, ConsumerGuide reviewers discover "good cabin storage [that] includes a large bi-level console bin." While the rear seat may not be the best place for adults, the load bay with the third seat folded down holds a full-size load. Edmunds remarks that this "spacious people hauler" offers a cargo capacity that "maxes out at a spacious 109 cubic feet," more than enough for most families.

General Motors interiors have improved greatly in materials in recent years, and the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a prime example. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com offer nothing but praise for the quality of the Cadillac Escalade's interior. ConsumerGuide cites the "impressive assembly quality and mostly top-notch materials," and Automobile Magazine adds to the mountain of compliments, finding that "interior build quality and fit/finish on the examples we drove were excellent." Edmunds reviewers agree, reporting that $70,000 will buy you "build quality [that] is beyond reproach," as well as "materials quality [that] is excellent."

The exemplary build quality also keeps interior noise to a minimum, something the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid does better than most vehicles, given its ability to run solely on electricity at low speeds. 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. Edmunds concludes that the cabin's "stillness rivals that of a library reading room." 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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2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Safety

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers a full suite of airbags and gets good safety ratings; its low rollover score is predictable for any tall, heavy SUV.

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.

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid includes quite a few standard safety features, both active and passive. J.D. Power reviewers list "dual front air bags" and "head-protecting curtain side air bags with rollover deployment," as well as "anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes," and Edmunds adds that "standard safety equipment on the Escalade Hybrid includes traction control, stability control, OnStar, [and] a rearview camera with park assist."

Like most tall SUVs, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid has some problematic blind spots for rearward vision. ConsumerGuide warns that "visibility astern and to the right-rear is hindered by the roof design" and the sheer height of the tailgate. But it then points out that the 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers "standard rear obstacle detection and....available rearview camera" that help drivers compensate for the poor rear sightlines.

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2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Features

The 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is still a Cadillac, hybrid or not, and comes with a high level of standard features and even more as options.

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. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com note that buyers can also order the even-more-luxurious Escalade Hybrid Platinum Edition.

The standard Cadillac Escalade Hybrid provides "an extensive array of standard equipment," note the reviewers at Edmunds. 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?" Among those features, says Edmunds, 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 includes standard "XM satellite radio with one-year subscription."

For buyers who need even more, the Escalade Hybrid Platinum Edition picks up 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. Several options can also be added to the standard 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. Edmunds cautions that "options drive up [the] price steeply," but those likely to spend more than $70,000 on a 2010 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid may not worry about a few grand more. MyRide.com reviewers note 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."

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