Ahead of the EVT and in place of the 2009 non-hybrid's 403-horsepower 6.2 liter V-8, there is a smaller and lighter 6.0-liter all-aluminum V-8. To enhance efficiency, the engine utilizes cylinder deactivation (so it can run in V-4 mode) and variable valve timing (that enables the late closing of the intake valves to reduce pumping losses). The 6.0-liter produces 332 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration remains strong thanks to the immediate torque of the electric motors (184 lb-ft each) and a high-performance axle ratio.
A control unit manages all of the above elements using software that is much improved over the initial batch of GMC and Chevrolet SUVs. The result is that the 2009 Escalade Hybrid runs strongly and smoothly. About all that's lost compared to the non-hybrid Escalade is the intoxicating exhaust note of the 6.2-liter engine.
The sensation of driving the big Cadillac is a bit odd if one expects a traditional experience. In easy-going driving, the engine RPM and exhaust note don't correspond linearly to acceleration. The EVT works like a continuously variable transmission, so the Escalade's 6.0-liter revs to a particular RPM and hangs there while the vehicle's speed seems to play catch-up.
The oddest sensation is when the Escalade accelerates on battery power; it's like gliding. The engine's auto-stop feature also catches drivers off guard at first. While the engine shut-down is smooth (as is the re-start), a first reaction can be thinking the SUV stalled. Of course, it didn't. Running on battery power, the steering, climate control, and other vital functions remain completely operational in the Auto Stop mode.
One of the hallmarks of the current Escalade is its performance. For such a massive vehicle, it accelerates hard. The Escalade Hybrid isn't as fast, but with mid-eight second 0-60 mph times, it's no eco slouch. In wide-open-throttle blasts, the EVT combines the best of its motor drives and fixed gearing. The shifts you feel are genuine gear changes because the EVT has four fixed ratios (some CVTs "fake" fixed gear shift to simulate what drivers are used to feeling). The physical cogs inside the EVT give the transmission the strength to tow significant loads, and the Escalade can tow almost three tons.
Our only nick on the Escalade Hybrid's driving experience is aimed at the optional 22-inch wheels on our tester. They looked great, but ride quality is certainly sacrificed when compared to the standard 20-inch wheels and tires.