First Drive: 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Rex Roy

Ahhhhh, the Cadillac Escalade. While it's helped define post-millennial Cadillac, this bling-mobile stands as a poster child for conspicuous consumption. The Escalade comes by its reputation honestly, because a 2009 edition with the 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 sucks petrol at the criminal rate of 12 mpg city, and either 18 or 19 mpg highway, depending on whether you're powering one axle or two. The fact that the SUV attracts attention-hungry rappers and other ne'er-do-wells doesn't help the Escalade's reputation any.

But what if -- suddenly -- driving a 2009 Cadillac Escalade were an environmentally conscientious statement? A proclamation that's more about being green than having green? What if aforementioned rappers or socialites or wives of dentists could essentially have their cake and eat it too? Meet the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. At 20 mpg city, the big Caddy gets the same city mileage as a Scion tC with a 2.4-liter inline-four and a 5-speed manual. On the highway the tC goes farther on a gallon, but the Escalade Hybrid still manages to push its massive exterior through the air at the rate of 21 mpg.

This impressive technological result follows years of development that first bore fruit in 2008 with the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrid SUVs. These were the first production vehicles to feature what GM calls an electrically-variable transmission (EVT). Within a case that looks like a traditional automatic gearbox, GM (along with partners Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Chrysler) managed to package two motor/generators and four fixed gear ratios.

When acting as motors, the EVT helps propel the Escalade Hybrid. As the SUV coasts or slows, the EVT goes into generator mode, transforming kinetic energy into electricity via regenerative braking. Countless hours of seat time went toward blending the EVT's regenerative braking with the Escalade's physical braking system, and the transitions between the two are indistinguishable. The recaptured energy goes from the EVT for chemical storage in a 300-pound, 300-Volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack that resides under the second row seats.

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