Review: 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Platinum Edition
Since General Motors debuted its two mode hybrid system two years ago on the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon it has gradually been expanding availability to other examples of its GMT900 full size truck family. One of the newest examples is also by far the most luxurious and most expensive version yet. In fact the Cadillac Escalade hybrid Platinum Edition is the second priciest hybrid available today after the Lexus LS600h.
The base Escalade hybrid is built on the same platform and powertrain bits as its more pedestrian siblings. However, Cadillac has outfitted its version with appearance and equipment that customers of the "wreath and crest" brand expect. For the new Platinum, Cadillac has taken the Escalade several steps beyond that. We were able to spend a week with the big platinum on the South Carolina coast recently and you can find out if it lives up to expectations after the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The standard Escalade hybrid debuted in mid-2008 at about the same time as the non-hybrid Platinum. Earlier this year, Cadillac decided to combine the two to create the Platinum hybrid. The platinum package adds a number of features that set it apart from the Escalade lineup starting with the visual changes at the front. The Platinum is the first of the big SUVs to get the newer style grilled that debuted on the Cadillac Sixteen concept a few years ago and then came to the second generation CTS.
The other major change to the face of the Platinum is the headlight clusters. The Escalade Platinum is the first SUV and among the first vehicles in the world to get a full set of LED headlamps. The LEDs consume a lot less electrical energy, reducing the load on the powertrain and they last up to 20 times as long as halogen bulbs. Perhaps more important from a safety standpoint, the LEDs have a more natural light and should cause fewer problems with glare for oncoming drivers than xenon high intensity lights found on many premium cars now.
Also adding to the bling factor of the Escalade Platinum is the enormous rolling stock. The 22" chromed rims that come standard with the Platinum probably won't you on the cover of any Dub magazine but they certainly fill out the wheel wells. Cadillac compensates for the extra ride height the wheels offer by adding automatic retractable running boards. As soon as you touch the door handles, the side boards drop down, easing ingress and egress for those among not proportioned like an NBA all-star.
For the hybrid versions, GM has thankfully done away with the massive hybrid decals that emblazoned the lower part of the doors on the Tahoe and Yukon although five hybrid badges can be found elsewhere. The front fender vents, the C-pillars and the tailgate all remind on-lookers, "please don't vandalize me! this beast is not quite the gas hog that a standard Escalade is!"
On the inside, the Platinum gets every available feature as standard equipment along with some you can't get in any other Escalade. The first two rows of seats are clad in a buttery soft cocoa colored aniline leather. The seat-backs are embroidered in contrasting stitching and there is a two position memory to store settings for the seats, mirrors and steering wheel. The rear seat entertainment with the drop down roof mounted LCD is standard on the Platinum. However, this high zoot version adds two extra screens mounted on the back of the front seats with individual controls and inputs for games or iPods along with wireless headphones.
Other standard features include the usual items like a backup camera, and navigation system. Unfortunately Cadillac's navigation system still leaves something to be desired compared to some competitors especially Ford. We drove the Escalade while visiting Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and had a hard time finding most of the restaurants we wanted to visit in the points of interest database. Inputting addresses was problematic where roads were labeled by multiple names such as state route 17 which is also known as King's highway. Even Ocean Blvd. which has no other name did not show up in the list of roads although it was on the map when we figured out where we were going using the Google Maps app on my Blackberry. GM's system is also well behind the state of the art when it comes to voice control. All of these factors make navigating around an unknown area much more problematic than it needs to be.
The immense size of the Escalade leaves plenty of space for passengers in the first two rows to get comfortable. Unfortunately the driver's seat doesn't offer a great deal of lateral support when cornering although that isn't so much of a problem in a vehicle like this. Unlike the Lincoln Navigator which has an independent rear suspension, the Cadillac still has a solid axle which means a higher floor in the rear to provide clearance for the motion of the differential.
That means the third row seat is strictly for occasional use for those with very short legs. That's OK because crawling into the back is made more awkward by the presence of the hybrid battery pack that sits under the second row seat. Those that truly need seating for eight in a fully luxed out SUV should probably opt for the non-hybrid Platinum edition of the long wheelbase Escalade ESV.
Another feature that is unique to the Platinum is the magnetic ride control system. The MR system features shock absorbers that are filled with a hydraulic fluid that is impregnated with iron particles. By passing a current through the fluid it can instantly be made thicker or looser within milliseconds. In combination with sensors that detect body motions, the system automatically adjusts ride, making it more compliant on rougher roads and then tightening it up when going around corners to help reduce body roll. The same system has been used on cars ranging from the Ferrari 599 to the Corvette ZR1, Cadillac CTS-V and the Porsche Panamera. For a vehicle riding on those big heavy 22s, the Escalade rides remarkably well.
However, even with an MR damping system, there is only so much you can do with the platform from a full-size truck. Traversing over some seriously uneven surfaces in a high riding vehicles means you can get a bit of side to side head rocking going.
Adding a hybrid powertrain to the Escalade does bring some side benefits in terms of interior serenity. Because the hybrid powertrain allows the vehicle to operate in either full electric drive, blended or engine driven modes, GM engineers have worked hard to ensure that differences in noise are kept to absolute minimum. The two-mode hybrid system allows the Escalade to operate in pure electric drive at speeds up to 24 mph for about a mile. In this mode, the Escalade is almost completely silent.
When the 6.0-liter V8 does fire up, the transition from engine off to on is almost imperceptible. This is in stark contrast to some earlier hybrids that exhibited a noticeable shudder when the engine started. In addition to the typical blending of electric and internal combustion drive, GM's hybrid system also incorporates active fuel management (AFM). AFM is GM's name for cylinder deactivation or the ability to shut off four cylinders when the vehicle is just cruising along at light loads. GM also uses this technology on non hybrid V8 engines, but with the hybrid, the engine is able to run in four cylinder mode much more often, using the electric drive to provide the acceleration needed when climbing a mild grade. As with stopping and starting the engine, the transitions between four and eight cylinder operation are undetectable.
At any speed from crawling around a parking garage in electric drive to cruising down the highway at 70+ mph, the Escalade hybrid is remarkably quiet. Evidently a significant amount of its nearly three ton mass, has been implemented as sound deadening materials.
One advantage that the GM two-mode hybrid system has over systems from Toyota, Honda, Ford and others is the ability to engage a clutch and essentially bypass the two electric motors when cruising on the highway, aiding the fuel efficiency at higher speeds. The two-mode hybrid also has better heavy load capabilities. The Escalade is capable of towing up to 5,800 lbs for the rear wheel drive version and 5,600 lbs for the all-wheel-drive model.
One might ask "why bother to put a hybrid system on such a large vehicle?" and many people have. The point is that a significant number of buyers have an actual need or simply a want for the capabilities of such a vehicle. The relationship between mileage and fuel used is an inverse one and as mpg goes up, the number of gallons saved gets smaller with each incremental improvement. You can read more about that on AutoblogGreen.
Adding hybrid drive to the Escalade boosts the EPA mileage from 12/19 mpg city/highway to 20/21 mpg for the rear drive version. The combined rating improves by 33 percent from 15 to 20 mpg. That results in a savings of 200 gallons of gas per year if you drive 12,000 miles per year. On the other hand, a similar 5 mpg improvement from 35 to 40 mpg only saves 42 gallons per year. If you are going to drive a big luxury SUV anyway, it makes sense to make the efficiency improvements there. During our time with the Escalade we averaged 18 mpg with the air conditioning running most of the time.
The Escalade Hybrid Platinum Edition doesn't come cheap. The rear drive version stickers at $85,885 including delivery. The only available option is a $75 block heater. If you need a big quiet luxury machine with comfy seating for five, (occasionally eight) and serious towing capability, the Escalade is worth a look especially if you want surprisingly good fuel efficiency.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.