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Escalade a meaty, beaty, big and brawny hybrid

2012 Cadillac Escalade.

petrina gentile The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
8
Looks Rating
9
Looks
Even if you despise monster SUVs, this one is attractive with stylistic cues that stand out on the road.
Interior Rating
8
Interior
Stylish and upscale with three rows of seats. The first two are super comfortable; the third row is too low and uncomfortable.
Ride Rating
7.5
Ride
Big and brawny to drive and can be challenging to park. Lots of body lean when cornering. But the hybrid drivetrain works well.
Safety Rating
8
Safety
Standard safety features includes side blind zone alert, rear vision camera, ultrasonic reverse parking assist, front fog lamps and six airbags.
Green Rating
6
Green
Hybrid improves fuel economy and reduces CO2 emissions, but it’s still a monster SUV.

Cadillac is shifting gears. In a bid to boost sales and outsell the competition, especially its German competitors Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the General Motors brand is revamping its lineup, launching 10 new or updated models over the next three years.

Among the overhauls are all-new versions of the Cadillac CTS mid-size sedan and the Escalade SUV as well as the addition of a new luxury plug-in hybrid, based on the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. But many of the design details are still sketchy – there's still no word, for example, on whether GM will dump Escalade's body-on-frame chassis and transform it into a trendier, more popular crossover.

For now, the Cadillac Escalade remains a true truck – a full-size SUV. My tester is the Escalade hybrid. Weighing in at 2,776 kilograms, its one of the biggest and heaviest SUVs on the market. Why bother adding a hybrid to a massive SUV? Many people asked that when they saw the Hybrid decal slapped on the back.

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But I admit it makes a difference. The savings are significant, especially when you're coughing up more than 100 bucks to fill up the tank. The Escalade hybrid averages 9.5 litres/100 km combined driving versus 12.9 litres/100 km combined driving in the conventional gas-powered Escalade. And while the real-world experience might not come close to those official numbers, there's no denying the savings add up.

Plus, when you're stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Canada's busiest highway, the 401, you can't help feel a bit of satisfaction, knowing you're saving some gas and the environment, if you do need to drive a large SUV.

Powering this Escalade is a gas-electric hybrid system with two electric motors and a powerful 6.0-litre V-8 engine. Together, they make 332 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque. It's teamed to a four-speed automatic transmission and standard four-wheel-drive.

The hybrid system works seamlessly. At a stop, the hybrid's engine shuts off to save gas, and then restarts automatically. At low speeds, in stop-and-go traffic, and when in reverse the hybrid runs in full-electric power alone. At higher speeds, the gas-powered engine kicks in. You also get fuel savings benefits at high speeds thanks to the extra torque from the electric motors, which allow the Active Fuel Management system to deactivate four of the engine's eight cylinders to provide better fuel efficiency. A regenerative braking system supplements the hybrids' conventional hydraulic braking system. It captures some of the energy normally lost during braking and coasting and returns it to the 300-volt nickel-metal hydride energy storage system for later use. The system works well.

But the Escalade is a big and brawny vehicle to drive and park. Thankfully a rear-vision camera system and a side blind spot zone alert help when driving and parking.

Acceleration is strong, but there's significant body lean when cornering. And you'll have to give up some towing capacity with the hybrid. It can tow 2,540 kg while the gas-powered Escalade can tow 3,674 kg. So if you need more muscle power, you can stick to the conventional Escalade.

It has a 6.2-litre V-8 engine that delivers 408 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. If you're hauling a heavy load or trailer, the two/haul mode integrated in the transmission also helps improve performance and reduce shifts.

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The Escalade is an upscale version of its cousins, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Step inside and you're surrounded by luxury. There are three rows with seating for eight in the hybrid. The cabin is well crafted and spacious, especially in the first two rows. The front bucket leather seats are eight-way power-adjustable with four power lumbar adjusters and two driver memory positions. They're also heated and cooled for extra comfort.

The second row can seat three passengers in the 60/40 split folding bench seat. The outboard seat positions are heated, too. The third row seats three in the bench seat, which can flip and fold or be removed altogether if not needed. But the third row is tight on space and the seats are too low so it gets uncomfortable fast.

The seats don't fold flat into the floor, either – it would be handier if they did. At least, the cargo area is large – 479 litres of space behind the third row. That expands to 3,084 litres of space when the second and third rows are folded down. You can lug a lot – I managed to carry two full sheets of plywood in the back behind the first row without any issues. A power lift gate is standard – just press a button on the key fob and it'll open so it's easier to load and unload items.

On the outside, the Escalade's design might be long in the tooth, but I think it still looks good – commanding attention and attracting onlookers and admirers with its bling bling appeal. Its presence is undeniable, exuding muscle power with its iconic and instantly recognizable design.

So, if you need a big vehicle for your growing family, an Escalade hybrid might not be that ridiculous. At least, it'll offer some relief at the pumps. But it doesn't come cheap. The 2012 Escalade hybrid 4WD starts at $95,110.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

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Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

Tech specs

2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Type of vehicle: Eight-passenger luxury SUV

Base Price: $95,110; as tested, $100,525

Engine: 6.0-litre V-8 coupled to two 60-kilowatt electric motors

Horsepower/torque: 332 hp/367 lb-ft

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Drive: Four-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/8.5 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne hybrid, Lexus RX450h, BMW X5 xDrive35d, Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec

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About the Author

Petrina Gentile is an award-winning automotive journalist - one of the few women who cover cars in Canada. Her life revolves around wheels. She has been writing for the Drive section since 2004. Besides auto reviews, she also interviews celebrities like Norman Jewison, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hansen, Dean McDermott, Russell Peters, and Ron MacLean for her My Car column. More

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