2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
April 30, 2012
9 min. Reading Time

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is the most expensive vehicle in the luxury brand's stable, a flagship that attempts to graft some eco-consciousness onto the big and brash full-size SUV.  The result is an ostentatious hybrid truck that is dripping with premium features while at the same time advertising to all the world that its driver bears at least a token concern for the environment.  Think of the SUV as a merging of the 'old' GM's penchant for in-your-face design and power with the 'new' face of the company's high-tech push towards efficiency.  The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid makes an interesting statement, to say the least, and it does so without asking potential owners to make too many compromises when it comes to brawn or utility.


2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Competition

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid faces off against an unusual assortment of full-size, battery-assisted sport-utility vehicles.  If one restricts the criteria to simply luxury suvs, then the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid would appear to be the only model out there with a premium cachet strong enough to go head-to-head with the Escalade.  Broadening the search to eight-passenger rigs it then becomes feasible to contrast the Escalade Hybrid against top-end trims of its in-house rivals the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, each of which are each outfitted with a drivetrain that is identical to the Cadillac but neither of which are plush enough to compete on comfort.

In reality the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is in a class by itself.  No other automaker - aside from General Motors and its various pickup and SUVs that share the same platform - has deigned it necessary to produce a full-size, full-frame seven-passenger sport-utility vehicle with a battery-assisted drivetrain.



2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid starts at an MSRP of $74,845 for rear-wheel drive models (all-wheel drive editions of the Escalade Hybrid command a price premium).  The base Hybrid model is very well equipped, but for those who require the last word in opulence from the domestic luxury brand it is possible to order the battery-powered Escalade in Platinum trim (MSRP $84,290), which includes every single option offered with the SUV. 

Our test vehicle for the week was an all-wheel drive base Hybrid model outfitted with several options packages that brought its MSRP near the $79,000 mark.



2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Exterior

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's exterior styling is unmistakable, in that it carries forward the enormous, almost-upright grille, generous chrome accents and huge front and rear bumpers that have become the SUV's trademarks.  In profile, there is much about the Escalade Hybrid that suggests its other GM platform-mates, but that is definitely not a bad thing as the pair of 'utes that share their DNA with the Escalade are some of the most handsome on the market.  Cadillac has done an excellent job of making such a squared-off design flow as evenly as possible, and when viewed from the side the vehicle actually comes across as one of the more restrained top-flight luxury SUVs out there.  Of course, the battery-assisted Escalade is emblazoned with possibly the largest 'Hybrid' badges in existence, with the two most prominent examples riding high on the fender vents located just ahead of the SUV's front doors.

Our Escalade Hybrid tester was outfitted with optional automatically-retracting running boards, which fold out from underneath the vehicle as soon as its door handle is pulled.  Unlike typical truck steps these were perfectly positioned to help shorter passengers get in and out of the SUV, with no need to swing one's leg out over them to avoid them when disembarking.  As slick as this feature is, it's worth noting that in a northern climate where salt and ice are a matter of course it may not be long before corrosion takes its toll on the folding mechanism - not to mention the perils of extending the step into the deep, packed snow banks that can line street sides in the winter months.

A final note on appearance: the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid given to us was shorn with 22-inch chrome rims that, despite their relatively thin tires, did not transmit too much harshness from the broken pavement that makes up Montreal's crumbling infrastructure.  That being said, off-roading with such large wheels is an invitation expensive rim repair bills.  99 percent of Escalade owners won't ever even remotely consider breaking trail with their SUV, but it's still worth mentioning for the one percent who might be so inclined.



2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Interior

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's passenger compartment is one of the areas mentioned in the introduction where the brand's past and present intersect quite vividly.  To be sure, the Escalade Hybrid's trim is resplendent with wood grains and supple leather (particularly on the center console and the vehicle's seats).  There is plenty of evidence, however, of the SUV's more pedestrian roots, especially when it comes to the hard plastics on its door panels and particularly the second-row seat bottoms.  The switchgear on the dash and steering wheel can also trace its lineage back to other, more affordable GM SUVs and crossovers

Is this a deal-breaker for a customer willing to spend up to $90,000 on a luxury vehicle?  For some, the answer is 'certainly.'  Others will be able to look past the component sharing and enjoy what the Escalade Hybrid has to offer in terms of comfort and style.  While we understand the savings associated with spreading development costs across more than a single brand, General Motors has done a better job creating upscale, relatively unique interiors in other vehicles - particularly those offered by Buick.  The Escalade Hybrid deserves the same level of attention, but this type of re-think might not be in the cards until the SUV moves onto its next-generation platform.

There is of course a lot to like about the interior of the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.  For starters, passenger room is excellent for the first and second rows, with even taller adults having no issues spending time in either of the three positions located directly behind the driver.  The third row of seating is a bit more cramped, and is intended to be enjoyed by children who won't be impacted by the fact that its cushions are mounted almost directly on the floor.  First and second row passengers are treated to seat warmers (with forward occupants also benefiting from ventilation), and those sitting in the second row can control their own climate settings as well as entertain themselves with a roof-mounted fold-down video screen that is linked to both the vehicle's DVD player and two pairs of wireless headphones.

Total cargo space is suitably enormous (109 cubic feet), although in order to enjoy the full benefits of the vehicle's hauling capacity it's necessary to physically remove the rearmost row of accommodations from the SUV, which fold up but not flat.  The vehicle's huge power liftgate makes it easy to get at the cargo compartment even with your hand's full.  The console between the front seats also offers two useful and deep storage partitions, and the hollowed-out shelf found on the console lid is of the perfect size to snugly store oversized mobile phones and devices.

The liftgate itself houses the rear wiper, which brings us to the first real nitpick of this review.  The wiper sits not on the glass but just below when not in active use, and turning on the feature sends an audible 'thunk' through the vehicle's passenger compartment as it transitions from its rest stop to the back window.  This sound was so noticeable only because of the incredible quiet of the Escalade Hybrid's cabin (more on that below), and seemed an unusual oversight on the part of GM's engineering team.

The vehicle's center stack features an easy-to-use touchscreen as its centerpiece, a display that can be used to control the Escalade Hybrid's entertainment options as well as configure the SUV's various systems.  Cadillac also provides a somewhat mesmerizing animated graphic that keeps track of what the hybrid drivetrain is up to as you drive.  An additional small driver information screen is nestled between the tachometer and speedometer and it can show odometer readings, temperature, vehicle speed as well as whether the Escalade is running on four or eight-cylinders (courtesy of its automatic cylinder shutdown feature).  An 'ecometer' sits perched at the top of the driver's binnacle, and keeping the small needle inside the green-hued area of the dial indicates that the SUV is being driven as efficiently as possible.



2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is outfitted with a 6.0-liter V-8 engine that works together with a pair of electric motors nestled inside an electronically-variable automatic transmission.  The eight-cylinder unit produces 332 horses and 367 lb-ft of torque, and when combined with the electric motors total output is rated at 379 horsepower.  The two-mode hybrid system allows for driving under engine power, engine plus battery or battery power alone (for limited distances at lower speeds).  The battery itself is recharged via regenerative braking as well as the normal operation of the gasoline motor, and the engine is designed to automatically stop running while the vehicle is halted in order to prevent wasteful idling.

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's city fuel mileage is advertised as 20-mpg, while highway numbers check in at 23-mpg for both all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive models.  This is roughly 30 percent better than the gas-only Escalade around town and slightly more than a 20 percent improvement during highway cruising.  We saw an average of 14-mpg in almost all city driving during our week with the Escalade, a low number that could be explained by the fact that the SUV was brand new and not yet completely broken in under the hood.  Weather was also cold for much of our time with the truck, which meant that the engine idled more than would be normal in order to maintain a comfortable cabin temperature.



2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Driving Impressions

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a large vehicle, but it does its best to conceal that fact from behind the wheel.  To be sure, the Escalade Hybrid's heft, length and tall ride height inform almost every aspect of its handling, but the vehicle's magnetic suspension system did an excellent job of reacting to road conditions and driver input in order to keep the full-size SUV under control at all times.  Even when pushed the Escalade Hybrid never felt near the edge and electronic stability control never kicked in once - composure that is remarkable for a vehicle riding on a live rear axle over wet roads.  Of course, maneuvering the plus-size Escalade through the narrow confines of a parking garage is still a nerve-wracking experience that is best accomplished with the assistance of a spotter guiding you from five feet in front of the vehicle, but that is true of almost any large truck.

It is also worth mentioning that when underway, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is remarkably quite inside.  Very little road noise leaks through the floor boards and windows to intrude into conversations between passengers, a fact that is especially true at stop lights when the SUV's engine automatically shuts down or those rare occasions when the vehicle is moving forward solely under battery power.  Again, being able to do this with such a heavy, traditional sport-utility platform is a feather in Cadillac's cap.

It would be impossible to review the Escalade Hybrid without commenting on the unique characteristics of its gasoline / electric drivetrain.  For the most part the transition between electric power, hybrid assistance and gas-only operation is accomplished seamlessly, but there are a few quirks in its operation.  As mentioned earlier, the Escalade is dead silent when stopped due to its engine auto-shutdown feature, but triggering the V-8's ignition by pushing down on the gas pedal sends a slight but noticeable shudder through the right foot and leg (a light shake that passengers are unable to detect).

Another unusual aspect of the Escalade Hybrid's battery-assisted drivetrain is how it behaves when first started on a relatively steep incline.  Several times during its stay with use the SUV's brakes seemed to lack the necessary stopping power to hold the truck completely still when shifting from Park to Drive after sitting overnight in an angled driveway.  The brake pedal cycling to the floor once or twice before arresting the Escalade's rearward motion was somewhat nerve-wracking, as was the transmission's propensity to allow for similar slipping unless the accelerator was stabbed with authority.  These are minor nitpicks, and once used to the Hybrid's personality it was easy enough to plan transitions from an incline to a flat plane by properly manipulating the brake.

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid's ability to glide slowly and silently over short distances like the world's largest golf cart on its electric motor alone was an unpredictable (depending on driving conditions and battery charge levels) but fun novelty, heralded by a slight rising whine as vehicle speed increased.  Although we did not get a chance to test out the Escalade Hybrid's 5,800 lbs of towing capacity we were suitably impressed by just how quickly the vehicle hustled off the line when the full force of its combined gasoline and electric power plants was called upon.  The SUV's transmission was also smooth enough to be completely unnoticeable even when mashing the throttle to the floor during a passing maneuver.


2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Safety

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers a healthy complement of safety gear, starting with side curtain airbags (that deploy along the entire length of the passenger compartment), seat-mounted front side airbags and forward airbags.  The SUV also comes with StabiliTrak electronic stability control, a rollover mitigation feature, traction control and a standard blind spot monitoring system that displays a warning on the vehicle's exterior side mirrors should an obstacle or vehicle be detecting alongside.

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid model we tested also came with ultrasonic parking sensors and a rearview camera to help out when reversing the full-size truck.  The latter displayed a clear image of the area directly behind the Escalade and also overlaid a graphical representation of the vehicle's 'flight path' that responded to steering wheel movements in order to show drivers where the SUV was headed.


2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: Final Thoughts

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a somewhat perplexing vehicle.  The full-size SUV is comfortable, offers great passenger and cargo room and boasts a respectable tow rating.  It also features all of the look-at-me personality of the standard Escalade, which helps it stand out from the premium sport-utility vehicle crowd, and it provides a driving experience that is at least comparable to other eight-passenger truck-based luxury cruisers in its class.

The biggest question hovering over the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is whether this vehicle is really necessary.  Priced at roughly $10,000 more than an entry-level Escalade, the Hybrid model isn't that big of a leap from a cost perspective, once you factor in the options required to bridge the gap between the feature set of the two SUVs.  Is the promise of substantially better fuel economy enough to lure those already in the market for an Escalade away from the base or ESV models and into the Hybrid's cushy confines?  Does mileage really matter at this spectrum of the enormous truck market, or are buyers actually seeking the eco-cred that goes with the 'Hybrid' badges affixed to this edition of the Escalade?

Regardless of the answer to those questions, the 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a solid luxury SUV, and one that has a lot to offer drivers who absolutely need one of the most comfortable full-frame family haulers that money can buy.


What We Like About The 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid:

  • Comfortable ride, quiet interior
  • Enormous passenger and cargo compartment
  • Excellent power
  • Classic Escalade road presence and personality to spare

  • Real-world fuel mileage not quite as advertised
  • Sub-par interior trim undercuts nicer elements
  • Expensive when compared against a broader field of premium SUVs and crossovers


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