General Motors is currently the only automaker offering a complete lineup of full-size, luxury hybrid sport utility vehicles. Each of the hybrid editions of its four popular SUVs provides a higher standard of equipment when compared against their gasoline counterparts, giving these trucks an edge on top of their improved fuel economy numbers. In addition, all four share essentially the same drivetrain and return the same fuel mileage rating without making any real sacrifices in terms of practicality or utility. This makes them strong contenders not just for fuel conscious SUV shoppers, but also for buyers looking for a rugged upscale people mover.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most important details of these GM luxury hybrid SUVs, and also examine the question of why competitors Ford and Chrysler have not managed to field luxury hybrid SUVs of their own.
The 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid makes use of two-mode gasoline / electric hybrid system that is specifically designed to improve fuel economy. A two-mode system allows the vehicle to either use both its internal combustion engine and its battery-powered electric motors either simultaneously or separately. The advantage of this type of hybrid design is that the battery can assist the SUV when more power is required, or instead pick up some of the slack when the truck is just loafing along at lower engine speeds, reducing the load on the gasoline engine.
Thanks to the active management of both its gasoline and its electric engines and the use of technologies such as regenerative braking, the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid manages to return fuel mileage that is rated at 20-mpg in city driving and 23-mpg on the highway. Those numbers are significantly better than the 15-mpg around town and 21-mpg highway offered by the standard edition of the Tahoe.
One of the most impressive aspects of the GM family of full-size hybrid sport-utility vehicles is the fact that none of them compromise on the functionality that large truck buyers expect out of a vehicle in this class – least of all the 2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid. The two-mode hybrid system described above manages to generate 332 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque when combining its electric motors with the 6.0-liter gasoline V-8 under the hood.
The truck’s power output, combined with the strong full-frame design of the Yukon Hybrid enables the vehicle to tow as much as 6,200 lbs. This number, while lower than that of its gasoline-powered cousins, is much higher than any crossover competitors offering similar fuel mileage.
Not only does the GM family of luxury hybrid SUVs provide excellent fuel economy and solid towing, but each vehicle – including the 2011 GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid - also maintains every other important capability expected out of a large truck. This includes the ability to haul as many as eight passengers and handle just under 109 cubic feet of total interior cargo space with the second and third rows of accommodations out of the picture. These capacities match those of the standard GMC Yukon Denali, as the SUV’s battery pack does not intrude into the passenger compartment.
GM’s SUV hybrids retain the off-road grip and capability of their gasoline counterparts. The GMC Yukon Denali Hybrid comes with the option of a unique all-wheel drive system, while all other GM hybrids offer the availability of four-wheel drive.
Every GM hybrid SUV represents the apex of its respective brands equipment list, and moving up the ladder from the Tahoe to the Yukon to the Yukon Denali eventually brings buyers to the 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. The base edition of the Escalade Hybrid offers 22-inch wheels, HID headlights, sunroof, heated and ventilated seats for the driver and front passenger, full leather upholstery and three zones of automatic climate control. A navigation system, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and Bluetooth integration are also included free of charge.
Buyers can choose to step up to the Platinum trim level, which adds items such as distinctive exterior trim, LED headlights, power-retractable steps to help passengers get in and out of the tall vehicle as well as an even higher grade of leather for the SUV’s seats.
Ford is no stranger to either the full-size luxury SUV market (fielding competitors such as the Lincoln Navigator and the Ford Expedition) or the hybrid scene (with a lineup that includes popular hybrids such as the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid). Ford has never combined these two areas of its expertise together, however. No hybrid luxury SUV has ever graced the brand’s showrooms.
Instead of focusing on gasoline / electric drivetrains in its larger vehicles in order to improve fuel economy figures, Ford has instead elected to promote its EcoBoost turbocharging technology, which aims to provide V-8 levels of power while offering V-6 fuel mileage. Although this drivetrain design has yet to find its way into a full-size luxury SUV, it has been rolled out across the pickup truck platform the Ford uses to underpin its large sport-utility vehicle offerings, indicating that its use may be just over the horizon.
Chrysler does not currently offer any full-size sport-utility vehicles – luxury, hybrid or otherwise. The Dodge Durango and the short-lived Chrysler Aspen disappeared for the 2009 model year, and although the Durango name has returned, the new automobile fills more of a large crossover role due to the departure of its traditional SUV platform. It also falls short of luxury status in terms of its available features.
Chrysler offered a hybrid edition of the Chrysler Aspen in its final year of production, a truck which featured 40 percent better fuel mileage in city driving when compared to its gasoline-only counterpart, but slow sales saw it disappear along with the entire platform after only 12 months of sales. Currently, Chrysler appears satisfied to allow its Jeep division to handle the majority of the SUV duties, with the potential for a full-size Jeep SUV to replace the departed Jeep Commander to appear within the next few years. Hybrid editions of any of these vehicles, however, seem unlikely.