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Cadillac Escalade Hybrid contradiction in terms

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a conflicted soul. It rolls down the road like a gangsta, all attitude and bling, rarely failing to turn heads. Teenagers salute you with nods and other subtle signals of approval.

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is a conflicted soul. It rolls down the road like a gangsta, all attitude and bling, rarely failing to turn heads. Teenagers salute you with nods and other subtle signals of approval.

But here’s the thing: the Escalade Hybrid is an oxymoron. It weds two contradictory ideas that have no business cavorting together – Cadillac and environmental sustainability.

Great aspiration, embracing the environment and all, but the inconvenient truth is this is one needlessly big and heavy hybrid-electric vehicle that burns a lot of gas to haul around its own mass. Even the top minds at General Motors can’t circumvent the laws of physics.

The computer showed our test vehicle had averaged 16.2 litres/100 km over the truck’s short life to date (1,800 km on the odometer), or 17 miles per Imperial gallon in a mix of urban and highway driving. That’s harsh for a hybrid.

It’s an improvement over a regular Escalade’s guzzling ways, which is officially – and optimistically – rated at 17.7 litres/100 km on the highway and 10.8 in the city, but not nearly enough to justify our tester’s breathtaking $93,450 sticker price. This is more than $12,000 above the regular ‘Slade.

On the other hand, the Escalade Hybrid is the world’s first full-sized luxury hybrid to offer a combination of all-wheel-drive performance, seating for up to eight and 2,585 kg of towing capacity. Let’s see your neighbour’s Prius do that.

While it may seem the Escalade Hybrid is more about image than substance, there is some serious technology on board to curtail its oversized carbon footprint, thanks to GM’s Two-Mode Hybrid system.

At low speed and light loads, the Escalade operates under electric or gas engine power only, or both simultaneously.

How much electric propulsion you get depends on how lightly you can feather the throttle.

I was able to get up to 35 km/h before the 332-hp V8 burst to life, but it takes a subtle squeeze of the pedal to summon electric power exclusively. A typical start from an intersection will see you reach 10 or 15 km/h before the gas motor ignites.

An innovative dual-mode transmission completes the power transfer. It has an electrically variable mode for low-load driving conditions, and acts as a conventional four-speed automatic for towing and higher-load driving conditions.

The 300-volt electric system really shines in heavy, bumper-to-bumper traffic where cars inch along not much above idle speed.

The Escalade Hybrid can do the curb crawl entirely in electric mode, which does wonders for ground-level ozone, among other things. The gas engine shuts off at every stop.

The second mode, more exclusive to GM, mitigates the V8’s thirsty habit, thanks to Active Fuel Management. By shutting down four of the eight cylinders when it senses a light throttle, the Escalade can cruise comfortably using half the fuel it normally burns while in “V4” mode.

You can watch the consumption numbers jump up and down on the instant fuel-economy display.

Beyond the exotic powertrain, the Escalade provides the usual levels of decadence inside. The front seats are broad thrones that can accommodate North Americans of every stature. So big, in fact, you may find yourself sliding around on the flat cushions.

The middle row of seats is nicely shaped for three adults, with the right chair folding up to allow uneasy access to the third row. That last bench is really meant for kids since the cushions barely rise above the floor, making time spent back there by adults akin to torture.

Because the Escalade Hybrid is restricted to the regular-wheelbase version of the GMT900 platform, there is very little storage behind the third row. If carrying six or seven people and their luggage is a priority, you’ll have to forego the hybrid dream and look at an Escalade ESV, Cadillac’s version of the Chevy Suburban.

The Escalade Hybrid is surprisingly athletic on the road. One of the benefits of the GMT900 platform is its ability to rein in the dynamics of such a heavy truck, making it feel smaller than it is. The Caddy’s ride and handling are poised and well-controlled under most any condition.

An autumn drive to Collingwood was easy and stress-free as the large truck settled into its lane and the engine quietly toggled from V8 to V4 mode while it absorbed the undulating landscape.

With the kids mesmerized by the movie playing on the ceiling-mounted LCD, we were left to drink in the commanding view from the bridge of the USS Escalade.

The Caddy was quiet, although wind noise was prevalent at times, along with some tire rumble.

There’s a sense of invincibility when you drive a big rig like this, secure in the knowledge you outweigh just about anything on two axles, plus there’s plenty of advanced safety equipment on board to help keep you on the straight and narrow.

Our leisurely day trip yielded a fuel-economy score of 12.5 litres/100 km – not bad considering all the high-strength steel we lugged around.

The quest for autumn picture-taking was a bust, however. Not because we couldn’t find any trees that had changed colour – we did – but because the ‘Slade looked so out of place amongst the foliage. Too close to deadline, I realized the Escalade was far more at home in a grim downtown alley festooned with gang graffiti.

Funny, but this is one hybrid that can’t find it within itself to hug a tree.

Mark Toljagic, AJAC journalist of the year, can be reached at toljagic@ca.inter.net

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