New car reviews

2011 Cadillac Escalade

For Celebrities And Kids Too

Christina DesMarais, Wed, 16 Mar 2011 04:51:37 PDT

There's a reason movie stars, famous athletes and rappers often show up to venues in a Cadillac Escalade. If you're anyone who wants to say "I've made it," the Escalade communicates that immediately. And as the only full-size luxury SUV available as a hybrid, Cadillac has made itself even trendier.

After packing it full of children-my four, plus three neighborhood kids-we set off to see if it's a vehicle for more than just celebrities.

Platinum options

My chattering mob was immediately impressed, commenting on the automatic running boards that rolled out like red carpet to usher us into the Escalade. The Platinum model we drove featured top-quality materials, such as stitched leather and polished wood, but the children were more interested in the three video displays and climate controls in the rear cabin-not something they have access to in my regular car. My eldest, sitting in the front seat, noticed the heated and cooled cup holders and experimented with the touch screen on the center stack.

Babysitting teenagers

Seven kids, three DVDs. Before we would have had an argument about which video to watch. Not now. There are three DVD players in the car! Before driving off, we put two different movies in the DVD players mounted in the backs of the front-seat headrests. I put the third movie into the front cabin CD/DVD slot.

Four children used the wireless headphones we found in the middle armrest to tune into either of the videos playing in the headrests. The other three teenagers watched the front seat video from the screen hanging from the Escalade's ceiling.

All seven children listened courtesy of the Bose 5.1 surround sound system.

Are you following this? Seven children watched three different movies at once!

I envisioned miraculously peaceful driving trips in which headphone-clad passengers were distracted from pestering one another and no longer had to fight about what to watch. This was my best babysitter yet!

Other luxuries

New Escalade hybrids come with three months of XM satellite radio and a year of OnStar automatic crash response, turn-by-turn navigation and phone which can retrieve stored numbers using voice commands. A Bluetooth-enabled phone in the vehicle also can make hands-free calls. Information about the state of various vehicle systems such as tire pressure, oil quality and coolant temperature can be viewed from a small screen in the driver's instrument cluster.

With its third row, the Escalade can transport eight people. Keep in mind, though, that means anybody sitting in the somewhat back cramped space has to climb over a folded-down portion of the 60/40 middle row.

If I owned the Escalade I would remove the heavy third-row seats and the Escalade would have 109 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. It would also give a little bit better gas mileage.

The drive

Considering it is a Cadillac-reputed for making cars that feel like they float over the road-it's somewhat surprising that bumps and holes can be felt and contribute to cabin noise, which is otherwise minimal on smooth surfaces. The SUV does sound like the large rig it is when you accelerate hard.

And speaking of acceleration, its Vortec 6.0-liter V8 SFI engine allows the vehicle to confidently move to the front of the lane with 332 hp and 367 ft. lbs. of torque, although the hybrid has less output and towing capacity than conventional models.

The electronic power steering-which helps conserve fuel compared to hydraulic power steering-gives an adequate amount of road feel. The regenerative brakes harness energy that is routed back to the 300-volt battery. The brakes feel firm, delivering a moderate "pushing back" sensation at the pedal.

From 0-8 in one hill

In slower speeds and when not pulling a heavy load, the Escalade can drive using its electric motor alone. When accelerating up a hill the active fuel management system starts the engine and uses all 8 cylinders. On the descent, though, the SUV switches to 4 cylinders to be more economical.

The vehicle's Auto Stop - also known as start, stop in other cars - feature also helps conserve fuel. While waiting for a stoplight to turn green the engine will turn off and the quiet electric hybrid system takes over until acceleration requires use of the engine again.

Rear parking sensors and the rear view camera are extremely helpful in maneuvering the Escalade. I noticed a significant blind spot on the right side of the car with an adult sitting in the mid-cabin right seat. I was so happy to have the blind spot detection indicator lights on the large mirrors, they are indispensable.

About having adults in the middle cabin: Taller people should ride in the roomier front seats. Because the hybrid's energy storage system is housed under the second-row bench, head room there is a little lacking.

So, is the Escalade Hybrid worth the money (the one I tested was stickered at $88,140)?

The hybrid premium

The fact that it can come as a hybrid gives high-and-mighty Cadillac fans even more bragging rights. When tree-huggers point accusing fingers about the humongous eco-footprints left by SUV drivers, hybrid Escalade owners can hold up the extra 5 to 7 mpg they're getting compared to people driving the traditional Escalade. With the same 26-gallon fuel tank, the extra fuel economy could mean an extra 130 to 182 miles per fill.

That said, the hybrid Escalade is going to run at least $10,000 more than a regular model, so the fuel economy is more a matter of principle than economics.

Another consideration is this: You can buy pimped-out Tahoes and Denalis all day long that will give you a plethora of luxurious options for much less money. If you don't care about prestige or saving fuel, there are less-expensive choices.



New Escalade hybrids come with three months of XM satellite radio and a year of OnStar automatic crash response, turn-by-turn navigation and phone whi

Platinum model interiors are adorned with stitched leather, polished wood, and three video displays

Automatic running boards assist in getting in and out of the vehicle

Its Vortec 6.0-liter V8 SFI engine allows the vehicle to confidently move to the front of the lane

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