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Hypermiling The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Behind its green façade, there is a monstrous V8 and a never ending landscape of chrome on 22-inch rims that unmistakably demonstrate that this car's purpose is to show off your wealth while containing your level of guilt that you drive a 6000-pound SUV.

Despite the fact that this Escalade prominently displays five "Hybrid" badges on its sheet metal, the reality is that its drivers are still considered ignorant of global warming and air pollution. In fact, we highly doubt that this car will ever serve a purpose of going seriously off-road or saving a few gallons of gas. In the end, our tester came was a 4-wheel drive version with the decadent Platinum package and had a sticker of $89,090 and represented the ultimate Escalade and ultimate Cadillac. It's $25,730 more expensive than the naked Escalade and if you need to flaunt the size of your bank account, this is the Escalade you want.

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Decadence

Since I already mentioned that this is a decadent car, here is what your money buys. The Platinum package includes a chrome-loaded, unique front fascia and massive 8-unit HID headlights, as well as 14-spoke 22-inch wheels. Inside you get soft Tehama leather on the seats (with stitched Cadillac logos), doors, dash and steering wheel. Our Escalade had plenty of champagne-gold brushed aluminum covering the center dash as well as heated/cooled cup holders. The champagne gold tone is repeated in the gauge cluster as well as the illuminated background of the analog designer clock in the center of the dash. There are tasteful wood accents throughout the cabin. The Caddy lacks some advanced features such as a start/stop button you would expect to find in such a car as well as more basic equipment such as rain-sensing wipers, but it does have electric pedal adjustments.  Overall, you almost get the feel that you are sitting in a high-end version of a Range Rover and not a car that was made by GM. The Platinum Escalade felt incredibly luxurious - at a level that even makes Mercedes' large  SUVs look cheap.

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Tech basics

While I thoroughly enjoyed the Escalade's features for the one-week-long test drive, it was its gas mileage I was interested in. I spent a few days learning the Escalade's driving and fuel-consumption characteristics to set up an especially unrealistic test course to see how many miles per gallon you could really squeeze out this 6000 pound monster.

Other than the regular Escalades, which are powered by a 403 hp, 6.2 liter V8, the hybrid version uses a 332 hp 6.0 liter V8, which is supported by two 80 hp electric motors that take the combined rating to 379 hp. Of course, you can't expect an athletic performance -- you will lose most traffic light races.

Our best 0-60 mph run was 10.0 seconds (in admittedly cold weather of 28 - 30 degrees). Given its size, the Escalade feels much faster than that - an impression that is supported by the sound of the electric motors, which express a subtle, but noticeable turbine-like whine as you accelerate. It's the fanciest way to get up to eight people up to speed, while watching up to three different movies on three different screens (in addition to the navigation screen in the front). Despite our harder than average driving style in the first half of the week, we found the hybrid system to work extremely efficiently: we always ended up at an average fuel consumption of somewhere between 19 and 20 MPG, which is quite impressive for a vehicle that is tough to get to 14 MPG in a non-hybrid version. 

Attempting Hypermiling

Hypermiling is a matter of knowing a specific car and its benefits. It is something you will have to adjust to each car differently. As so many hybrids, I could not get the Escalade to its highest MPG rating in highway driving and slipstream conditions (which I, of course, do not recommend and was an artificial test setup in this case). Over a range of 90 miles of pure highway driving with a speed of 55 MPH I ended up at 21.8 MPG, which is not exactly what the EPA sticker promises (20/23 MPG city/hwy). The reason for this circumstance is that highway driving rarely takes advantage of the hybrid system -- and only activates it under heavy acceleration.

In cruising scenarios, the Escalade's V8 quickly shifts into V4 mode, which apparently saves gas. However, the big V8 will destroy all your efforts to drive economically over lots of miles with a single strong request of its power - when you go up a hill, for example. I found the efficiency gauge placed in the cluster rather silly, as it almost always shows that you are driving carefully and with your environment in mind, even when you accelerate. You need to floor the Escalade to move the needle substantially, which questions the purpose of this gauge. Personally, I found this gauge about as pretentious as the Escalade itself. The first driving result was somewhat disappointing, especially since the EPA sticker claims that "most drivers" will see a MPG of up to 27 MPG.

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However, there is a different side to the Escalade Hybrid and you can exploit it if you are patient enough. Squeezing the most MPG requires the driver, of course, to take the most electric power out of the drive train, which the car can teach through its energy distribution screen in the center dash. Cadillac says that the vehicle will accelerate up until 5 mph in electric mode before the combustion engine kicks in - it takes the edge off, if you will. However, you also learn that a careful foot can keep the engine in electric mode for a much longer time and you can put the Escalade into electric mode frequently with feather-footed driving. Extremely careful acceleration (which would not be tolerated in average traffic scenarios) will keep the vehicle in electric mode up until 20 - 22 mph: You can actually drive up to 2 miles without using a single drop of gasoline. If you are sailing the car, the electric drive can propel the Escalade by itself and if you let the big SUV roll down a hill, the kinetic energy is not only converted into electric energy, but the engine will shut off entirely (as it does at traffic lights) and uses the electric source to accelerate the car again initially.

With that in mind, I set up my driving cycle with a distance of about 45 miles. Two thirds of the distance was a cross country highway and the remaining third was suburban driving with quiet neighborhoods and plenty of traffic lights. To make sure I could drive carefully without disturbing anyone, I chose midnight as my driving time. Preceding the test run was a 20 mile cycle with plenty of breaking and simply letting the car roll, which made sure that battery pack was charged and that the engine could operate without the need of warming up first. You notice that this test run was set up entirely in favor of the Escalade and against any reasonable assumption of a realistic driving pattern.

Long story short, I was able to drive in quiet neighborhoods without the use of gasoline (which is a rather spooky experience to move such a monstrous car without any sounds other than the noise emitted by its tires) across impressive distances. More than 20 miles of cruising within quiet neighborhoods netted an average of 32.7 MPG. The entire distance was covered with 25.1 MPG. That is stunning for this size of car and is virtually unachievable with a large crossover in a normal driving pattern (except hybrid crossovers)  - yet I was disappointed that I missed the 27 MPG EPA promise. However, admittedly, you will never see this MPG result with the Escalade Hybrid if you drive it "normally". 19 - 20 MPG is a realistic expectation.

In the end, you know that no one buys a near $100K car with MPG in mind. If you have that money available to spend and you care about gas consumption, you may end up with a crossover or even a sedan such as the Fisker Karma, if you don't need the space. The Escalade always was and always will be about perception. And if you want to make the best impression, the Hybrid Platinum is the one to get. Its chrome may be a bit much for some, but consider the silly mods you can add to this car and you almost have to be grateful that Cadillac offers this package as it may prevent at least some even more tasteless additions to this car.