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2009 Cadillac Escalade ReviewThe Good
A new engine in the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid gives it nearly double the city-driving fuel economy of the gas-powered Escalade Base.The Bad
A less-than-refined interior in the '09 Escalade detracts from its otherwise luxurious and well-equipped cabin, rear visibility remains poor, and the hybrid engine offers some improvement, but still barely makes it into the low 20s for mileage.
The CarGurus View
Outfitted with almost every standard accessory the mind can conjure up, the '09 Escalade offers the ultimate in full-size luxury comfort, backed by a strong V8 power plant. The new hybrid represents a step in the right direction, albeit a very small one, adding a dose of conservation to the oversize Escalade's natural excess. Smooth, powerful, and roomy, this SUV's biggest weaknesses are rear visibility and maneuverability.
At a Glance
Even those who can afford a full-size luxury SUV like the 2009 Cadillac Escalade are feeling minor pain at the gas pump these days, and maybe even a few pangs of guilt for the environment, so they'll be happy to hear that the biggest change to this powerful, truck-based SUV comes in the form of a new Hybrid powertrain for 2009. Almost doubling the Escalade's mileage for city driving, the hybrid is welcome but doesn't make much difference on the highway, due to its size and weight. Some critics think lopping off a few pounds and adding a V6 option instead, as Buick did with its Enclave, would be a better way to improve fuel economy.
The gas-engine Escalade and the Hybrid feature different but powerful V8 engines, and each comes with rear- or all-wheel drive. The '09 Escalade seats seven in three rows, and its long list of creature comforts defines the word “excess.” Plenty of flashy exterior chrome, a large and aggressive front grille, and a whole host of power accessories, entertainment options, and standard features, such as a navigation system, leather upholstery, and remote start, give the SUV its luxury over-the-top feel. If you like taking road trips without leaving the comfort of your home, the Escalade may be a worthy choice.
The Base trim with rear- or all-wheel drive comes fully equipped for premium comfort. The optional Platinum Package adds even more bells and whistles, along with a unique CTS-inspired grille, LED headlights, power running boards, and larger 22-inch wheels. The Hybrid also rides on 22-inch wheels, while the Base makes do with 18-inchers.
The Base version of the '09 Escalade runs on a 16-valve, 6.2-liter V8. Its 403-hp output makes it one of the most energetic power plants in this segment. Paired with a shiftable six-speed automatic, it delivers 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 RPM and achieves 0-60 times of 7.5 seconds – good numbers considering its nearly 6,000-pound curb weight. Towing capacity maxes out at 7,400 pounds when equipped with the proper towing package, but carrying anything can also drop its 12/19 mpg number into single digits. This V8 is E85 flex-fuel compatible.
Brand new for 2009, the more environmentally conscious Hybrid trims take their two-mode hybrid system from the Yukon. The setup consists of a 6.0-liter V8 gas engine and two 60-watt electric motors powered by a 300-volt NiMH battery. Paired with a four-speed automatic, the system delivers 332 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque at 5,800 RPM and can tow up to 6,000 pounds with rear-wheel drive (5,700 lbs with AWD). The electric motors are the sole source of power at speeds under 30 mph, but as you accelerate beyond that, the gas engine kicks in and eventually takes over at highway speeds.
Because it's classified as a heavy-duty truck, due to its size, the EPA does not give mileage estimates, but Cadillac claims 21/20 mpg. The city number represents a doubling of the mileage of the 6.2 V8, says Cadillac, since most city driving is done at low speeds and requires only the electric motor. This fuel economy represents an improvement, but still won't save much money at the pump.
Early driving tests of the Hybrid report a quiet, seamless, and imperceptible transition between gas engine and electric motor, often detectable only by watching the power flow monitor on the dash. The system features regenerative braking and engine cutoff while idling or stopped to improve fuel economy, as well as variable valve timing and Active Fuel Management, which deactivates up to four cylinders when they're not needed.
Ride & Handling
Based on the truck platform shared by the Yukon and Tahoe, the 2009 Escalade delivers a solid, stable ride despite its large size. Its independent short and long arm front and multilink rear suspension comes with a self-leveling feature that helps balance out the ride when carrying heavier loads. The optional Platinum package adds Magnetic Ride Control, GM's new technology that uses sensors to adjust the suspension height according to road and driving conditions.
Braking is quick and responsive, though the large SUV tends to nosedive somewhat at sudden stops. Speed-sensitive electronic power steering adjusts the weightiness of the wheel according to driving speed, for a lighter and more numb feel at low speeds and more driver feedback at higher speeds. Acceleration power remains top-notch, but the gas engine can be noisy at high speeds. The hybrid delivers a surprisingly quiet ride, with the shift between power sources barely noticeable to either the ears or cabin comfort.
Both rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive trims come with a rear locking differential for better traction. The AWD system is designed for slippery and slick surfaces and not for off-road driving. The standard 18-inch wheels provide good grip, with the Hybrid and Platinum's 22-inchers adding more stability, but also more noise.
Cabin & Comfort
The roomy Escalade seats seven in three rows, with first- and second-row bucket seats and a third-row bench. An optional second-row bench makes room for an eighth passenger. Head and legroom for the first two rows is spacious, both measuring 41 inches up front and 39 in the second row. The second-row seats also recline. The more kid-sized third row feels unnaturally cramped and does not comfortably accommodate adults. Taking into consideration that they do not fold flat and are cumbersome to remove, the third-row seats seem more a nuisance than useful.
The third row splits 50/50, while the second row splits 60/40. The second row can be removed or folded, and the second-row seats can be equipped with an optional power-fold feature. Cargo space starts at 17 cubic feet, but expands to 109 with both rows folded down. Tiedowns are standard, and a roof rack adds more storage space. The rear window opens separately from the power liftgate, offering a variety of loading options.
Second-row passengers get their own audio and climate control buttons. In the front seat, drivers of the Base trim have 8-way power front seats with power lumbar and memory settings. The steering wheel tilts, but oddly does not offer a telescoping function on any trim. The controls and gauges are well-lit, easy to read, and easy to use. Both first and second rows get heated seats, with both the Hybrid and Platinum versions offering a cooling feature for the first row.
The '09 Escalade practically bursts at the seams with all the standard features it packs into the cabin. Rear-wheel-drive trims of both the regular and hybrid versions offer leather upholstery, remote start, wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, wood and leather trim, Bluetooth, and a 10-speaker Bose sound system for the 6-CD changer and satellite radio. A voice-based navigation system comes with real-time traffic updates. The Hybrid trim adds a standard sunroof and both heated and cooled seats. Opting for the Platinum Package on the Base trim also adds the sunroof, along with a rear DVD player (with a flip-down ceiling screen and two screens in the front seat headrests), 5.1 surround sound, heated and cooled cupholders, and upgraded stitched leather upholstery.
The 2009 Escalade earns five stars in all categories of the NHTSA crash tests, except rollover ratings, in which it earns a disappointing three stars. Both Base and Hybrid trims feature traction and stability control, and four-wheel ABS brakes with electronic brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. Dual front-side airbags have passenger cutoff sensors, and side curtain airbags cover each of the the Escalade's three rows. The hill descent control feature limits wear and tear on the brakes.
A standard backup camera and rear parking sensors help tremendously with the rear visibility problems caused by the thick roof pillars, while reverse-tilting side mirrors show views of the curb to help you when parallel parking. However, critics say problems still arise, particularly when the rear ceiling-mounted DVD screen is flipped down, obscuring some visibility out the back. Both the Hybrid and the Platinum Package add a blind spot alert system. Front visibility issues get solved with rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, foglamps, and xenon HID headlights. A tire monitor measures pressure in the 18- and 22-inch wheels.
What Owners Think
Poor fuel economy with the regular gas engine and an expensive pricetag sit at the top of the list of negatives mentioned by owners of the 2009 Escalade. Aside from its greedy fuel consumption, the Escalade earns generally positive reviews for its “hot” styling and excessive bling, as well as a comfortable and luxurious interior. Drivers report good acceleration and V8 power couched in a smooth and quiet ride. The hybrid rates well with owners, who appreciate that it looks and acts like a regular Escalade and has the luxury of a more-expensive Lexus, yet gets better fuel economy than both.
No word yet on the '09 Escalade from CarGurus owners, but reviews of the 2008 version (minus the new hybrid) also highlight the V8 power, along with the cool and customizable exterior styling. Some owners find it plenty spacious inside, while others wish for a bit more passenger and cargo space. Echoing 2009 reviews on other websites, CarGurus drivers dislike the low-teens fuel efficiency and overall cost.
What's your take on the 2009 Cadillac Escalade?
2009 Cadillac Escalade Top Comparisons
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