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  • 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

    Two-mode technology gives the Escalade fifty percent better fuel economy in city driving.
    By Nina Russin

    Last year General Motors rolled out two hybrid sport-utility vehicles, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, utilizing technology developed jointly

    2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

    2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

    with Chrysler and BMW. This year, the automaker unveils the Cadillac Escalade hybrid: the first full-sized luxury sport-utility vehicle to feature the two-mode system.

    The new technology takes gasoline/electric powertrains to a new level by having separate methods of operation for low and high-speed driving. A nickel-metal hydride battery provides power to the electric motors that work in conjunction with a six-liter gasoline engine.

    At start-up, the engine operates on all eight cylinders. After about three minutes, the catalytic converter in the exhaust system reaches operating temperature, and the on-board computer takes over.

    Active fuel management cuts power to half of the engine cylinders when power demands are low. During city driving, the cars runs on electric power at idle and speeds under twenty-five miles-per-hour. The electric motors restart the gas engine when necessary, eliminating the need for a traditional starter motor.

    Although the engine operates on eight cylinders during hard acceleration, electric motors provide enough power to keep the Escalade in four-cylinder mode most of the time. The  hybrid’s city fuel economy is seven miles-per-gallon better than its gas-powered cousin.

    On the highway, electric motors extend the intervals during which the car can run on four cylinders. The most amazing thing about the technology is its invisibility to the driver. Were it not for a display in the gauge cluster, the driver would be unaware of shifts between four and eight cylinder operation.

    Electronic components save energy

    General Motors followed Toyota’s lead, replacing the mechanical steering pump and air conditioning compressor with lighter, more efficient electric components. The electric air conditioning compressor can run independent of the gas engine, to prevent the car from heating up when it’s stopped at a traffic light.

    The electric power steering pump is lighter than the hydraulic part it replaces. Since both the compressor and steering pump are self-contained units, they reduce parasitic power loss, improving the gas engine’s fuel economy by half a mile per gallon.

    Hybrid powertrain improves low-end torque

    Hybrids inevitably win the race out of the toll booth, because electric motors develop maximum torque at extremely low speeds. Getting seventy-five hundred pounds of sheet metal moving is no small feat: making it accelerate from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in under seven seconds deserves a standing ovation.

    The Escalade is considerably heavier than the Chevrolet and GMC trucks that share the same hybrid technology, decreasing its overall fuel economy by about a mile per gallon in comparison. The additional weight is quite noticeable when cornering. When I took a decreasing radius turn at speed, I could feel the truck pull to the outside in the apex.

    Regenerative braking recaptures heat produced by the brakes and uses it to recharge the 300-volt battery pack. The regenerative brakes are separate from the truck’s hydraulic brakes. According to GM engineers, they significantly increase brake pad life for the hydraulic components. They also make the car stop faster when it needs to: a boon for commuters who travel on busy urban roads.

    The Escalade has an independent front suspension and link suspension in the rear to enhance its towing capability. The two-wheel drive platform tows up to 5800 pounds, while the four-wheel drive model tows up to 5600 pounds.

    Real-time damping automatically adjusts the shocks to smooth out bumps in the road, giving the Escalade the seamless ride Cadillac is known for. Steering feedback is not as precise as it would be on a unibody car with high torsional rigidity, but there’s no excessive play either.

    Visibility around the car is good: standard rear park assist sounds an audible alarm when the vehicle approaches obstacles to the back below the driver’s line of vision.

    Although available four-wheel drive gives the Escalade enough traction to go off-road, it’s not the best choice for buyers who want to spend a lot of time on rugged trails. Twenty-two inch chromed aluminum wheels wouldn’t last long in the wilderness; nor would the optional running boards that deploy automatically when the doors open.

    Seating for up to seven passengers

    The Escalade’s plush interior is what one would expect from Cadillac: heated and ventilated first and second-row seats, a 5.1 surround-sound system with standard XM satellite radio, power sunroof, and tri-zone climate control.

    There is enough room in the second row for three adults. The center console takes away a little legroom from the center passenger, but the average adult should be fine on a short ride. Both first and second-row passengers get overhead reading lamps. Four ceiling vents keep rear passengers comfortable in hot and cold weather.

    Adjustable pedals and a power tilt steering wheel enable shorter drivers to find a safe, comfortable seating position. Redundant Bluetooth, audio and cruise control functions on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.

    A two-piece center console bin stows the headphones and remote for the DVD entertainment system up top, with a separate bin for DVDs below. Multiple 12-volt power points allow all three rows of passengers to recharge electronic devices on the go. There is also a 115-volt outlet in the cargo area.

    The battery pack is located under the second-row seats. Though it has no effect on hip, head or legroom for the second-row passengers, the battery pack limits the manner in which the cargo floor can be configured.

    Both second and third row seats fold flat using a single lever on the seat cushions. But they don’t create a flat load floor. There is plenty of room to load bicycles in back without removing the third row seats, but the car’s high liftover height and spaces between the seats make it awkward.

    Buyers who plan to carry bikes on a regular basis will probably want to install a hitch mounted rack or roof rack. The Escalade comes standard with roof rails, and a rubber step pad on the rear bumper. Optional power running boards ($1095) make it easier for smaller drivers to reach a top rack from the sides.

    Standard safety

    The Escalade hybrid comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control. A free one-year subscription to OnStar adds automatic police and EMT notification if the airbags deploy.

    Hybrid components are warrantied for eight years or 100,000 miles. A four-year, bumper-to-bumper warranty covers all other components,

    Base price for the Escalade Hybrid is $70,735, not including a $950 destination charge. Cadillac produces the Escalade at its assembly plant in Arlington, Texas.

    Likes: Exceptional fuel efficiency for a full-sized sport-utility vehicle with no compromise in passenger comfort or performance. General Motors’ two mode system works so well that its operation is invisible to the driver.

    Dislike: Folding the second and third-row seats flat does not create an uninterrupted cargo floor, making it more difficult to load large items in back.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Cadillac
    Model: Escalade Hybrid 2WD
    Year: 2009
    Base price: $70,735
    As tested: $72,780
    Horsepower: 403 Hp @ 5700 rpm
    Torque: 417 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: 6.8 seconds
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: Yes
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 20/21 mpg city/highway

  • 2008 Cadillac CTS Sedan

    Race-inspired sport sedan
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Cadillac CTS Sedan

    2008 Cadillac CTS Sedan

    Ten years ago, Cadillac was struggling to find ways of appealing to younger, more active buyers. Designers introduced a concept car called the Evoq, which became the basis for a new generation of sporty luxury cars. The first CTS, unveiled for the ’92 model year, melded the Evoq’s crisp, geometric design with a high-performance chassis, tested against Europe’s best at Nurburgring.

    The second-generation CTS expands on the original formula with a new direct-injection V6 engine that has more power and produces fewer hydrocarbon emissions than the one it replaces. The 2008 CTS is wider than the first-generation car due to the availability of all-wheel drive. Both manual and automatic transmissions have six gears: the 6L50 hydra-matic on the test car has a manual shift option.

    The test car has two option packages: the first upgrades the standard audio system to Bose 5.1 surround sound, adds navigation with XM radio and real-time traffic updates, rain sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, and rear park assist. The second option package replaces the standard seventeen-inch wheels with eighteen-inch rims, adds sport suspension, a limited slip differential, and high-intensity discharge headlamps.

    Styling as crisp as a freshly-pressed tuxedo

    There’s nothing subtle about the CTS exterior, especially when it wears candy apple metal flake paint. A two-inch wider track gives the new model a more planted look, while the profile maintains the strong aerodynamic wedge shape of the original model. A Cadillac designer described the exterior of the original CTS as having the crisp lines of a freshly pressed tuxedo. It’s an apt description for the current model as well: a stand-out profile that doesn’t get lost in a crowd.

    The grille and front fenders borrow design cues from Cadillac’s Sixteen concept car: a design study based on classic V16 Cadillacs. On the CTS, the V16 heritage appears as a vertical chrome grille, chromed side air vents, and vertical tail lamps.

    The long hood, raked roof and short tail end give the CTS sedan a coupe-like profile. The interior follows suit with a driver-focused cockpit: a high-tech center stack with pop-up navigation screen, hand crafted white leather seats, and a panoramic sunroof. I’m not quite sure what “sapele pommele” wood is, but it certainly looks nice on the instrument panel and door trim.

    Zero-to-sixty in a hurry

    Nothing brings out the warm and fuzzy in me like a car that accelerates hard enough to melt blacktop. The CTS goes from zero-to-sixty in 5.9 seconds: not quite as fast as a Mercedes-Benz E55, but considerably more affordable. The new engine with the six-speed automatic transmission has a long, flat torque curve that pulls hard all the way up to red line.

    Since the CTS begs to be driven at speed, I decided to open it up on the I-10 freeway between Phoenix and Tucson. The road is wide, flat and straight. Most drivers bury the pedal to save time: anything south of ninety is about the speed of traffic.

    Although it isn’t an especially heavy car, the CTS feels solid at speed. The optional eighteen-inch rims and sport tires give the sedan a large, stable footprint. Stabilizer bars front and rear, and a new strut brace between the front shock towers minimize roll and enhance steering response. The sport suspension that comes with the all-season performance package includes monotube shocks: a limited slip differential hooks up the rear wheels during hard acceleration.

    Fuel injectors direct gas into the engine cylinders rather than through the intake valves. The result is faster response, more efficient combustion, and fewer emissions, especially during engine warm-up. Variable valve timing maximizes power without sacrificing fuel economy. Best of all, the high compression engine runs on regular octane gas. Average fuel economy is about twenty miles-per-gallon for city and highway combined.

    Stabilitrak integrates the car’s antilock braking and traction control systems with yaw control, helping the driver to steer straight when rain, ice or snow make for slippery conditions. Disc brakes with vented rotors front and rear allow the car to stop hard when necessary, regardless of the weather. The variable assist steering produces the right amount of steering effort at a variety of speeds, with a good on-center feel.

    Visibility to the front and rear of the car is good. The side mirrors don’t do a particularly good job of picking up cars passing to either side. I had to look both ways before making lane changes to make sure there weren’t cars in my blind spots.

    The HID headlamps on the option upgrade swivel at night to light corners in the road. They can move up to five degrees inboard and fifteen degrees outboard, making it easier to see pedestrians who might not be in the beam of a conventional headlamp.

    Navigation with travel alerts

    Graphics on the navigation screen are easy to follow, and include information about exit ramps, points of interest, real-time traffic and road construction alerts. There are audible alerts about detours. I was surprised to see the system pick up on a construction project that had just begun the evening before our trip.

    The pop-up screen is visible from both front seating positions, and surprisingly, doesn’t interfere with the driver’s forward view. 

    The Bose 5.1 surround sound system is state of the art: MP3 and iPod compatible, with a hard drive for downloading CD tracks and buffering the car radio. The driver can pause a live broadcast for up to an hour, and replay it uninterrupted.

    Both front seats have ten-way power adjustments with lumbar support, seat heaters and coolers. I remember the mushy upholstery on Cadillacs in the mid-1990s: my lower back was grateful for the ergonomic upgrade.

    Keyless start allows the driver to enter and start the car without digging for the keys. The key fob can start the car as far as 200 feet away, activate the climate control, seat heaters and coolers.

    Spacious trunk

    The trunk is spacious enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries, luggage or a couple of golf bags. It isn’t big enough for a bicycle, but it is long and deep enough to hold a couple of large cartons.

    Standard safety

    All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a one-year subscription to OnStar. The base model comes with a tire sealant and inflator kit in place of a spare tire. A compact spare tire is a $250 option.

    The Cadillac CTS is built at GM’s Lansing, Michigan assembly plant. The sport sedan that debuted in August of last year is currently available for test drives at Cadillac dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: Exceptional on-road performance, with excellent steering response, firm linear braking, and road feel. The direct injection V6 engine has the power of a larger block, but much better fuel economy. It’s impressive that the high-compression engine can run on 87 octane gas.

    Dislikes: Side mirrors do not do an adequate job of compensating for blind spots. A spare tire should be standard on all models.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Cadillac
    Model: CTS V6 DI Performance Sedan
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $34,545
    As tested: $46,440
    Horsepower: 304 Hp @ 6300 rpm
    Torque: 273 lbs.-ft. @ 5200 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: 5.9 seconds
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Comments: Base price does not include a $745 destination charge.