The 2009 Escalade Hybrid has officially begun rolling into Cadillac dealers across the country. With a Manufacturer’s Suggested Base Price (MSRP) of $71,685, this seven/eight-passenger sport utility becomes the first premium-grade full-sizer to offer buyers the choice of an efficient hybrid powertrain or a conventional gasoline engine. Taking the hybrid route in does exact a $3,600 premium over a standard Escalade model, but it also bumps EPA city numbers from 12 to 20 mpg and raises the highway figure from 19 to 21 mpg, versus a comparable rear-drive variant.

The new Escalade Hybrid uses GM’s sophisticated Two-Mode system that was co-developed in conjunction with BMW and DaimlerChrysler. Particularly well-suited for use in heavier-duty applications, this technology was introduced on the 2008 Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon Hybrids. A variation also will be used in the new Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango Hybrids that go on sale in late September as well as on the BMW X6 Hybrid that’s slated to arrive sometime in 2009.

Key element in the Escalade’s Two-Mode Hybrid package is its electrically variable six-speed automatic transmission (EVT). The EVT incorporates a pair of compact electric motors powered by a 300-watt nickel-metal hydride “Energy Storage System” (ESS) that’s tucked away under the second-row seats. These high-torque motors permit the Escalade Hybrid to operate in pure electric mode at low speeds and serve as generators to replenish the ESS battery when the vehicle is braking or coasting. Working individually or together, they seamlessly bolster the operating efficiency of the Hybrid’s specially modified 6.0-liter Vortec V8. This super-efficient engine incorporates numerous sophisticated design tweaks of its own, including Active Fuel Management that allows operation on just four cylinders under light load conditions and an Auto Stop feature that shuts it down completely whenever the vehicle comes to a halt.

While the Escalade Hybrid is destined generate the greatest buzz among green-vehicle proponents, the standard Escalade also deserves a quick kudos, as its 6.2-liter gasoline V8 steps up to E85 status for the 2009 model year.

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