The Cadillac Escalade really does represent all that was wrong with old GM. It might have briefly enjoyed a cult status as the preferred vehicle of choice for rap artists, overpaid footballers and other bling merchants but - believe me - the Escalade is so off the pace, it never really made it off the starting line.
We tested the latest Escalade Hybrid as part of Cadillac's relaunch in Europe. Dutch importer Kroymans went bust in the economic downturn, effectively halting Cadillac sales in Europe, but now General Motors' upmarket division is having another crack at European sales itself. Not for the volumes (they'll be lucky to sell 2500 in a good year across the continent), but for the prestige. Selling luxury cars in Europe bolsters the reputation - especially in China, say the bosses.
Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: the tech lowdown
English teachers could practically hold up this car as an example of an oxymoron. The Escalade is GM's tough-as-old-boots seven-seater SUV, a 5151mm long off-roader mixing the profligacy of a 6.0-litre petrol V8 with a full hybrid system.
This is a full time four wheel drive hybrid. Bolted to the V8 is a 300v nickel-metal hydride battery located under the second-row seat, used to drive the electric motors. The petrol engine cuts out at a standstill and shuts down four cylinders on a light throttle, running as a V4. The transition between each mode is impressively seamless.
Does the hybrid mitigate the Escalade's woes?
Good news! The hybrid set-up works really quite well. I managed to hit 30mph on full whispering silent EV mode for nearly a minute and that sort of party trick will prove useful on such a wastefully large car. You have to stroke the throttle, as most acceleration claims will require the V8 to lug around this 2729kg beast.
Sadly, the plaudits stop there. The Escalade feels outmoded by virtually every other dynamic measure. It's not even that efficient. Cadillac claims 264/km of CO2 and 25mpg, but we failed to match that on our road test covering a combination of hilly country roads, around town and some faster, flatter A-roads.
How bad is the Escalade Hybrid?
The build quality is shocking – the first thing you notice when you open the doors is a 2ft swathe of sound deadening material just flapping loose. Panel gaps are enormous, the inordinately heavy automated tailgate refused to work on our example and the interior plastics would be more at home on a Proton than a £72k upmarket SUV. It's also hugely naff: the (optional £1294) running boards descend down when you unlock the car to help you step up into the high-up cabin.
Once inside, the Escalade feels gratuitous. It's so wide! The front-seat armrest is the width of a third pew and you kind of wonder what the point of all this excess size is. This car is badly packaged too: the driver’s seat doesn’t slide far enough back, tall pilots will rub the headlining and you can't comfortably seat adults in the third row of seats (unlike a Land Rover Discovery). There’s no bootspace with all three rows erected, either.
The driving experience
All the worst bits of old-school Americana in here: the gearlever is an unwieldy, column-mounted affair, the plastics are straight from Fisher Price and the steering wheel seemingly has a tenuous, long-distance relationship with the front axle. It's so bad you end up sawing at the wheel even in a straight line, like a badly produced episode of the A-team.
And don't even talk about corners. Here's what happens. A curve approaches, you heave at the wheel, the Escalade lurches with enough body roll to alarm bystanders. It's natural habitat is straight roads and the brakes suffer from poor modulation between energy recapture and active braking and a remorseless, wooden pedal feel.
Considering the size of the tyres – 285/45 rubber on 22in wheels – the ride is actually not too bad.
The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid isn't just the worst car I've driven this year, it's one of the worst I've ever tested period. At the end of our review we parked up next to the new SRX, a much smaller, more modern crossover. The Escalade felt like a dinosaur by comparison.
It's risible that this car costs £72,317 in the UK. I can see no valid argument for buying one and can only imagine the mental faculties of a footballer mad enough to have a go. GM should really do the kind thing and send the Escalade to Europe for a different reason: the euthanasia clinic.