This is the automotive poster child for damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't. No, it's not a Toyota Prius. It's not a $40,000 Chevrolet Volt, either, a car the Treasury department's automotive task force figures will cost all sorts of money General Motors can't afford to lose in the coming years. It's the model critics point to as the General's cynical, too-little too-late response to the hybrid movement.

From day one, which is to say, mid-1998 as a 1999 model, the 'Slade has been a huge moneymaker for GM. Profit margin always has been higher than the sticker on a base Cobalt. That hasn't changed, even as sales slid to 35,000 units, counting both standard and Suburban-size ESV, plus some 4700 EXT pickups. It remains the official fleet vehicle for the National Football League, the National Basketball Association (everyone on the L.A. Lakers, including the coaching team, got one the last time that team won the championship) and hip-hop music.

I happened upon an MTV show recently about some big music event. A female voiceover surveyed the stars and their rides arriving on the scene: "Escalade, Escalade, white sports car ..." The driver of the sports car was one of the big hip-hop stars of our day, and the white sports car was an Audi R8.

If all those NFL, NBA, and hip-hop stars are going to continue to drive Escalades, now they can cut down on import oil dependency and CO2 emissions with a 20-mpg Escalade Hybrid. What says, "I could drive an R8, but I need room for my posse" more than the $85,000+ Platinum Hybrid?

The hybrid forgoes the Escalade's 6.2L V-8 for the 6.0L hooked up to hybrid motors, as in the Chevy Tahoe/Silverado and GMC Yukon/Sierra hybrids, and shares the Chevys' four-wheel-drive system in place of the Caddy's AWD system. Combined, the V-8 engine/electric motors make 332 hp and 367 lb-ft, "enough to produce serious scoot even in a four-wheel-drive 'ute that's so grossly weighty the EPA crosses its arms and refuses to test it," Frank Markus writes. The rear-drive model, he notes, limbos under the 6000 gross-vehicle-weight rating cutoff for a 20/21-mpg EPA rating. "Applying the same economy differential to the lighter Tahoe/Yukon Hybrids, we'd expect the 4WD Caddy to earn a rating of 19 mpg city/19 mpg highway."