The week before school started, I had the chance to leave my just-serviced minivan "Rosie" (the one that was broken into) permanently parked in my driveway while I experienced the joy of living like a one-percenter, or at the very least a Kardashian -- which is to say driving in major blinged out style in a 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.
When my elderly neighbor asked why we had traded in our Volvo station wagon (which we had to park somewhere else to make room) for such a "Gangsta" car, I explained we had not, in fact, splurged for a $85,000 car. What I think he really meant to ask was "If you can afford this car, why are you my neighbor and not living in Chevy Chase or Potomac?"
To be honest, I've never driven such a beautifully appointed, top-of-the-line vehicle. And after a week of enjoying all of the tiny touches of engineering genius that the Escalade Hybrid offers, I can see why -- if you had the budget for it -- a family with multiple children would choose an Escalade Hybrid over a minivan. Here are five reasons my family loved our temporary ride.
1. It holds a LOT of stuff. We were hosting a childcare swap we lovingly called Camp ChevingLem with two of our best friends' kids. That meant I had 8 kids, ranging in age from 20 months to 11 years old, to watch two of those days. While the 10 and 11 year old didn't need any carseats, everyone else had to be strapped in somehow. Here's how much gear I had to haul into the car.
2. It fits 8 super comfortably. My Toyota Sienna fits 8, because there is a narrow seat you can attach in between the two center-row bucket seats. But my oldest is always a bit cramped in that seat, and there's no way we could fit a booster in it. The Escalade Hybrid, by comparison, fit my 4-year-old's five-piece-harness carseat right next to my BFF's full-sized convertible carseat. And there was still plenty of room for her 5-year-old to sit in her high-back booster. Bringing up the rear was two 7-year-olds in backless booster seats with my big boy in the middle. I had an 11-year-old friend accompanying me up front in the coveted shotgun seat.
3. It has a three-screen entertainment system. The Platinum trim-level of the Escalade offered my backseat travelers THREE different screens, so nobody had to fight over what movie to watch during our 45-minute drive to the National Harbor. There were dual head-restraint DVD screens for the second row passengers and one center drop-down DVD screen for the back-row passengers. This meant the kids could simultaneously watch "Annie," "Ice Age 2," and "Frozen Planet" while I listened to the XM Radio up front. Even the shotgun seat passenger could've watched along on the Navigation screen, but that would've been distracting, so we kept that screen on the XM radio and navigation map.
4. It's in the little things. Every day we drove around in the Escalade, one of us discovered something else that made it remarkable. Whether it was the fact that all of the seats, not just the front two, were temperature controlled or that the assist steps automatically went up or down, the detailed accessories blew us away. Just ask my husband (who felt compelled to drive the Escalade with his arm completely extended). Here are his five favorite features.
2. Running boards that automatically extend when you open the door and retract, with a hum reminiscent of airplane landing gear, a few seconds after you close the door.
3. Feeling cocooned in thick, black leather
4. A DVD player for each of your 3 kids.
5. The sense of being a good steward of the earth while driving 3 1/2 tons of car than an extra $10,000 for a hybrid motor buys you.
5. It's a flashy but surprisingly functional car. Our friend recently joked as we entered a parking lot: "Which of these 300 minivans is mine?" and it's definitely true that in the suburbs, nearly ever family owns a minivan. That's why we picked a red one, so at the very least it would be easy to spot. But when you're driving a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, you can't help but feel special. People stop to stare, wondering if perhals someone famous will step out. But for all of the flash, it's got so many practical elements that we wonder why we don't see more Escalades filled to the brim with children. It's definitely the way to go if you've got the funds (particularly for the Hybrid, so the gas mileage -- about 23 mpg -- is on par, if not better than in a minivan) and the family size.
When our week with the Escalade ended, we were all a bit sad, even though it was the First Day of School. My dramatic daughter proclaimed the night before we turned in the keys: "But I thought we could keep it forever!" Um, no, but thanks to GM for allowing us to be part of Driving the Northeast.
Disclosure: General Motors provided me with a week-long loan of a 2012 Cadillack Escalade (Platinum trim level) complete with a full tank of gas. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are my own.