Car Culture: Tests of $70K autos offer premium insights

John McCormick

The line between premium and luxury vehicles is hard to define. But it’s fair to say that $70,000 is a price point at which consumers should start to expect more truly luxurious features in a vehicle, as opposed to the more common trimmings in today’s well-appointed premium models.

And it so happens that $70,000 was the sticker price on two 2017 test cars that just passed through my hands. Each vehicle had quite different characters and missions, but given their near identical prices, a comparison of features and capabilities makes for interesting insights into the evolving world of premium/luxury vehicles.

First, the Cadillac XT5 crossover. At just under the $70,000 mark, our test XT5 Platinum AWD model was almost as loaded as this model can be. That said, many of its standard or optional features — heated front/rear seats and an optional $2,340 package of driver-assistance technologies — are the kind of items many buyers will pick.

As a midsized crossover, the XT5 is greatly improved over its SRX predecessor in terms of design, overall refinement, interior materials, upscale features and roominess. Versus its main rivals, such as the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and BMW X3, the XT5 is unusual in that it only offers one powertrain: a 3.6-liter 310-horsepower, twin turbo V-6. But this engine is strong, and mates well with an eight-speed automatic transmission and excellent all-wheel-drive system.

On the downside, the XT5’s powertrain is on the harsh side when pushed hard. And the average fuel economy, in the high teens, was nothing to write home about. Perhaps even more problematic are the interior shortcomings, the most evident being the wretched CUE infotainment system, which makes managing the climate, navigation and entertainment settings unnecessarily difficult. There are other detail flaws, like sharp edges inside the door pulls, but it’s the CUE system (which unfortunately is shared by other Cadillacs) that really lets the XT5 down.

By contrast, the interior, including the infotainment system, in the Genesis G90 is free of such failings. Of course, as a large, Mercedes S-Class-sized sedan, the G90 is a very different animal to the XT5, with more dashboard real estate to spread out its controls and systems. But the detailed finish on the G90’s buttons and switches and the elegant manner in which the 12.3-inch navigation screen is integrated into the dash is truly luxury class.

The G90 is all about coddling its occupants in a quiet, cavernous, leather and wood-lined cabin. It’s slightly dated in its ambiance, like an older model Mercedes, but very well executed.

Our test G90 was equipped with a 5.0-liter V-8, which provided ample performance, but comfort definitely takes precedence over handling when it comes to backroad driving. Dynamically, this Genesis is not a match for the top German competition, but for $70,000, there’s not a European premium or luxury sedan that comes even close in terms of value.

But is value enough? Genesis’ parent Hyundai wants to follow in the footsteps of Toyota, which debuted its premium brand, Lexus, nearly 30 years ago. At the time, automakers and industry observers doubted that Lexus, which had none of the heritage or cultural cachet of the top European brands, would succeed.

This time the rivals and pundits may not be so quick to dismiss the new pretender.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at