Cadillac’s neXT chapter, XT5
Americans love comeback stories. Peyton Manning, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Jobs.
One of my favorites is ex-Detroit Piston Grant Hill, a superstar swingman whose bad left ankle sidelined him four years before he returned to showcase his skills to fans into his late 30s. A star in a team sport, he finally got the supporting cast he needed with the 2010 Phoenix Suns to make a deep playoff run.
We’re rooting for Cadillac’s comeback, too. An iconic luxury brand overtaken by self-inflicted wounds and superior foreign competition in the ’90s, Caddy has been on the rise for more than a decade with talented sedans: the nimble ATS, the ferocious CTS-V, the sublime CT6. Each is an all-star at its position.
But the superstar in Cadillac’s resurgence will arrive this spring: the midsize crossover XT5.
How good is the new XT5 (formerly the SRX)? Let me count the ways. It has so perfected Cadillac’s Art & Science design that it’s not an oxymoron to call it an “attractive SUV.”
Its rear legroom has grown three inches in a class where it matters — not just to 6-foot-5 apes like me, but to everyone. Yet the overall vehicle is the same size. That means with its lightweight chassis and upgraded, five-link rear suspension it is fun to drive.
Cadillac just needs to build a team around it.
Trucks and sport utes are where Detroit makes its dough, yet somehow Cadillac missed the crossover wake-up call. The XT5 is the only unibody ute in Cadillac’s lineup. While I was ogling the XT5 in California last week, Audi was introducing a new Q2 subcompact SUV to add to its compact Q3, mid-size Q5 and large Q7. Sure, Cadillac boasts the money-making (make that money-gushing) Escalade, but that’s a truck-based behemoth unique to the U.S. market. The brand’s only weapon against the Audi crossover army (or BMW’s army of Xs or Mercedes’ GLs) is the XT5.
The good news is Cadillac’s new XT nomenclature signals a cavalry on the way (likely XT4 and XT6) led by XT5 and Cadillac President Johann de Nysschen.
The formidable South African has been here before. He steered Audi North America from a Volkswagen sub-brand to a ute-birthing powerhouse in a market that craves everything on stilts. In the XT5, he has delivered a vehicle that matches Audi’s handsome styling and athletic AWD chassis. And more.
By increasing the XT5’s wheelbase by two inches over the outgoing SRX while keeping the same exterior dimensions, the Caddy looks more athletic while growing the wheelbase a full seven inches over an Audi Q5.
Good luxury makers have unmistakable nightlight signatures: BMW’s glowing halos and Audi’s repeating LEDs. Add Cadillac’s teardrop LEDs to the list. In daylight the XT5 also wows with its distinctive pentagon grille, chiseled flanks, and door-mounted mirrors which add both cockpit visibility and sports-car looks. No detail is overlooked, including a rear wiper hidden under the rear aero-canopy so as not to clutter rear visibility.
Kick open the rear hatch (more on that later) and interior details impress, too. The rear seats fold flat for uniform storage space. In addition to that extra three inches of leg room, rear passengers can slide their seats, heat them, even recline them 12 degrees. If airlines had seats this comfortable they wouldn’t have Chuck “There Oughta be a Seat Room Law” Schumer sitting in their lobbies. The interior room rivals class leaders Mercedes GLE and Lexus RX in size, yet the Caddy’s chassis puts it in another league handling-wise. Thanks to extensive computer modeling and acres of adhesives, the XT5 loses 278 pounds over the SRX, making it a whopping 650 pounds lighter than the Merc and 100 pounds shy of the Lexus.
Settle into the Cadillac’s nicely bolstered but comfortable seats, and the Cadillac flows through corners with minimal body roll and planted handling. Hustling across Orange County’s curvy Route 74, the XT5 nipped at the heels of a spirited Porsche Cayenne. When the road ironed out, however, the Caddy’s 320-horse, 3.5-liter V-6 was no match for the Porsche. The Caddy’s lightweight athleticism seems at odds with the V-6’s lack of low-end giddy-up.
Where the Caddy also bears resemblance, regrettably, to the Porsche is in pricing strategy. The base XT5 comes below $40K — a BMW X5’s room at an X3 price — and the costs quickly escalate from there. Indeed, an AWD XT5 (preferred for Michigan winters) isn’t available until $10,000 north of the base model. The XT5 comes with an impressive array of toys from a kick-open trunk to self-park to 360-degree camera. But these niceties are only available with the Premium Club starting in nose-bleed $57,000 territory.
Stroll across the street to the Ford dealership and you’ll find the XT-5 look-alike Edge with the same features for $10,000 less. The Edge has also gone on a diet and will offer you three engines including a gutsy, 315-horse turbo V-6.
They say Neiman Marcus customers don’t shop K-Mart, and luxe buyers don’t browse mainstream. Maybe they should.
America’s comeback kid wipes the floor with German luxe competitors in console usability (ask me again when the next Q5 gets Audi’s superb Virtual Cockpit upgrade). Women need a place for their purses (and motorheads need a place for our GoPro satchels).
So the XT5 opts for an e-shifter that — like the Chrysler 200 and Lincoln MKZ before them — opens a roomy cubby below the console. Brilliant. No clunky rotary dials clog the center console to access the infotainment screen. The touchscreen will do fine, thank you very much. And with a faster processor and improved volume controls, CUE (short for Cursed User Experience) is finally livable. Which is not to say I like it.
Smartphones continue to be light years ahead of cars in navigation usability, a fact that GM recognizes by offering Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Ask my phone to map the route to “San Juan Capistrano” and it does.
Android Auto was buggy in my tester. Make sure it works like a champ before you leave the dealer.
Pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar, the Cadillac XT5 is better than any player in the hot-selling midsize segment. With a few more crossover teammates for support, Cadillac may yet make it all the way back.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 Cadillac XT5
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV
Price: $39,990 base ($55,385 AWD Premium trim as tested)
Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6
Power: 310 horsepower, 271 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph (NA)
Weight: 4,257 pounds (AWD as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Highs: Chiseled styling; composed handling
Lows: Pricey options; more engine choices, please
Good ★★★Fair ★★