First Drive

2013 Cadillac XTS – First Drive

XTS incorporates a jazzier look as well as some cutting edge technology

2013 Cadillac XTS - front 3/4 scenic

Los Angeles, CA – Cadillac’s return to big luxury cars, in the form of the 2013 XTS, counts on traditional Caddy buyers to accept a jazzier look as well as embrace some cutting edge technology

That technology is called CUE – which stands for Cadillac User Experience. With an iPad-style capacitive touch screen and the expected multi-layers of the modern communications/control interface, CUE is a techno-geek's wet dream.

But unlike Ford’s obtuse MyFord Touch, this system appears thoroughly sorted and quite easy to use. More on that later.

Cadillac claims the front-drive/AWD XTS is not a direct replacement for the discontinued STS and DTS sedans, painting it with a more contemporary brush. In its ad campaign, the XTS is positioned against the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and its German contemporaries.

After a relatively short drive program in Southern California, I doubt there will be much cross shopping there, but that by no means implies this is not a good car. It’s actually a very good Cadillac.

Canadian-built

The Oshawa-built XTS is built on the Buick Lacrosse platform. It shares the same basic profile but the sheet metal is a harmonious evolution of Cadillac’s angular design signature.

2013 Cadillac XTS - rear 3/4 scenic.JPGIt’s a little softer and the corners are more rounded, yet the bold grille, chrome accents, upright headlights and tail lights are all Cadillac. We got more than a few curious glances down here in been-there-done-that LA.

The 2013 XTS is in Canadian showrooms now and comes in four trim levels: Base $48,995, Luxury Collection $51,975, Premium collection $56,670 and Platinum Collection $62,635.

Power comes from GM’s proven 3.6-litre direct-injection V-6, here making 304 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque.

2013 Cadillac XTS - engine.JPGA six-speed automatic transmission is standard issue, with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system with electronic limited-slip differential optional on the upper three trim levels. It’s priced between $2160 and $2340 depending on model.

The base car is fitted with 19-inch alloys, heated and cooled front seats, real wood trim, Brembo brakes, Magnetic Ride Control, rear air springs, HID headlamps, capless fuel filler and CUE. Work your way up the price ladder and luxury and safety kit is layered on accordingly.

Elegant simplicity

The cabin is elegant in its uncluttered simplicity and beautifully crafted. It’s certainly Caddy’s best effort to date, and it need make no apologies to either Audi or Infiniti.

2013 Cadillac XTS - steering wheel and instrument panel.JPGRear-seat legroom is more generous than in an Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class and the massive 509-litre trunk will please both golfers and goodfellas alike.

The XTS is a quiet and fine-tracking highway car, and the front-driver I sampled was thoroughly competent, if not completely engaging over the famed twists and turns of Mulholland Drive.

While the V-6 engine is not a powerhouse, it gets the job done smoothly and quietly.

What isn’t quite so smooth or quiet is the ride over bad pavement. More impact harshness than you’d expect makes its way into the cabin and the 19-inch tires are a bit thuddy too.

CUE interface

The breakthrough CUE interface with its 8-inch touch screen is perhaps the biggest news here. Like your tablet, you can poke, scroll or swipe the screen.

2013 Cadillac XTS - centre console.jpgIt also has a proximity sensor that brings up the submenu icons (or "App Tray" in Caddy-speak) when your hand approaches the screen. Cool and clever. It keeps the view generally uncluttered.

When making a selection, "haptic" technology bumps back at your finger so you know the message has been received. The screen is fully customizable – icons can be dragged around on the home page to your liking.

Of course, all this cool nerdy stuff would be just that, cool nerdy stuff, if it weren’t incorporated into an intuitive and user friendly system. Yes, some time will be needed to become fully comfortable with CUE, but the fact that we were soon making our way around it without cursing a blue streak or driving off the road says something.

More high tech

Voice recognition, control buttons on the steering wheel and related LDC displays in the centre gauge cluster initially add to the learning curve, but once mastered will work in your favour.

2013 Cadillac XTS - instrument cluster.JPGStandard on the Platinum and optional on other trims is HUD (head up display) and an all-digital instrument cluster (al a Jaguar XJ) that offers up four different configurations. The latter is pretty gimmicky and will surely have Howard and Ethel of Palm Springs coughing into their Bran Flakes.

Cleverly, there are redundant touch and swipe controls just below the screen for HVAC and audio operation so Howie and Eth won’t feel completely left out.

Another new and surprisingly effective technology is the Safety Alert Seat that works in conjunction with the available Driver Awareness Package (lane departure warning, blind spot detection, forward collision alert and rear cross traffic alert).

Instead of audio alerts or steering wheel shudders, the seat subtly vibrates either your left or right butt cheek depending on the location of the impending concern. It works. However, Ethel should be concerned if Howie takes to regular lane wandering for no obvious reason.

Coming in the fall is the Driver Assist Package that adds collision mitigation auto braking.

Cadillac’s return to big luxury is impressive. The XTS scores on looks, value, features and the all-important interior volume. I suspect most buyers will still be of "a certain age", so whether or not the clever CUE will resonate or confound remains to be seen.

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