DANA POINT, CA – The Ortega Highway is more than just another joyful driving road in the hills near Los Angeles. It’s also, according to Cadillac performance manager, Larry Mihalko, one of the public roads his team uses to test and tune the ride and handling of new Cadillacs.
That may explain why the 2017 Cadillac XT5 feels utterly in its element through Ortega’s 40-some kilometres of sweeping curves and tight hairpins. Paul Spadafora, the XT5’s chief engineer who is currently riding shotgun in the right seat, seems remarkably relaxed for a man being chauffeured along a challenging mountain road by a total stranger.
I’d like to think it’s my own smooth competence at the wheel, but I think we both know it’s the XT5. Cadillac’s replacement for the SRX CUV has a real talent for stringing together swift sequences of switchbacks and S-curves with a calm, fluent steadiness that flatters drivers and reassures passengers.
OK, so it handles beautifully. But what else does the redesign of Cadillac’s top-selling nameplate have to offer a client base that likely spends more time commuting to Bay Street, or looking for parking outside Holt Renfrew, than strafing serpentine back roads?
From an overview, few surprises
Although built on an all-new architecture, the XT5 remains close in size and appearance to its SRX predecessor (which, despite receiving very few updates over a seven-year life span, remained a significant player in its segment and actually grew its sales 18% in 2015).
The engine is still a 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V-6, although it’s actually all-new and different from its same-displacement predecessor, and paired with an eight-speed (previously six-) automatic transmission.
Perhaps surprisingly, the powertrain is still installed transversely in the nose and primarily drives the front wheels. Why surprising? Because Cadillac now has excellent rear-wheel-drive sedan architectures in its portfolio, and many key rivals are based on RWD architectures.
Still, many others (Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX) are also FWD based. Spadafora explains that in the absence of AWD, typical SUV buyers would feel more at home with the predictability and traction of FWD.
Of course AWD is available, and it’s a particularly sophisticated system that can seamlessly redistribute drive from side to side as well as from front to rear – or even send all of it to just one wheel, if the traction deficit gets really dire. You can also completely disconnect the driveshaft to the rear, for optimal fuel economy in appropriate conditions.
Fuel economy also benefits from the new engine’s idle stop/start function, cylinder cut-out technology, and the more-speed transmission. And, as we’re learning to expect from all modern Cadillacs, much lightness has been added: the XT5 tips the scales at 128 kg less than the SRX, almost 300 kg less than a Mercedes GLE350. Put it all together, and fuel consumption has been cut by more than 2 L/100 km.
First product on key new architecture
The XT5 is the first production model off a new “C1” architecture that also underpins the recently revealed new GMC Acadia. The Cadillac version adds 5 cm of wheelbase versus the SRX (all of it, and then some, to the benefit of rear legroom) while the exterior dimensions are fractionally smaller.
Overall length of just over 4.8 metres still places the XT5 within the mid-size CUV camp, though at the smaller end of it. And in typical Cadillac manner, pricing starts close to the entry prices of rival automakers’ smaller compact offerings. That means $45,100 for the base FWD model, rising through Luxury (FWD or AWD) and Premium AWD grades to $68,595 for the Platinum AWD. AWD availability starts at $52,120.
For perspective, some AWD competitors’ starting MSRPs are: Lincoln MKX, $47,000; Lexus RX350, $54,350; Mercedes-Benz GLC, $44,950; Mercedes-Benz GLE, $63,200; BMW X5, $66,300.
Despite being one of the smaller mid-sizers, the XT5’s generous wheelbase enables ample second-row legroom, and rear occupants can tailor their comfort with seats that are adjustable fore-aft and for recline; the rear bench is a tad narrow, however.
Cargo-volume stats look competitive, and the 40/20/40-split second-row backrest lies commendably flat and flush with the main deck when folded. The amount of available under-floor storage depends onwhether you choose a compact spare wheel (very little space) or a tire inflator kit (more).
Integrated or free-standing? The display debate continues
Up front, the occupants face a symmetrical, tastefully conservative instrument panel with a single fully-integrated 8-inch touch-screen that arguably looks rather small by today’s rapidly-evolving standards.
A BMW-style toggle shifter on the centre tunnel liberates space for a large, open storage compartment below, and there’s a sliding cover over the cup-holders.
Conspicuously absent is any form of mouse-pad or twist-and-toggle controller. Interior designer Phil Kucera says Cadillac extensively “cliniced” display-screen function, “and we got the message loud and clear. Touch-screen is preferred over controller, despite finger-prints.” Likewise, integrated screens were preferred to the free-standing look, he said.
The upgraded CUE connect-and-control system includes 4G wireless connectivity with integrated Wi-Fi hotspot plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also available is a comprehensive suite of driver awareness and assistance aids.
Cadillac says visibility is important to CUV buyers, so kudos for the door-mounted side mirrors (which reduce the potential front-three-quarter blind spot) and Cadillac’s available rear camera mirror (which can display a wide-view camera image on the interior rear-view mirror). However the driving position is more low-slung-sporty than tall-in-the-saddle; for me, at least, a high-enough seating position was at the expense of thigh support.
Just one engine, at least for now
Across the gamut of XT5’s compact and mid-size CUV peers, engine choices range from four-cylinder turbos through non-turbo and turbo sixes to 400-plus-horsepower turbo V-8s. But although Cadillac has turbo fours and V-6s in its own hardware inventory, for now at least we get only the atmospheric 3.6-L V-6 (China gets a 2.0T).
The new 3.6’s rated outputs of 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque are modest gains on the old one (and appreciably less than in its RWD sedan applications). |The lower weight and higher gear-ratio count should usefully trim acceleration times from those of the SRX, but don’t expect to blow many rival lux-CUVs into the weeds.
Compared with its Cadillac-sedan applications the engine isn’t as musical when turned sideways, though it’s quiet enough. Bottom line: enthusiasts looking for an engaging drive will get plenty of kicks through the curve of the freeway-entrance cloverleaf, less so from the merge-lane charge up to freeway speed.
Ride comfort? First overall impressions suggested a sporty edge. But let’s not be rigid about that. With a choice of 18- or 20-inch wheels/tires, regular or continuously-variable dampers, driver-selectable Tour or Sport modes, and unique rear sub-frame bushings on the Platinum – well, how long is a piece of string?
What we can say for now is that Cadillac’s latest entry in this hot segment combines terrific handling and decent performance in a well finished, competitively roomy package at a very reasonable price. It’s a great start. But if Cadillac really wants to worry the opposition, we hope they left room under the hood for a turbocharger or two.
Model: 2017 Cadillac XT5
Price: $45,100 - $68,595
Type of vehicle: FWD/AWD mid-size luxury CUV
Engine: 3.6-litre 24V DOHC V-6
Power/Torque: 310 hp/271 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (cty/hwy): FWD: 12.1/8.6 L/100 km; AWD: 12.9/8.9 L/100 km
Competitors: Acura MDX, Audi Q5/Q7, BMW X3/X5, Infiniti QX60/QX70, Jaguar F-Pace, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lincoln MKX, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLC/GLE, Porsche Macan/Cayenne, Volvo XC90