FIRST DRIVE: 2020 Cadillac XT6 small outside, big where it counts

Like Doctor Who's Tardis, 2020 Cadillac XT6 packs a lot inside small package

Published: October 3, 2019, 3:30 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Cadillac XT6

ÎLES-DE-LA-MADELEINE, Quebec — Three-row SUVs have been around for a while, and the media has exhausted its descriptions for them — “Only big enough for small children in the very back,” “Your knees are going to point skywards back there,” and my favourite, from Jeremy Clarkson: “There’s plenty of room for passengers in the third row, provided you chop off their legs first.”

The fact is, space is limited. Everyone wants a large vehicle on the inside but a small one outside, like Doctor Who’s Tardis. The only vehicles with comfortable space in the third row are buses, or minivans, or full-sized SUVs like the stretched Cadillac Escalade, and even they can be iffy. The floors in the back are usually too high and close to the seats.

But the new Cadillac XT6, one size down from the Escalade, may have achieved the impossible and actually created a third row that is, shall we say, not uncomfortable for adults, while still leaving legroom in the second row.

Mid-sized Plus

The XT6 is a size larger than Cadillac’s mid-size XT5, which is itself a step up from the compact XT4. It gives comfortable passenger room for up to seven adults without taking the space on the road of the Escalade.

It’s based on the same short-wheelbase platform as the XT5, although the platform itself is only half a centimetre longer. The much-less-expensive but larger Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave are based on a long-wheelbase version of the platform and are about 14 cm longer than the XT6.

The front seats are pretty much identical in space with the XT5, but the larger Cadillac offers just a little less second-row legroom in order to accommodate that third row, without the physical size of the Traverse. The second row is available as either a standard bench seat, for three people, or a pair of captain’s chairs, which cost an extra $920.

It’s not uncomfortable in either the second row or the third row of the XT6, however. I’m 5-feet-11-inches tall, with a 32-inch inseam, and the depth of the floor and height of the roofliner in both rows still gave room to spare without having to slide the second row forward or backward.

That extra space provides almost 50% more cargo room behind the second row as the XT5: 1,220 litres in the XT6 compared to 850 litres in the XT5. That’s thanks to having an overall length that’s about 24 cm longer, almost all of it in that rear cargo area. This means the XT6 is larger on the inside without having to be too much larger on the outside – almost like that Tardis.

Costly options

The XT6 starts at $60,998 for its “Premium Luxury” version, or at $63,798 for its “Sport” version. Both editions offer a Platinum package of extra features that will bump up the price considerably. I drove both here, and the loaded Premium Luxury tester rang in at $71,743, while the loaded Sport tester listed for $81,328. Both those prices include the $2,100 “Destination” charge, but do not include taxes.

Is it worth all that extra money over GM’s other large SUVs?

Well, the cabin is extraordinarily quiet. There was a strong wind blowing across these islands during this visit, and the XT6 seemed immune to it. Roads are bumpy and potholed, and yet the big SUV glided over the choppy pavement with barely any tire noise. Cadillac has noise deadening material wherever it can find space, including the various pillars and window seals, and everything is further quietened by Bose active noise cancellation.

The active suspension for its smooth ride can be set through four different Drive modes with what Cadillac calls “isolated precision.” Each wheel has its own independent suspension, and the Sport model offers continuous damping control as a standard feature; it’s an option on the Premium Luxury.

The Sport is also equipped with “active yaw control,” which uses twin clutches at the back axle to send as much torque as needed to either rear wheel, for better traction on a slippery surface and around corners. All XT6s in Canada are AWD, but only the rear wheels can be driven independently of each other.

Whether the extra cost of the Sport is worth it or not, I can’t really say. It includes a tighter steering radius and unique engine mapping, as well as optional 21-inch wheels, an inch larger than standard, but on the fairly slow curving roads of these islands, neither version of the XT6 stood out from the other. The Sport does, however, have less chrome, with blacked-out window mouldings and a black mesh grille.

Under the hood

All XT6s are powered by the same 3.6-litre V-6 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. This is the same combination that drives the XT5, and it’s a tried-and-true powerplant. There was plenty of power here to pull on steep hills, and the transmission never made itself noticed by straining or hunting for the right gear.

The engine creates 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, and has a claimed fuel consumption of 9.7 L/100 km on the highway and 13.5 in the city. In practice, driving with no regard for economy, I saw an actual average consumption of 12.1 L/100 km. This is aided by cylinder deactivation, which shuts off two of the six cylinders when they’re not needed for power, and front-wheel drive when the rear wheels aren’t needed for traction.

Advanced software

Of course, every new model introduction comes with the latest huge advances in driver’s assistance sensors and software, and the XT6 is no different. Since it’s a Cadillac, most of the features are standard, including effective lane-keeping assistance and rear cross-traffic alert. It does not, however, include active cruise control as standard – that costs an extra $2,275 as part of a package with enhanced automatic braking.

You can pay $2,300 extra for night vision, which is also very effective, highlighting 2-legged and 4-legged obstacles in the road on a small screen behind the wheel. This is best, however, for showing what the SUV just braked to avoid, since you should be looking through the windshield while driving. You can also upgrade the LED headlights for another $805, to get more independent beams that project themselves more precisely.

The real question, of course, is whether the new XT6 deserves the Cadillac name. It has better materials and better standard features than the Traverse or even Enclave, but a Cadillac should be about more than just finer leather and a fancier logo.

Ultimately, it comes down to the ride and the ease of driving. Yes, the XT6 is quiet, smooth, and powerful enough to not be embarrassed by other vehicles, and yes, I’d say it drives like a Cadillac. On these damp and windswept Quebec islands, it was always a comfortable, refined and capable SUV. If you’ve already considered the XT5 but want something with more cargo room, or space for a couple of extra passengers, the bigger 6 may be that vehicle.