The next four years will influence Cadillac’s future, which will include driving profits, sales and global notoriety. In the past, the brand has brought us the updated CTS, the agile ATS and the return of the marque’s definitive statement of luxury with the CT6. As great as the past lineup has been, Cadillac has been reaching for the stars lately and with the launch of the new 2017 XT5 crossover, they’re going for broke.
The aging SRX has been in the game for too long—seven years have passed while the model has watched the rest of Cadillac become trimmer and more athletic. However outdated the SRX seems though, it still accounts for most of the company’s sales, with 100,000 units sold last year. Utilizing the strength of their sales, Cadillac built the new XT5 from the ground up on a brand new proprietary chassis that will become the basic format for future crossover entries (similar to Audi’s A3, A5 and A7 naming style). Mated to a new twin-clutch, all-wheel-drive system, eight-speed automatic and an engine carried over from the ATS/CTS sedans, the XT5 is ready for the big leagues.
You’ll notice first that the XT5 interior is very quiet with great acoustics allowing for passenger communication even when the Bose sound system is cranked up. Cadillac shaved 292 pounds from the outgoing SRX, saving some 30 pounds in sound deadening material alone, but without a detrimental effect to cabin noise. Double-paned windows also help to tune out the world.
“We’ve been able to get the weight down by being so amazingly clever, I could write a book,” Larry Mihalko, Cadillac Vehicle Performance Manager admits. “[Cadillac] switched over to a dissipative acoustic system from a traditional barrier style [that comes in and gets absorbed instead of blocked] and made the cabin quieter for both wind and road noise.”
The XT5’s cabin lacks external interruptions, which makes the interior come alive in beautiful textures and shapes. The second generation of the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system is faster and has brighter, more defined typography. A revised transmission joystick (which is very Jaguar-esque) serves to not only make the experience feel more opulent, but also frees up interior space below for things like tablets, pocketbooks and sunglasses.
Interior Design Manager Phil Kucera notes that when Cadillac stretched the wheelbase by two inches—while keeping exterior dimensions the same—it released an extra 3.2 inches of rear-seat legroom. “It’s what the designers wished for and it all came together to be that ‘Holy Grail’ of what you want as an exterior package,” he explains. “[The XT5] has a wide, elevated and more prominent grille. The SRX is more of a vertical statement and we wanted a much more horizontal statement for the XT5. Everyone in our interior design studio is an expert in sculpting and trim—at Cadillac we live the cut-and-sewn lifestyle.”
The 3.6-liter V6 engine with 310 horsepower and 271 lb.-ft of torque has been carried over from other models in their range and while it is a great motor in the lighter sedans, it becomes underpowered in the XT5. The SUV could really benefit from a turbocharged motor with more torque. Add on the additional mass of five passengers and a rated payload of 900 pounds, and it is hard to believe that the car wouldn’t be struggling.
There is also the issue of the eight-speed automatic transmission’s inability to downshift when power is needed—we found that it remained in gear instead of dropping down a peg or two when asking for more power. A few algorithm tweaks might improve the acceleration overall. There are some other bothersome quirks to the XT5, like the gas and brake pedals that look like they came from a pedal car, and shift paddles pushed so far back towards the steering column that they’re essentially pointless.
It isn’t all bad though, as the chassis balance is fantastic, offering the feeling of stability and comfort to make an overall luxurious and confident driving experience. Plus, the real-time dampening system on the XT5 works to keep body roll to a minimum with excellent feedback in the steering wheel.
The SUV also gains a new twin-clutch rear differential all-wheel-drive system similar to BMW’s xDrive, whereas it continuously monitors road surfaces and driver input and then directs power to whatever wheel needs traction. In sunny Southern California we didn’t have the chance to put the system to the test, but based on the technology, we have no doubt it will inspire confidence.
The XT5 nomenclature is the second in the company to follow the new naming scheme (the CT6 was the first), heralding a new practice that is quickly becoming industry wide. Its main purpose is so that cars sold on global levels actually make sense to all cultures. To paraphrase Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen, names like El Dorado might sound bold and adventurous in North America, but in the foreign market they literally get lost in translation.
This will put the brand in an offensive position, which Nysschen describes as economies of scale in places like China, where a brand new model plant will push the company’s annual production to 160,000 vehicles. “[Cadillac] is the fastest growing luxury brand in China and we have to emphasize quality of overall experience,” says Nysschen. With 11 new products by the end of the decade, it certainly seems like Cadillac is striking while the iron is hot.
Timing is everything in the automotive industry and Cadillac is reading the trends and pushing the envelope to give affluent, luxury customers what they want. Their innovations, strong market performance with their sedans and 130 years of upscale appointments is coming back with robust options for the American market, and their sights are set for global positioning.
Cadillac’s XT5 will enter the market at $38,995 and go up to $62,500 for a luxuriously-appointed Platinum AWD (which is what we drove).