2017 Cadillac XT5 – Another effort that deserves to be rewarded
That chestnut about effort equals reward doesn’t always play in the car biz. Case in point: Cadillac. Customer reaction to billions invested in two excellent new sports sedans (CTS and ATS) and one coupe (ATS) has been an unwavering taste for the old-guard Escalade, SRX, and XTS. This hasn’t hindered Cadillac’s determination to wage a frontal assault on luxury imports with the full-size CT6 sedan and the XT5, the two-row, mid-size crossover reviewed here. Proving that this brand really has joined the 21st century, the new XT5 maintains SRX exterior dimensions while shedding nearly 300 pounds, according to Cadillac, and enlarging the space inside the new, hipper exterior. More remarkably, the XT5 is dexterous enough to convince import defectors they made a wise move.
Whereas the brand’s new passenger cars use rear-drive underpinnings developed specifically for Cadillac, the XT5 rolls on General Motors’ new C1XX architecture, a somewhat more pedestrian front-drive platform shared with the recently unveiled 2017 GMC Acadia—and, presumably, the replacements for the Chevrolet Traverse and the Buick Enclave. To avoid sibling rivalry, Cadillac used the two-inch gain over the SRX’s 110.5-inch wheelbase to stretch rear-seat legroom by 3.2 inches while GMC tacked on four inches of length to wedge a third row of seating inside its Acadia.
Saving weight is standard operating procedure these days, but Cadillac’s twist is doing so without resorting to costly materials. The XT5’s unibody is made of four grades of steel, each carefully selected and configured to provide the desired stiffness and collision strength. Joints fortified with adhesives help make this a smart structure without so much as an aluminum hood to cut more weight. The front cradle and the rear crossmember are both rubber-isolated to hold NVH at bay.
Powertrain engineers contributed clever touches. The 3.6-liter V-6 is a familiar GM size, but this is a new DOHC 24-valve direct-injected design that’s smoother, slightly more potent (310 horsepower), and more efficient thanks in large part to its variable valve timing, cylinder-shutdown, and auto stop-start technology. EPA combined fuel-economy ratings top the outgoing SRX’s by more than 15 percent.
An eight-speed automatic is standard on both front- and all-wheel-drive models. The AWD system has a clutch in the transaxle to disconnect the driveshaft when maximum traction isn’t needed. Two more clutches in the rear axle route the torque to each rear wheel. A control computer engages the rear clutches in response to heavy doses of throttle or when it detects front slippage. The goal is sure-footedness on all road surfaces, in contrast to the tail-sliding antics built into the new Ford Focus RS, which also uses a version of this AWD system.
Cadillac designers gave the XT5 broad-shouldered proportions, a prominent grille mimicking Caddy’s new shield logo, and artistic creases in the hood and side surfaces. The LED front lighting array and the taillamps are vertically oriented to beam Cadillac-ness a block away. A nod to the past is the hint of fin sculpted into the rear lamps. Narrow roof pillars, mirrors attached to the doors, and quarter-windows near the base of the windshield all aid outward visibility. An optional HD rearview video feed triples the view out the back provided by a conventional rearview mirror.
The XT5’s interior is one lush swath of stitched leather cladding the dash, console, door panels, and seats. Surfaces that look like leather, suede, wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber are actually made of those materials. The same can be said of hard-plastic panels, which thankfully are few in number and located below knee level. The move to an electronic shifter opened up space in the console for a purse or tablet. In addition to the usual power and USB plugs, an inductive phone charger is standard. The CUE infotainment array has a faster processor and offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Cadillac’s best work is the XT5’s versatile back seat. This chair-high perch splits in 40/20/40 sections and folds nearly flat for cargo hauling. The bottom cushion slides fore-and-aft 5.5 inches and the backrest tilts 12 degrees in five steps to provide near-limo comfort for two. (There are seatbelts for three.) Long back doors and a hatch you can open by swinging a foot under the rear bumper provide easy access. The center console is carved out at the bottom to provide ample foot clearance while sliding across the back seat. Unfortunately the backrest and center-armrest releases are awkwardly located and difficult to use. When we griped to Cadillac engineers that backrest lift effort was unacceptably high, they acknowledged that this item topped their foibles list and said it would be remedied before customer deliveries commence in April.
It’s No Escalade
While Cadillac doesn’t claim to be hunting the Porsche Macan, it’s clear that able minds tuned the XT5’s chassis. The electrically assisted steering is keen to respond and commendably high in effort. The ZF Sachs CDC (continuous damping control) shocks combined with stout anti-roll bars all but eliminate cornering lean without imposing ride harshness, at least on the Southern California mountain roads we experienced on the XT5’s press launch. Stylish 20-inch wheels wrapped with Michelin tires deliver crisp turn-in and impressive grip. The base 18-inch all-season Michelins, which combine the same 235-millimeter section width with a taller sidewall, yield a plusher ride, slightly lazier steering response, and hints of body float, in large part because CDC dampers aren’t available with this tire-and-wheel package.
Lugging 4000 to 4300 pounds of XT5 plus occupants, the 310-hp V-6 has its work cut out. Running through eight gears to and beyond cruising speed is no issue, but when you nudge the throttle to pass, the initial impression is that nobody’s home under the hood. The combination of the transmission’s 0.67:1 top gear and a 5000-rpm torque peak means you must drop a few ratios to trigger the expected surge. There are well-hidden shift paddles behind the 3 and 9 o’clock spokes, but to enable them it’s first necessary to engage the manual shift mode by pulling the console lever back one additional notch. (This changes the D indicator label to M.)
The V-6 is happy to rev past the 6500-rpm redline, but maybe the Chinese got the better deal. Their XT5’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder has fewer ponies but a torque curve that rises 9-percent higher and peaks 2000-rpm lower than does the V-6’s. Cadillac was unable to offer this engine in the States or in Europe in spite of the popularity of the generally more fuel-efficient 2.0-liter turbo configuration among the XT5’s competitive set. Nor is there a higher-performance variant, although that might well come later.
XT5 prices start at $39,990 and crest at $65,835 for an all-wheel-drive Platinum edition with the optional Driver Assist package (adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and park assist). There are four trim levels and a wealth of equipment alternatives. That value aside, the XT5’s not-so-secret weapon is Cadillac global president Johan de Nysschen. GM’s shrewdest move in the past five years was robbing this boss from Infiniti after he spent three years at BMW and 19 years with Audi. Instead of following the luxury incumbents, de Nysschen has pledged Cadillac will be a “challenger” brand, traveling its own path of “courageous innovation.” Watching that strategy unfold with the XT5 and 11 more new Cadillacs under development will be entertaining.
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