As luxury SUVs have gone from relative obscurity to regulars in the valet line, competition has grown fierce, and the measure of overall goodness has been steadily on the rise. And that is how it should be; pretty good just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Unfortunately for Cadillac, the new XT5 rates as merely pretty good in the face of worthy competition, including the excellent 2017 Jaguar F-Pace and more established class leaders such as the BMW X3 and the Porsche Macan.
While the XT5 is a big improvement over the SRX it replaces, owners of that SRX may be the only ones who are jealous.
A 310-horsepower version of General Motors’ corporate 3.6-liter V-6 that first appeared in the 2016 CTS and ATS sedans serves in the XT5; it’s a 24-valve, direct-injected powerplant that gets the job done but falls short on both power and refinement when compared against competitors’ powertrains.
When pushed, the engine has a decidedly unluxurious coarseness, and it doesn’t always play nice with the eight-speed automatic transmission. Part-throttle downshifts are slow in coming, especially when merging onto a busy highway or at other times when a quick response would be ideal. But shifts can be abrupt in normal driving situations.
For example, when coasting down from higher speeds while approaching, say, a red light that changes to green, stepping back onto the gas pedal elicits a momentary pause and then a jerk. There’s a lot going on that may contribute to this behavior, with Cadillac’s V-6 employing both a cylinder-shutdown mode to save fuel under light loads and stop/start technology (which, annoyingly, cannot be disabled). Whatever the cause(s), it ends up feeling less smooth and refined than the segment leaders. Cadillac’s work-around is to select Tap Shift mode by clicking the lever past the D position, using the two paddles hidden behind the steering-wheel spokes to choose your own gears—but it’s one we doubt few owners will employ.
Lots of Leather-Lined Room
Inside, the news is better, for the most part. The interior in our top-of-the-line Platinum-trim test car was wrapped in padded and stitched leather, real wood, and brushed-metal surfaces that make the XT5 look and feel every bit the part of a luxury SUV.
Most pieces fit together well, and some details, such as the single metal insert circling the steering-wheel hub, are nicely styled and well thought out. The heated and ventilated front seats are well padded and comfortable, with a variety of power adjustments including lumbar for the driver and front passenger and seat-cushion extenders for added thigh support.
The cabin is spacious all around, with generous head- and legroom up front and a spacious back seat with a flat floor. Taller passengers will find headroom is limited in the back due to the panoramic sunroof. Fortunately, the rear seats recline and also slide fore and aft. Handy, if somewhat flimsy, levers on either side of the cargo area can be used to flop the rear seatbacks forward nearly flat, even if they’re heavy to pull back upright. Even with the backrest up, the Cadillac has a bigger cargo hold than most competitors in the luxury set.
A closer look at the interior reveals some inconsistencies in both material quality and assembly. Everything you normally see and touch looks and feels good, but there’s evidence of cost cutting or parts sharing with cheaper models. The lower surfaces of the console and doors are decidedly less upscale, largely made of hard-surfaced, flimsy-feeling plastics. The center-stack bin is lined in cheap-looking material. The stitching on both front seats was uneven on our test car, and we found bits of rough flashing inside the front passenger-side door pull.
We did like what has to be one of the coolest phone slots in the business. Tucked under the console-compartment lid, it keeps your device handy but largely out of sight, with just the top edge sticking out. That not only makes it less obvious to thieves should you leave your phone behind, it may help keep weak-willed phone junkies from playing Words with Friends on the road. Plus, the compartment doubles as a wireless charging station for those with compatible phones. For everybody else, dual USB ports keep devices charged without cords draped everywhere, while standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay add to the convenience.
A real buzzkill in the Cadillac is its electronic shifter. It requires a combination of button pushing and manipulation to engage reverse, which is a longish throw forward and to the left. It’s awkward to use at best, and everyone who drove the XT5 complained that they couldn’t get used to it no matter how much time they spent in the vehicle.
The instruments are bright and legible, although a variety of fonts and gauge styles smacks of raiding the GM parts bin rather than presenting a unified, more upscale look. The XT5’s CUE infotainment system uses a vibrant 8.0-inch high-resolution touchscreen, and the system is less confusing and wonky than some earlier incarnations. Still, some basic functions like regulating airflow require more steps than they should, and the sliding bar for radio volume does not always respond. We usually avoided that annoyance by using the redundant controls on the steering wheel, but a simple knob would also do the trick just fine while being accessible to the front passenger.
Is Competence Sufficient?
On the road, the XT5 exhibits inoffensive driving manners. Neither engaging nor off-putting, it steers, rides, and handles well enough in everyday driving and is quiet at highway speeds (although the competing Mercedes-Benz GLC-class and BMW X3 are quieter still). But again, it lacks the crisp feel and responses of more refined competitors—and goes easy on the sport part of the sport-utility equation. The result is an overall sense of competence rather than driving enjoyment.
At the test track, the XT5 accomplished the zero-to-60-mph run in 6.6 seconds, which seems sufficient for most road uses. Until you consider that a like-priced Audi SQ5 makes the run in 5.2 seconds with its supercharged V-6, the BMW X3 xDrive35i gets to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds with its turbocharged inline-six, and the Mercedes GLC300 4MATIC does it in 5.9 seconds with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Yes, they’re all forced-induction engines while the Cadillac is naturally aspirated—but if these are the XT5’s targets, the question is why you’d aim low.
The XT5’s skidpad rating of 0.84 g and braking distance from 70 mph in 174 feet are more in line with these competitors, excepting only the Audi in its performance-oriented S trim. But the SQ5 is a hoot to drive and costs about the same as the Cadillac with options.
To its credit, the XT5’s all-wheel-drive system and electronically controlled rear differential masterfully distribute torque to manage traction and enhance handling. Our test driver called out its pleasantly neutral attitude on the skidpad and the way the rear axle helps rotate the car without the pronounced understeer typical of such crossovers.
The system can distribute 100 percent of torque to either the front or rear axle as conditions warrant, and the differential can split the rear axle’s share left to right enough to put all the power to one wheel. This nifty technology contributes to the XT5’s safe and secure demeanor on the road—and could prove truly advantageous if Cadillac decides to add a more performance-oriented variant to the range.
You might expect the vaunted GM attention to weight saving would give the Cadillac a fuel-economy advantage, but in our test it returned only 19 mpg, worse by 2 mpg than what we measured for the Mercedes and by 1 mpg than the BMW.
Cadillac’s avowed mission to combat the German brands shouldn’t blind us to the reality that the burgeoning segment also includes the likes of the Lincoln MKX, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, and the Lexus RX350, against which the XT5 looks stronger. None of those can run with the Audi, BMW, or Mercedes, either, and the Cadillac offers clear advantages over these midpack contenders.
XT5 prices start at just under $40,000, but we doubt you’ll find many in that range on dealer lots; we also doubt that anybody shopping this segment would want one. Base models are available only with front-wheel drive and lack everything from leather seats to a sunroof. Our XT5 Platinum, on the other hand, was loaded to its panoramic glass roof with all kinds of goodies: tri-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, a surround-view camera, and a nifty cargo-organizing system.
It even had the trick inside mirror that shows a video display from the rearview camera, giving a wider-angle view than a regular mirror—and one unimpeded by rear pillars or rear-seat passengers—but showing traffic as appearing smaller; for those who don’t like it, it can be switched off to function like a regular mirror.
Standard electronic driver aids on the XT5 Platinum include automatic braking, park assist, and a lane-keeping system. All in, the price came to just shy of $64,000. That’s a serious chunk of change. Especially for an SUV that’s just pretty good.