If I were to mention a car company that’s been on a roll lately, chances are you’d think of Audi – and rightfully so. The Ingolstadt outfit has been hogging the limelight when talking about automakers that have “evolved” or “reinvented” themselves in the past decade. But if Audi’s plaudits are warranted, so too are Cadillac’s.
Earlier this year, Cadillac introduced the BMW-battling ATS sports sedan to critical acclaim, followed by the updated, mid-range 2014 CTS, which managed to turn a lot of heads. Both cars brought a lot of positive attention to the Cadillac brand and got people considering buying a Caddy of their own.
That brings me to the 2013 XTS. The XTS is Cadillac’s full-size four-door sedan and as such is charged with bearing the weight of the brand. Don’t mistake it for the flagship, though, because a true luxury land yacht is still in the works.
While the XTS has the mean mug of a dirty-south rapper (especially the chromed-out Platinum edition that arrived at the DT garage), I really wanted to learn if it had the soft-spoken intellect of an Ivy League professor.
CUE doesn’t have a clue
The last 60 years haven’t exactly been kind to Cadillac. Once considered the “gold standard” of automobiles, up until the last decade or so the brand struggled to create a coherent identity and garner interest from younger, more tech-oriented buyers. It had become an Old Man’s Car.
Cadillac’s CUE system… requires too steep of a learning curve – I often felt overwhelmed.
That thought actually made me laugh when getting into 2013 XTS because this is a car that screams cutting edge. Before I was able to situate myself into the seat, get comfy and engage the engine with the start button, I was greeted by the car’s sweeping splash screen, which includes both the full LED instrument cluster and the main LCD screen perched high atop the center console. This is not grandpa’s old analog Cadillac.
In fact, better make sure grandpa’s ticker is good before he gets in the car because older buyers aren’t going to jibe with the XTS. Why is that? For starters, there aren’t any knobs or dials to speak of. Do you like that tactile, analog feel of turning the volume up? Sorry, it’s been replaced with the CUE systems haptic control interface which requires you to hover over the desired icon with your finger and wait for a slight kickback that signals you’re input has registered with CUE.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if it worked moderately well, but CUE likes to do things on its own time frame. Something as easy as changing the volume, which normally takes maybe one or two seconds at the most, turns into a ten-second ordeal. It is not fast, nor is it intuitive. Not only is it frustrating, but it also proves distracting and demands way too much attention while driving. The alternative is to utilize the XTS’s steering wheel-mounted controls but I found those were finicky and unresponsive as well.
What does prove a little more intuitive is the CUE home screen. Cadillac’s engineers ripped a page right out of Apple’s e-book and introduced a customizable interface that lets you shuffle around all the menu icons to suit your taste. All I had to do was press down on the icon, wait for the visual prompt, and drag that sucker anywhere on the screen. CUE even lets you choose up to four icons for your “favorites” tab, which hovers at the top of each menu screen. Anyone remotely familiar with a smartphone or tablet will feel right at home.
Hitting the navigation button brings up the gorgeous map screen. CUE renders maps in both 2D and 3D and adds a pretty slick proximity sensor to the mix. The sensor can detect your hand approaching the display and populates the screen with more icons. If nothing more, it’s a cool little detail that adds to the cabin’s futuristic vibe.
Ultimately, activating functions likes navigation and climate control feel overwhelmingly encumbered and the root of the problem seems to be the underpowered CUE software. Exploring in and out of menus takes a noticeable amount of time and it just doesn’t gel together the way it should. Intelligent voice controls serve as a welcome lifeboat to the sinking behemoth that is CUE, which does seem to better comprehend single string inputs for addresses as well as allowing users select music by artist, album, and genre.
CUE is certainly pretty but there are times when it feels dumb as a post. And for a luxury brand like Cadillac trying to tap into the tech crowd, CUE’s sluggishness is just too much to bear.
I suppose the saddest part, however, is the fact that it all just looks so stellar. In fact the XTS’ aesthetic – CUE and all – is virtually unrivaled. Everything in our Platinum Edition, which tops out at $65,000, is refined. I’m talking perforated Opus leather seats, polished wood trim, and microfiber suede headliner. Oh, and the purple stitching throughout is … muah! Only the ineptitude of the CUE system muddies what would otherwise be clear waters.
The back bench retains the same air of luxury and offers plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room, while the 18 cubic feet of trunk space will easily swallow up a couple of golf bags or suitcases.
Art, science and beauty
Up until recently, the shield de Cadillac struggled to appeal to younger drivers. In place of sensuality and sexiness, there was staid styling. But along came the brand’s Art and Science design language, which helped transform Cadillac’s image into something less maligned by current standards. Some argue that Cadillac’s current take is too bold, too brash, especially when referring to the CTS and CTS-V sport sedans, but I disagree.
A creamy-smooth suspension is another high note befitting of its luxury status…
However, with the 2013 XTS, Cadillac’s designers have penned a car that is easier to digest while still retaining that extra hint of edginess, which currently serves as the brand’s North Star. While a little less dramatic than other models in its lineup, there is nothing understated about the 2013 Cadillac XTS’ shell.
From afar, its prominent grille makes it an easy target to spot, while up close Cadillac’s design language consisting of strident, rising headlamps and taillights, along with sharp character lines front, side, and back are fully represented. Our Platinum model bore the distinction of a front grille comprised entirely of metal, while Premiums models are blacked out.
Hot handling, pitiful powertrain
It doesn’t take long to get the feel of a car. I live just outside downtown Portland and the vast majority of my commute from the DT office is an uphill climb, which really helps me see what a car’s engine can mete out.
On paper, the XTS looks like a capable machine. Under the hood rests a 3.6 liter direct-injection V6, capable of creating 304 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. Power is normally sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission; however our Platinum ride was outfitted with a Haldex AWD system.
With foot firmly mashed to the carpet, the ride up my hill climb was, for a lack of a better term, disappointing. Wrangling up that extra spool of torque helped me scoot along at a brisk pace, but it was harder than anticipated.
The XTS does sport a “soft” manual mode in the form of paddle shifters and an “M” option on the center console-mounted shifter, which adds a bit of nuance to the transmission overly eager shift points. But it proved less helpful at expediting launches and climbing up hills, and more useful for engine braking downhill.
On flat surfaces like the freeway, the XTS performed much better. Lane changes and overtaking maneuvers are completed in stride but the type of acceleration and power I expected from the XTS’ mill was nowhere to be found. I clocked the car’s 0-60 at just around six seconds so it’s not it’s fair to call the XTS slow, but it just doesn’t command a sense of awe or assuredness that full-size luxury sedans are known for.
Acceleration caveats notwithstanding, where the 2013 Cadillac XTS really starts to prove its worth is with its excellent road manners. It’s far from the wallowing Cadillacs of old but the XTS still swallows up road imperfections with aplomb, while cabin noise borders on library-approved levels. Two technologies contribute to this: GM’s HiPer Strut suspension and MagneRide electronically controlled dampers.
HiPer Strut is particularly impressive because it provides a number of tangible benefits while driving. The first and most obvious is the mitigation of torque steer, which is the unwanted tugging or veering sensation felt when a car is accelerating. HiPer Strut also isolates unwanted feedback associated with bumps and rough road surfaces. Handling is also enhanced due to improved tire patch contact to the road, which keeps things nice and tight even on wet surfaces.
Magneride is equally impressive if not a little more complex. It utilizes magnetically-controlled dampers (shock absorbers) that literally adapt to your driving conditions. Magneride employs four monotube dampers located at each corner of the XTS, along with a set of sensors that communicate with an electronic control unit (ECU). These dampers are essentially filled with magnetized fluids (iron particles in an oil suspension) that react to variable levels of magnetism. When there is no magnetism detected, fluid flows freely through the tubes, but when variable levels of magnetism are applied the iron particles in the fluid become fibrous, which results in a stiffer, more rigid suspension. So depending on driving conditions – say hard cornering – the XTS’ sensors relay that info to the ECU which in turn changes the strength of current in the appropriate dampers.
Cadillac’s designers have penned a car that is easier to digest while still retaining that extra hint of edginess…
It all sounds complex but the result is exceptional handling characteristics that also includes comfort. And the best part is: I never had to tinker with any settings for the adaptive suspension – it just works effortlessly.
There is, however, a little Easter egg that you should be aware of. While the XTS lacks driver-selectable suspension settings, it automatically defaults to “tour” mode, which is tuned for comfort. Kicking the shifter into “M” stiffens up the suspension and gives the XTS a sportier character. M is designed to be used with the car’s paddle shifters but by keeping it in M and not using the paddles, I found the suspension remains in “sport” mode but the transmission will still automatically downshift and upshift for you. On a curving road where you don’t feel like rowing the paddles, this is he setting to be in.
Don’t mistake the XTS as a sporty car because it’s not; it’s keyed to comfort more than anything else. And while fuel economy probably isn’t a huge concern at this segment and price level, the XTS, when equipped with AWD, nets an EPA-rated 17 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined, which is pretty damn good for a five-passenger, 4,000 pound cruiser.
Out on the road, if you feel like handing a great deal of control over to the XTS, there is a lot of technology in place to accommodate you. An adaptive cruise control system lets you set a maximum speed threshold and following distance to the car in front of you, reducing the mind-numbing minutiae of freeway and congested city driving.
Also onboard are a number of driver aids including a lane departure warning, pre-collision warning, cross traffic detection, blind spot monitoring, an excellent heads-up display that shows everything from navigation directions to current Bluetooth audio playback, as well as an advanced backup system, which prevents you from colliding with oncoming cross-traffic.
While most cars communicate warnings through audio and visual cues, the 2013 XTS gets a little more intimate by literally vibrating your seat cushion from the corresponding danger area. For example, swinging into the left lane without signaling caused the seat to vibrate my left butt cheek, while swinging over into the right caused the opposite effect. It’s not often I get a good tush massage, and while I’m not proud to admit it, I found myself undertaking some controlled reckless driving just to get a good rub down. Don’t look at me like that.
With a cabin that appears equally inspired by Apple and NASA, along with an exciting exterior that delivers a slightly muted but more refined look than the ATS and CTS, the 2013 XTS combines the right amount of style, comfort, and flair to carry the Cadillac banner until a true flagship model is introduced.
A creamy-smooth suspension is another high note befitting of its luxury status while Sport mode instills the car with a confident character. However, the 3.6 liter V6 never seemed to match the performance levels of GM’s MagneRide and HiPer Strut technologies, proving too meek in most driving situations in a trade-off for better gas mileage.
While I admire Cadillac for focusing the 2013 XTS so heavily on design and technology, the tragic performance of Cadillac’s CUE system, along with the poor implementation of its haptic feedback system, requires too steep of a learning curve – I often felt overwhelmed and anticipate the average user will be frustrated as well.
And despite sporting some impressive graphics and customization options, the whole CUE system behaves too poorly to recommend it to anyone other than the most ardent tech fans or “form over function” fanatics and derriere massage fetishists. Hopefully, Cadillac can get their tech untangled in the next iteration.
- Handsomely penned interior
- Top-notch material quality in the Platinum model
- Refined handling
- Laggy capacitative interface takes getting used to
- Underpowered CUE software
- Anemic V6 feels underpowered