2020 Cadillac XT6 first drive review

The 2020 XT6 is like Cadillacs of old, in both good ways and bad

2020 Cadillac XT6

2020 Cadillac XT6 first drive

“The 2020 Cadillac XT6 is probably more important to Cadillac than to car buyers.”
  • Roomy third row
  • Smooth ride
  • Quiet cabin
  • Well-integrated tech
  • High-quality interior materials
  • Unenthusiastic engine
  • Anonymous styling
  • Lackluster interior design
  • Handles like it looks
  • No Super Cruise

Cadillac made a big mistake: It listened to car enthusiasts. The General Motors luxury brand spent years trying to beat BMW with sports sedans, and establishing a winning motor sports program. This won respect from enthusiasts, but didn’t earn many sales. So now Cadillac is changing course. It will still build sedans, but more crossovers will be added to the lineup as well to meet that insatiable demand.

The 2020 Cadillac XT6 exemplifies this new direction. Sitting between the XT5 and Escalade, the XT6 is a three-row crossover built for families. It’s the opposite of an enthusiast’s car, but it also stands a better chance of netting strong sales for the Detroit automaker. Private-school parking lots are already packed with Lexus RXs, Audi Q7s, and Volvo XC90s, though. What can Cadillac do that they can’t?

To find out, Digital Trends spent a day driving the XT6 around Virginia. We tested both trim levels, the Premium Luxury (base price: $53,690) and Sport (base price: $58,090). Given the current popularity of crossovers, we could certainly see why Cadillac would want to build a vehicle like this, but does that mean you should buy it?

Hello, Stranger

Cadillac has made some bold styling choices in recent years, but designers were much more conservative when penning the XT6. The headlights (and accompanying daytime-running-light jowls), grille, and taillights all say “Cadillac,” but cover them up and this could be a vehicle from any number of automakers. The XT6 does have some visual presence – Cadillac said it didn’t want to hide the vehicle’s size – but little to tie it visually to the brand.

For a family vehicle like the XT6, though, the interior is more important than the exterior. Step inside, and the XT6 starts feeling more like a Cadillac. The front seats are as comfortable as lounge chairs, and the quality of the materials is very impressive for a car in this price range. At this bracket, you expect things like leather upholstery, but the XT6 also features plenty of real metal trim, including stainless steel speaker grilles. Very little of what you can see and touch is plastic, with most of that positioned at lower points where the fancier materials would be more likely to get damaged. The Sport trim level even gets real carbon fiber trim.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that these materials are not arranged in a particularly interesting or useful way. With its droopy overall shape and mismatched pieces, the dashboard looks like it melted in the sun. The leather-lined cubby below the HVAC controls is a quality touch, but its shape and small size make it useless for anything other than your key fob. Positioning of the shifter, two cupholders, and a rotary controller for the infotainment system on a narrow bridge of center console also makes things a bit crowded.

On paper, the XT6 is competitive, but not a class leader, when it comes to interior space. In real life, the story is a bit more favorable for the Cadillac. The third-row seats are perfectly adequate for adults. They offer decent legroom without forcing second-row occupants to slide their seats all the way forward. The tall, upright roof line creates more third-row headroom than most competitors, too. However, climbing in and out of the third row is never a dignified act. Third-row seats always eat up a lot of cargo space, but the difference is particularly noticeable in the XT6. With the second and third rows folded, the Cadillac has more cargo space than an Audi Q7, Volvo XC90, or Acura MDX, but with those seats in place it has substantially less space for stuff than any of those vehicles in the same configuration.

Tech evolution

The earliest versions of the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment system were a bit clunky, but Cadillac has gradually made improvements. The version of the system in the XT6 may be the best yet. The 8.0-inch touchscreen seems a bit small given the massive expanse of dashboard available, but it’s responsicw and features clear graphics. Cadillac also included some analog buttons and a rotary controller, which features a “jog” function that allows the user to navigate menus by tilting the controller forward, like a joystick. We appreciated having the option of physical controls to supplement the touchscreen.

The quality of the materials is very impressive for a car in this price range.

As with other Cadillac models, the XT6 gets a standard WiFi hotspot and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility. The XT6 adds a near-field communication touch point, which allows instant pairing of Android devices. It’s also available with wireless phone charging, and features USB ports in all three rows. The XT6 is also the first Cadillac available with SiriusXM 360L, the satellite-radio giant’s new streaming service.

The XT6 does not get the Super Cruise driver-assist system available on the Cadillac CT6. Instead, the XT6 gets a more basic adaptive cruise control system – and even that is an optional extra. Also optional are a 360-degree camera system, head-up display, and night vision – something Cadillac began offering in the early 2000s well before the technology was ready for prime time.

Cadillac does offer autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring as standard equipment, as well as a teen-driver monitor to assuage paranoid parents. Cadillac’s Safety Alert Seat vibrates when one of the various driver warnings is triggered. It sometimes takes a moment to realize you’re about to have a crash and not just getting a massage.

2020 Cadillac XT6
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

On the less bizarre side, the XT6 also gets a video rearview mirror, something first seen in the Cadillac CT6 sedan. While it’s not the first model to get this feature – which allows the driver to view feed from a rear-mounted camera through the mirror – the XT6 is the perfect vehicle for it. The XT6’s size can make parking-lot maneuvering challenging, and filling the rear seats with people creates blind spots that are eliminated by the camera view.

Identity Crisis

Ignore its crossover body, and the XT6 is the perfect modern interpretation of a stereotypical Cadillac. It’s a big vehicle that’s more comfortable at a sedate pace, cosseting its occupants rather than pummeling them with noise and lateral Gs. But Cadillac has gotten too used to building performance cars to go completely back to its old ways. That’s where the problems begin.

All versions of the XT6 use the same 3.6-liter V6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. The V6 makes 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional. It’s an adequate setup for hauling kids to and from soccer practice, or tackling summer road trips. But that’s not the end of the story.

This is a car for eating up highway miles, not corners.

The XT6 is also the latest Cadillac model to use the brand’s new “Y” trim level strategy. The Premium Luxury and Sport trim levels each make up one leg of that “Y,” and each gets distinct exterior and interior styling elements. However, the Sport also gets some mechanical upgrades, including adaptive suspension, faster steering, recalibrated shift and throttle maps, and a more sophisticated all-wheel drive system with a torque-vectoring rear differential. That shunts power between the rear wheels to sharpen up handling.

Instead of transforming the XT6 into a hot rod, the Sport model’s enhancements just seem out of place. The reprogrammed throttle and shift maps were designed to let the engine rev more, but it just doesn’t want to. Like a traditional Cadillac engine, the V6 is perfectly content puttering along at 2,000 rpm to 2,500 rpm, making the virtual tachometer on the head-up display utterly superfluous. Push it harder, and the engine moans like a kid being woken up early for school. All of that noise doesn’t exactly translate into quick acceleration, either. While it is possible to make a big, three-row crossover handle well, that simply isn’t the case here. The XT6 Sport is simply too floppy and imprecise to make for an enjoyable back-road missile.

That doesn’t mean the XT6 is bad to drive. It just means Cadillac is trying to make it something that it isn’t. Driven at a more sedate pace, the ride quality is excellent, and the cabin is very quiet (although we did notice quite a bit of tire noise while cornering in our Premium Luxury test car). This is a car for eating up highway miles, not corners. Unless Cadillac decides to make a V-Series performance version, at least.

The practical stuff

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2020 Cadillac XT6 are 20 mpg combined (18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway) for front-wheel drive models. All-wheel drive models have the same 20 mpg combined rating, but lose 1 mpg in the city and highway categories. We were easily able to match those numbers during a day of driving that involved both highways and backroads, although we also drove at a very cautious pace to avoid Virginia’s draconian traffic cops.

The XT6’s gas-mileage ratings are nothing to write home about in this segment. The Acura MDX and Lexus RX are also available as hybrids, while the Volvo XC90 is available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that allows limited all-electric running.

2020 Cadillac XT6
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Cadillac offers a four-year, 50,000-mile, new-vehicle warranty with three years or 36,000 miles (whichever comes first) of free basic maintenance. The XT6 is a new model, making it difficult to predict future reliability.  Modern Cadillac does not have a great overall reputation for reliability, however.

Crash-test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are not available at this time.

How DT would configure this car

Of the two XT6 trim levels – Premium Luxury and Sport – we’d chose the Premium Luxury. To start with, it has a lower starting price ($53,690) than the Sport (which starts at $58,090). The Sport’s performance features didn’t really add much to the driving experience, so we’d be fine without them. The Premium Luxury also comes with a decent amount of standard equipment, including Apple Car Play/Android Auto, a sunroof, power-adjustable steering column, and wireless phone charging.

On top of the standard equipment, we would add the Enhanced Visibility and Technology package to gain a surround-view camera system and head-up display, as well as the optional night vision system and the Driver Assist package, which includes adaptive cruise control.

Summary

Cadillac had to build the XT6 to chase market trends, but that doesn’t mean this latest three-row utility vehicle adds anything new to the mix. More choice is always a good thing, but the XT6 doesn’t do anything that existing competitors can’t do. While it does have a nice interior and smooth ride, vehicles like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 aren’t exactly lacking in that area. The upcoming Lincoln Aviator adds more competition from Cadillac’s old rival. Cadillac is a brand with strong character and a rich history, but the XT6 embodies none of that. Nor does it move Cadillac forward with any new ideas.

Should you buy one?

While it does have some nice attributes, the 2020 Cadillac XT6 doesn’t stand out from the three-row luxury crossover crowd. Americans may love these vehicles but, for now at least, Germany, Japan, and Sweden make better ones.