First drive: 2017 Cadillac XT5

The 2017 XT5 is a crossover back to luxury for Cadillac

The XT5 brings Cadillac’s crossover into the modern era.

Pop quiz: What’s the most popular model in Cadillac’s portfolio? If your first thought pointed toward the Escalade that would be a reasonable assumption to make – but you’d be wrong. With nearly 100,000 examples purchased last year, the SRX is the company’s volume seller. Those are impressive numbers, considering the fact that the model first went on sale back in 2009.

But the SRX has been overdue for a comprehensive overhaul, and Cadillac has given the model such a thorough rework for 2017 that they’ve given it a new name, one which is part of the new “XT” nomenclature that will grace the tailgates of other upcoming Cadillac crossovers as well.

The XT5 also marks the debut of the all-new architecture that underpins it; a modular platform that will serve as the bones for a number of upcoming models, making this a particularly pivotal model launch for the 113 year-old automaker. Accordingly, this new crossover serves as showcase of where Cadillac is now and where it’s headed, and on the whole, it bodes quite well.

Courting a new audience

Cadillac says that five years from now it expects three out of every four luxury vehicle purchases to be made by folks in the Gen X and Gen Y age groups. This revelation has a profound effect on the company’s strategy in terms of vehicle design, and the XT5 represents what may be the company’s most focused effort to appeal to this younger, more tech-savvy buyer.

But rather than just throwing GM’s latest connected features into the infotainment system, the XT5’s modern approach starts at its very core, with a new chassis that’s stiffer and lighter than the SRX’s while also providing improved head room, leg room, and cargo space.

Like the recently unveiled CT6 sedan, the XT5’s body structure is cutting edge stuff, a clever approach that removes non-load bearing mass and bolsters strength at stress points. Cadillac says the chassis is designed to function as a lightweight safety cage like you’d find in a race car, focusing on weight reduction without compromising body rigidity and crash performance.

That chassis houses the naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 that can also be found in the ATS, CTS and CT6 sedans, here making 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque. It’s hooked to GM’s now-ubiquitous eight-speed automatic, which sports a new electronic gearshift on the XT5’s center console, along with paddles on the steering wheel. The combination gives the XT5 a 3 mpg improvement over its predecessor while providing a modest bump in output.

On the technology front, Cadillac has upgraded the often ridiculed Cue system with a faster processor and improved graphics. More good news comes in the form of the new control layout: Cue’s once-touted capacitive button array has been almost entirely replaced by the touchscreen and the hard buttons on the steering wheel, thereby significantly reducing the hassle of controlling the system.

The XT5 might be the most posh offering in Cadillac’s entire lineup.

Along with a host safety features like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane keeping assistance, the XT5 also sports a number of useful connectivity features like a wireless charging mat for mobile devices, 4G LTE hotspot capability, and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The crossover’s exterior gets a substantial nip-and-tuck treatment as well, bringing the XT5 in line with the design language of other recently released Cadillac models like the aforementioned ATS and CT6, with a focus on making the crossover look more athletic while also improving side and rear visibility.

All in, it looks like Cadillac has done their homework in terms of aligning this new model with many of the priorities of the buyers they’re hoping to attract in the coming years, but what looks great on paper doesn’t always translate effectively once get rolling. We headed out to the backroads around Julian, California to find out how the new crossover fares out in the real world.

On the road

Hopping behind the wheel I was immediately struck by how well presented the XT5’s interior is. Not only is it a significant step up from the SRX, it might be the most posh offering in Cadillac’s entire lineup and – with the exception of the annoying capacitive volume control slider on the center stack – requires no apologies whatsoever when compared to its European counterparts.

Aesthetically, it’s simplified and almost minimalist in comparison to its predecessor while not appearing sparse, and the additional head and leg room give the cabin a premium vibe without feeling cavernous or excessive.

2017 Cadillac XT5 Hands On
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Once underway, XT5’s racked up additional points for its suspension tuning, which strikes a solid balance between minimal body roll around corners and an appropriately compliant ride quality. If you find yourself on a particularly twisty stretch of road, a driving mode button on the center console allows you to switch between Tour, which is the most compliant and only sends power to the front wheels, AWD, and Sport, the latter of which sends power to all four corners, weights up the steering, stiffens the adaptive ZF suspension dampers, and switches to a sportier transmission shifting schedule.

However, a button that was conspicuously absent from the center console is the one that disables the automatic start/stop feature which turns off the engine while idling. Although its purpose is admirable, I personally find that the tradeoff in the driving experience outweighs the negligible fuel savings it provides. Despite piloting vehicles with this feature on a regular basis, I still find it disconcerting for the engine to lay down automatically, particularly when I’m in the middle of a busy intersection waiting to make an unprotected left across three lanes of oncoming traffic.

The gearbox seems particularly eager to get into overdrive gears as quickly as possible, and the result is lethargic throttle response.

GM’s implementation of the technology here comes off rather heavy handed too, as the engine will shut off almost instantly whenever the vehicle comes to a complete stop. It’s also not particularly quick about turning the engine over again when you take your foot off the brake, meaning that often times your foot gets to the throttle pedal before the engine is ready for it, resulting in a small lurch as the XT5’s power train attempts to catch up with the driver’s inputs.

However, all of this would be forgivable if it weren’t for the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a way to disable the system easily – if at all – and that stands in contrast to the approach of most other manufacturers, which normally provide an obvious method to defeat the feature while on the road.

Another gripe I had, which seems intrinsically linked to engineering efforts aimed at maximize fuel economy, is the transmission’s tuning. The gearbox seems particularly eager to get into overdrive gears as quickly as possible, and the result is lethargic throttle response around town and extra effort when overtaking on the freeway, either from the need to dip generously into the gas pedal in order to convince the gearbox to downshift, or by simply taking control of the situation with the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It’s a little disappointing considering the fact that the XT5 is the lightest crossover in its class – boasting 650 pounds less mass than Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class – but not having much to show for it in terms of sprightliness.

Picking up momentum

Ultimately, these are minor quibbles. The XT5 proved to be a comfortable traveling companion with nimble handling, a well-sorted infotainment system, and enough attention to detail inside and out to go toe to toe with the best of Europe and Japan in the segment – something that has eluded Cadillac to varying degrees up until now.

Johan de Nysschen, Cadillac’s President of Global Operations, explained during our technical overview of the XT5 that this new crossover is part of the brand’s “journey back to the pinnacle of premium.”

That’s a carefully worded phrase, one which offers some concession to the fact that it’s been a long time since the automaker was considered the standard of the world. But with this latest batch of new vehicles, it’s becoming clearer that GM’s luxury brand is in it for the long haul. If the XT5 is a glimpse into what’s to come from Cadillac, the future does indeed look promising.

Highs

  • All-new light weight platform
  • Handsome design
  • Comprehensive tech suite

Lows

  • Auto stop/start feature can’t be disabled
  • Power train feels somewhat lethargic
Cars

Don’t let the SUV bodies fool you, BMW’s X3 M and X4 M are bonafide M cars

BMW is launching the first M versions of its X3 and X4. The 2020 X3 M and X4 M Competition pack a new 503-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six and BMW’s usual array of performance tech.
Cars

It’s not easy being green. Why EVs have a long road to replace gas vehicles

Electric vehicles are all the rage right now, but are they really better than your average gas-powered car? We take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the technology, and whether or not they're ready for mass adoption.
Cars

New Toyota tech will automatically shut off engines, apply parking brakes

Toyota is launching two new safety features for the 2020 model year. One will automatically shut off a car's engine when stationary, and the other will automatically shift into park and apply the parking brake to prevent rollaways.
Cars

Bentley Flying Spur aims to balance old-school luxury with modern agility

Good news, business tycoons: The new 2020 Bentley Flying Spur is here. Positioned below the flagship Mulsanne, the Flying Spur gets upgrades already seen on the Continental GT, as well as a model-specific all-wheel steering system.
Cars

Here’s why BMW mechanics now carry smartglasses in their tool chest

BMW technicians in the United States have started wearing smartglasses, and it's not because they're shooting alien ships between oil changes. They use augmented reality technology to access workshop manuals.
Cars

Watch as Volkswagen’s ID R racer wins the ultimate EV bragging rights

The Volkswagen ID R has set a lap record for electric cars at Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife. The electric race car's lap time of 6 minutes, 5.33 seconds beat the previous record by 40 seconds.
Product Review

The last American midsize plug-in hybrid is being squeezed out of existence

The 2019 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid can’t catch a break. Ford is planning to discontinue production next year, but looming tariffs could spell doom for an otherwise comfortable and very economically sensible sedan.
Cars

Will Detroit be the ultimate test for Argo A.I.’s self-driving Ford?

Ford-backed Argo A.I. revealed its third-generation autonomous prototype in Detroit. Based on the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the car is fitted with technology that sees better and further, thinks faster, and is more comfortable to ride in.
Cars

Tesla screens may support YouTube with next software update

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced today at E3 that the infotainment screens will support YouTube video streaming very soon. This most likely lines up with the latest software update that is expected later this year.
Cars

Volvo has created an autonomous truck that looks like a sports car

Volvo’s autonomous truck, called Vera, is about to start work at a Swedish port. The vehicle has a modest top speed of 25 mph and features a striking design that makes it look as if the usual cab has been swapped for a sports car.
Cars

Florida allows autonomous cars to drive on its roads without human supervision

Florida governor Ron DeSantis passed a law that establishes a legal framework for self-driving cars to operate within the state. It allows car and tech companies to test self-driving cars without a human operator behind the wheel.
Cars

Aston Martin will put its Valkyrie hybrid hypercar to the ultimate test

The Aston Martin Valkyrie will race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021. Aston Martin is taking advantage of new rules that encourage automakers to bring their fastest hypercars to the legendary French race.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Outdoors

The best smart helmets are full of cool tech, and totally worth the messy hair

Helmets might be a haircut's worst nightmare, but they're constantly evolving, and have undergone a 21st-century makeover. No matter your sport, here are the best smart helmets currently on the market.