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
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