For starters, it should have an Escalade badge.
Cadillac proved it could build a world-class SUV with the latest Escalade; it even won the 2020 CarBuzz Family Luxury Award. The Escalade remains Cadillac's most iconic model, but not all of that status has trickled down to its smaller SUV models. CarBuzz recently tested the 2021 Cadillac XT6, the second-largest SUV in the lineup. The XT6 is a three-row mid-size crossover that slots above the XT5 but below the Escalade, battling SUVs like the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, and Lincoln Aviator.
While the Escalade wowed us with its dazzling interior, outstanding ride comfort, and advanced technology, it feels like Cadillac put far less effort into the XT6. This vehicle has only been on the market for two model years, but it's already starting to feel like a misstep from Cadillac. Here are six things we think could improve the Cadillac XT6.
If some of the buttons, switches, and door handles feel familiar in the XT6, that's because it rides on the General Motors Epsilon (C1XX) platform. This architecture underpins more mainstream crossovers, including Chevrolet Blazer, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave, as well as the smaller Cadillac XT5. Sharing underpinnings within an automaker group can prove successful, as evidenced by several Lexus models including the ES, NX, and RX. Sadly, we don't feel Cadillac did enough to differentiate the XT6 from its platform stablemates.
Too many parts are shared with Chevy, GMC, and Buick, leaving the XT6 feeling less premium than it should. Some notable examples include the door handles, the starter button, steering wheel controls, and infotainment system. And those aren't even the most significant elements it shares in common with its more affordable siblings.
GM loves to share its engines across multiple brands and models, but we believe Cadillac needs to have its own bespoke engines to compete with the European luxury brands. The XT6 adds a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for the 2021 model year, producing 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This is the same amount of power it produces in the smaller XT4 and XT5 models, albeit with significantly more weight to haul around. The Chevy Blazer gets this engine as well but produces a bit less power.
We drove the larger available engine, a 3.6-liter V6 producing 310 hp and 271 lb-ft. A version of this V6 appears in various GM vehicles ranging from the Camaro sports car to the Canyon pickup truck. It's not a bad V6 by any measure, but it's not special in any way. The Lincoln Aviator, the XT6's closest rival, comes standard with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 with 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. Next to the competition, the XT6 feels completely underpowered. Cadillac could solve this issue by giving the XT6 the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 found in the CT5 and CT5-V.
After basking in the Escalade's magnificence, the XT6's cabin feels completely pedestrian. The Sport trim level features some nice carbon fiber on the dash, though it seems out of place in a three-row mid-size luxury crossover. We also enjoyed the semi-aniline leather seats and suede headliner, but those come as part of a $3,700 Platinum Package on top of the already top-tier Sport trim.
Pretty much everything we loved in the Escalade is absent here. There are no beautiful curved OLED displays, just an average eight-inch touchscreen that appears yanked out of a Chevy or GMC product. A digital gauge cluster? Nope. Massaging seats? Not available. We want to give Cadillac the benefit of the doubt because the XT6 predates the Escalade, but this interior needs a major overhaul.
As eluded to previously, the XT6 bundles many of its best features into pricey option packages, even on the highest trim levels. The Sport AWD trim is the most expensive XT6 variant at $57,195. However, it still leaves out features like adaptive cruise control, reverse automatic braking, Bose audio, embedded navigation, heated/ventilated front seats, a surround-view monitor, and a head-up display. Adaptive cruise control comes standard on a Toyota Highlander; it should not be optional on a top-trim Cadillac.
Our XT6 Sport AWD rang in at $72,165 as-tested. Without factoring in GM's heavy incentives, this is entirely too pricey for what the XT6 offers. Just remember that the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade offer similar comfort and more features for around $47,000. Even the Buick Enclave, which uses the same engine but provides more passenger and cargo volume, only costs $53,800 in its top Avenir trim. If we had to choose a large, premium crossover from GM, it would be the Enclave over the XT6.
Escalade is Cadillac's most recognizable nameplate, and it has left money on the table by not turning this model into its own sub-brand. Customers who buy a Range Rover Evoque know it isn't the same as a full-size Range Rover, but it's all about name recognition. Cadillac needs to fill out its lineup with Escalade-inspired crossovers using various names from its past.
We have some great ideas for historical nameplates that could work for the Escalade sub-brand: Fleetwood, Brougham, Eldorado, de Ville, and Allante. These names all have historical significance to Cadillac and would work well when attached with the Escalade name. We personally like the name Escalade Brougham for an XT6-sized vehicle, then Escalade de Ville for a coupe roofline rival for the BMW X6 and Audi Q8.
Not everything on the XT6 needs a complete overhaul. We like Cadillac's current design language, which draws inspiration from the Escala concept. Inside, the XT6 is one of the roomiest vehicles in its class, with plenty of space for passengers and cargo. It's worth noting that the Chevy Traverse and Buick Envlace still boast more space, being built on the same platform as the XT6. Regardless, we think Cadillac has plenty of room to make the XT6 a bit larger, like the Traverse and Enclave, without encroaching on the Escalade's turf.