This is supposed to be Cadillac's make it or break it vehicle, so what happened?
It’s beginning to dawn on me that I’m in the exact opposite demographic that those product planners had in mind when they derived the crossover SUV. Not that I could be accused of being a hater, but as an enthusiast instilled with the love of cars that have standout skills for speed, off-road ability, or inner city utility, it’s hard to harbor any compassion for a vehicle that attempts to contain all of the above in one tacky package. Still, I was a bit excited when learning the Cadillac XT5 was to be my ride for the next few days.
That’s because the bold-looking crossover is an important car for Cadillac. The XT5 hurries in to replace the laughably underprepared SRX before it’s too late for Cadillac to cash in on the luxury crossover gold rush. Meanwhile Mercedes and BMW have already ballooned their lineups with crossovers and SUVs to fill all ends of the spectrum. With Germany’s deluxe dishes already served, Cadillac is in the awkward position of being the waiter that brings the meal to the table late. For the trouble, you’d at least expect over the top service from there on out, especially when GM has just spent billions of dollars turning its luxury offshoot into a five-star automaker. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
The dish Cadillac ends up serving is a mixed bag of ingredients, some fresh and some stale, but all undercooked. You’d be excused for thinking otherwise when looking at the exterior. To amp up its appeal, Cadillac took a move out of the Lexus playbook by going bold. A large grille and complementing 20-inch rims serve as a power tie to stand out among the otherwise feminine lines. Chrome, a Cadillac staple, accents most functional bits and separates character lines from the Dark Granite Metallic paint. It’s a love it or hate design, but the XT5’s luxury pedigree goes unquestioned from the outside. Same goes for the interior, that is until you start interacting with it.
It’s easy for anyone who’s driven an older Cadillac or Chevrolet to spot the parts bin interior, not because the buttons and switches are direct copies of other components made by the General but because the style and quality is suspiciously old GM. Rather than an assured and analogue response from buttons that control important features, there is a flimsy aura to the mix, resulting in a broken communication between driver and vehicle. Pushing the button that cycles between driving modes brings back memories of using old video game controllers that have gunk in the gaps and require a hard press to register anything.
The touch sensitive controls, which include the volume and hazard lights, are unique, but a few interactions with this is all it takes to see why. Unlike real buttons, they offer no feedback and an unspecific target area to touch, making repeated presses a must. The metal climate control switches are admittedly sturdy and refined, but they are undone by the plastic buttons that control the heated and cooled seats and take multiple clicks to engage. That vague air of thrift extends to the center console, but it’s cut off abruptly at the sumptuous high-quality seats. Cadillac’s V pattern - the architectural theme used throughout the XT5 - is also featured on the seats but feels like the comfortable bumps of a cloud rather than a spinal realignment waiting to happen.
Altogether, the interior features come together in an eye-pleasing fashion, but then again you’d expect them to for 63 grand. The lack of quality may have something to do with the burden borne by the XT5. Unlike Mercedes' and BMW’s bloated lineup, the XT5 is the sole crossover in Cadillac’s fleet. Reinforcements are coming soon, but for now, the XT5 must span its wings and win over buyers from the entry-level luxury crossover segment all the way to the high-end buyers. German cars tend to ensure that the fit and finish of the base models is up to the same standard as the more sophisticated models. That’s why a base GLC feels as solid as one that’s been fully spec’d out.
On the other hand, many American cars simply add countless toys to the unrefined bones of a cheaper car and call it luxury. It’s a phenomenon that can be experienced in the Lincoln MKX, and it appears that the XT5 follows this trend. The crossover starts at $39,950 and has the capacity to be spec’d out until it hits more than $70,000, which means that GM has to find a way to make a profit within that entire price range, so fit and finish goes out the window first. This is disappointing since Cadillac has supposedly been to reform school since GM nearly crashed for the the same offenses, but nothing seems to have been learned. Driving down a city street, interior noise was good until a minor crack or small bump appeared.
Maybe it’s the large diameter wheels that stiffen the ride or it could even be that the XT5 tries to skew more towards carlike handling to shed its heavy SUV manners. On your average imperfect city road, the interior rattles and the dashboard plastics grind together emitting an unpleasant chatter. It could be forgiven in a car with high mileage, but my $60k plus tester was only 2,000 miles into its lifespan. With the corners being cut in the vehicle’s fit and finish, those that decide to deck out their examples must suffer along with the bargain seekers, albeit with some neat add-ons. As an ambassador sent to make the best impression possible, my tester came in the highest “Platinum” trim. This meant a sticker price of $63,845.
For that, the usual segment expectations were present. Included in the price are motors that take over tasks such as lifting the rear liftgate, folding the rear seats, and operating the panoramic sunroof. Alongside these are heated seating surfaces in the front and rear as well as on the steering wheel, parking aids and front and rear cameras, and some driving aids that should help those that are meek behind the wheel. Keeping those powered is a 3.6-liter V6 engine mated to an eight-speed transmission that sends 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels unless it detects a slide. In that case, the AWD system has the ability to send 100 percent of its power to either the front or rear to keep things steady.
The eight-speed slush box does its best to hit the EPA’s estimated 21 mpg (18 city and 26 highway), but the fact that it lurches as if there is a level of disconnect between flywheel and torque converter makes it feel unrefined. With neither pats of a feather or the stomp of a lead foot, I attained only 14 mpg, although it should be noted that my sentence with the XT5 was mainly carried out in stop and go traffic. The ride is adjustable for either long cruising or the corners, but body roll highlights the XT5’s weight, rendering it more of a commuter than a corner-carving grand tourer. Still, the natural aloof stiffness of the suspension didn’t do it for me in the city, which brings me to the question, what is the XT5 good for?
Well, that’s a bit uncertain. Most crossovers attempt to blend the fuel economy and handling characteristics of a car with the utility of an SUV, although the end result can vary widely. Some crossovers come off the assembly line as Swiss Army knives. They can do a bit of everything, open a beer or sharpen a stick, but shouldn’t be relied upon for Navy Seal missions or for uncorking wine bottles at a five star restaurant. The XT5 however, came out of the factory more like a Spork. It tries to deliver the goods, but you can’t really eat ice cream or cut a bloody steak with it. In essence, if feels unfinished. With a transmission and suspension tuning or an interior revamp, I suspect that the XT5 would be a solid contender.
But the bold styling writes checks that the Caddy returns with a red “Insufficient Funds” stamp. It’s not necessarily the fact that the XT5 falls through the cracks that I find disappointing, it’s that I know Cadillac can do so much more. Recently I sat inside the new Cadillac CT6, a truly remarkable GM product and maybe even one of its best. It has to be though, it's competition is the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series. And you know what? It hit the mark. It was gorgeous, solid, and polished enough to last a lifetime in the spotlight. A $130,000 BMW 7 Series we recently tested couldn’t even match the bar set by that CT6, but where did that shine go when it came time to make the XT5? So far, that question goes unanswered.