2017 Cadillac XT5 first drive

March 9, 2016

Why again is Cadillac walking away from its best-selling nameplate, the SRX?

We’ll leave that one hanging; but much of what Cadillac’s doing at the moment is very big-picture—and the new XT5 nameplate fits into that picture, as part of a lineup of several “XT” crossovers.

Nomenclature aside, the XT5 is improved in nearly every way. It’s quicker, better-handling, more refined, more comfortable, quieter, and more lavish than its predecessor.

MORE: Read our 2017 Cadillac XT5 review

It’s also a soft, incremental, evolutionary kind of improvement, however. And while the move to replace the nameplate might not seem like the most rational move, the XT5 feels like a rational, calculated effort in most ways.

You wouldn’t by any means call it a daring remake, as was given to the Lexus RX this year; then again, what Cadillac started with was far more head-turning.

Compared to the outgoing SRX, the XT5 is essentially the same length, width, and height; but its wheelbase is about two inches longer and its track an inch wider. That pushes the wheels out to the corners and, in theory, gives this vehicle a more grounded stance.

Cadillac—and some other critics—have called the XT5 bolder than its predecessor; but we don’t see it. At least from the outside, up close, the XT5 feels softer and more organic than the previous SRX. Although it adheres to Cadillac’s Art & Science themes with the vertically oriented lighting, and even packs a version of the Escalade’s elongated, in-your-face grille—chromed to glorious excess in top Platinum trims—by no means does the XT5’s exterior feel anywhere close to as masculine and assertive.

2017 Cadillac XT5 - First Drive

2017 Cadillac XT5 - First Drive

Inside, it’s a different thing—dressed up just the right amount, and not too garish or gleaming. The Cadillac interiors of a decade ago were eccentric, sharp-edged, drab, and plasticky, and we’ve watched cabin appointments from the brand progress nicely, into warmer, more opulent directions—even well before it moved to New York and started elbowing up to fashion designers.

The sweet spot for a Cadillac crossover

The brand was already starting to find its way when the last SRX came out; but with the new XT5 it really finds the right sweet spot, yielding a look and feel that’s elegant yet sporty, restrained yet flamboyant. Just sit in the XT5 for a while, and you start noticing new details, hand-stitched, and precisely placed; it’s an interior of layers, as well, and interesting how the instrument panel has a bit of asymmetry to it, with the top layers of the dash impressing like an overcoat over formal wear.

One conversation point is the new e-shifter, which Cadillac says helps keep drivetrain vibration and road noise out of the cabin (they’re right), and frees up the space below the shifter for a pass-through, to hide away purses, cameras, and other items that are small but not too small.

At just under 190 inches long, the XT5 remains a half-step larger than most compacts but modestly sized for a mid-size model. Front seats are on the firm side and have plenty of support at the thighs (with extendable lower cushions). While we’d like to report that the XT5 makes tremendous gains in interior space, it doesn’t; in back, the space is definitely tight for headroom for six-footers (mainly because of the huge panoramic roof, which grabs an inch or two of headroom all around.

The back seat does slide fore and aft a few inches, to rejigger the mix of cargo space and legroom (and there’s a handy ratcheting “fence” to help keep your groceries from going everywhere), but overall, with about 3 inches more of official legroom than before, the new SRX feels smaller than it should from the back seat.

What has changed—tremendously—is the way that the XT5 feels going down the road. Built on a new modular platform for GM crossovers, it weighs 278 pounds less than its predecessor, according to Cadillac—as well as 100 pounds lighter than the Audi Q5. And with clean-slate redesigns to the steering and suspension, it rides and handles with less heft and lean than its predecessor.

Not a sport-sedan pedigree

To be fair, dynamically, the XT5 does enter the field on different footing than some vehicles you might see as alternatives. It remains built on a front-wheel-drive platform, whereas rivals like the Infiniti QX50 and Mercedes-Benz GLC are built on rear-wheel-drive sport-sedan pedigree. In either of those vehicles, you’ll find more nuanced handling—and, in the QX50 especially, some sacrificed cabin space for it.

What is very impressive in the XT5 is its powertrain. Just as with the outgoing SRX, the new XT5 has a 3.6-liter V-6. But here it’s a completely new-generation engine, making 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque. It’s a gem—better in response throughout the rev range and free of the noticeable low- and mid-rev flat spots that plagued its 3.6-liter predecessor.

That in itself—with the weight loss of the vehicle in general—means that fewer dramatic downshifts are needed when they aren’t altogether warranted (heading up a long grade, easing from 65 mph up to 75 mph on the highway, for instance).

The whole powertrain is just much more at ease with itself, and for that we credit the Aisin eight-speed automatic transmission and its electronic controls. The eight-speed is a much happier, more willing companion here than the previous six-speed, which had some shift shock.

As with the outgoing SRX, we still think that you hear the V-6’s strident tone in the XT5 a little too much at times; it’s surprising, given this model’s natural appeal with families, moms, realtors, and such.

While you’ll notice its sound, the new engine has a suite of fuel-saving technologies that you might not notice—including Active Fuel Management, allowing it to run on just four cylinders in some situations, and engine stop/start, which very smoothly stops and restarts the engine at stoplights. Before you rush to judgment on this, give it a try; chief engineer Paul Spadafora noted to us that they don’t allow you to disable it, in part because they put so much effort into making it unobtrusive; if you hold securely on the brake pedal and lift the slightest bit, the engine will restart ahead of a left turn, for instance, and it will even “learn” that you don’t want the engine to turn off in some situations.

Towing capability, all-wheel drive, and...quite good gas mileage

That said, mileage is great. EPA ratings for the XT5 roll in at 19 mpg city, 27 highway with front-wheel drive, or 18/26 with AWD. And over two different vehicles, on some very hilly, curvy mountain two-laners and freeways, we averaged about 23 mpg—better than the 21 or so we saw earlier in the week in the four-cylinder Kia Sportage [a reminder that engine size no longer corresponds so much to mileage]. And in the Cadillac, tow ratings are a respectable 3,500 pounds.

The available all-wheel-drive system in the XTS is designed for wet, snowy, or icy conditions, although it can help enhance stability in dry conditions. Yet on some tightly curving mountain roads, we noticed little if any difference in the way this tall wagon felt dynamically, as we approached the grip limits of the Michelin all-season tires. The system has a “twin-clutch” design that allows 100 percent of power to be sent to the front or rear wheels, and variations in between. A disconnect feature will also cut the rear wheels out completely to help improve mileage on dry surfaces; but it requires you to go in and select Touring mode.

In Platinum models, and all that have been optioned with the 20-inch tire-and-wheel combination, you get ZF’s continuous damping control. Both of the models we drove had it, and based on a wide range of vehicles we’ve driven with and without it, we’ll venture that it’s worth the premium for keeping unwanted harshness and undulations out of the cabin.

Our drive was limited to a fully loaded Platinum AWD, and a Premium Luxury FWD model optioned with the 20-inch wheels. Cadillac only had one vehicle vehicle without the continuous suspension; we weren’t able to get into that, and we look forward to finding out what more affordable SRX models are like.

The XT5 comes in Base, Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Platinum models. Base models are only front-wheel drive, while all Platinum models come with all-wheel drive and those in between offer a choice between the two (AWD versions cost $2,495 more, all else the same).

Platinum models are smooth operators

While it's not always worth the money to push all the way and buy a top-trim model, here the Platinum trim is where it all really “clicks” in the 2017 XT5. With it, you get additional hydraulic engine mounts, special isolating suspension mounts (think discernibly smoother for the ride, engine idle, and stop-start). Plus in the Platinum, you also get some of the most distinctive interior trims, with three types of wood, two types of aluminum, and five interior color/trim choices.

Our fully loaded Platinum had the available head-up display, as well as the full range of active-safety items, including lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, side blind zone alert, automatic parking assist, and adaptive cruise control. It also was equipped with the new inductive charging mat, which gives you a place for most smartphones to park and charge. And as with all other Cadillac models, the XT5 offers the 4G wireless connectivity, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto—all through the flawed-yet-functional CUE interface, which continued to frustrate here with a capacitive volume bar framing the bottom of the touch screen, where I and my co-driver tended to rest parts of our hands while making screen selections.

One extra we remain not fully convinced about is the Rear Camera Mirror system, essentially a camera display in place of a conventional mirror. Cadillac says that it digitally removes obstacles like passengers, the roof, and pillars, improving vision by 300 percent. The system proved a little difficult to get used to, as you couldn’t focus using your eyes’ own depth of field in the same way as you might for a mirror.

RX and GLC: the real cross-shops

Cadillac claims to aim at the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, although the former is right near the end of its lifecycle and the latter is more of a heavy lux-truck at its roots. The Lexus RX and Mercedes-Benz GLC are no doubt more direct rivals.

The Lexus RX is an apt comparison. It’s also been highly successful, and making up close to the 40 percent of total brand sales that the SRX made up last year.

2017 Cadillac XT5 - First Drive

2017 Cadillac XT5 - First Drive

The 2017 XT5 is a great luxury vehicle—one that will be appreciated for all its features and comfort by those who don’t put the top priority on driving performance, yet one with performance that will exceed and delight for that crowd. Officials continue to hint that a longer-wheelbase “XT7” vehicle/version is on the way for Cadillac sometime soon, to bridge the rather vast gap between the XT5 and the Escalade, and that might address what we see here, as somehow a rather tight cabin for a mid-sizer.

From here on out, Cadillac’s pushing full-force for more brand recognition, and part of that is getting the word out about the XT5. The product itself is much-improved—and more than enough to overcome those head-scratching badging moves.


These driving impressions are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Cadillac covered our overnight accommodations, meals, and some transportation costs.

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