Cadillac’s return to large luxury comes with an inherent gamble, that Americans want to buy, and will continue to want to buy, large luxury machines. With compact cars now outselling mid-size ones, there seems to be no evidence to support this plan. Then again, perhaps the luxury segment is different.
|1. The XTS is first to receive the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) telematics system with iPad like controls.
2. Standard and available features include magnetic ride shock absorbers, an air ride rear suspension, Brembo brakes, Cadillac’s vibrating safety seat and a 12.3-inch digital dash.
3. Only one engine is offered, a 304 hp 3.6L V6.
4. Pricing starts at $44,075 and tops out at $60,385 including AWD. An excellently equipped front-drive Premium model retails for $53,585.
Built just as much for China, where long wheelbase versions of conventional German sedans like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 are hugely successful, the new Cadillac XTS will hit them head-on, sized like a 7 Series, but priced like the 5. But do American consumers want their staple luxury sedans, the Mercedes E350 for instance, in an even larger package?
PACKED WITH TECHNOLOGY
Having just piloted the XTS for a day through Malibu, it’s obvious the brand’s new flagship sedan is an equal in luxury (something few, if any, Cadillacs have been able to say in recent history). And to help make the package genuinely enticing Cadillac set out to mesh two concepts together, blending the brand’s DNA for big with industry leading technology.
Hit the push button ignition and the XTS fires up like something out of a Sci-Fi novel. The gauges, no conventional analog units, are instead replaced digitally on a 12.3-inch display screen (on Premium and up models). The graphics are rich and the operation is precise, as you can even watch the little tachometer hum up and down as the car’s engine idle adjusts.
Customizing the center of the gauges is simple with a control button on the right side of the steering wheel. Make the middle of the speedometer a simple analog-style needle, switch to a digital readout or have the navigation screen appear within. Or change the complete display entirely to either a performance focused one, or a style that has more in common with a computer display than conventional gauges.
CUE: TELEMATICS EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION?
It’s a smaller screen, however, that is the bigger technological advancement. Located in the center stack, this 8-inch unit houses the Cadillac User Experience (CUE for short). Perhaps the most significantly new user interface since iDrive rocked the auto world in 2001, it’s the first to be open source and is based on a Linux platform, not Microsoft like iDrive or MyFord Touch.
Natural speech voice controls can be used to operate it, but the ideal way is with your fingers, using iPad like controls. Make a channel a favorite by dragging it into place. Scroll through your selections with the swipe of a finger. And zoom in on the nav screen with a pinch. Considering how long display screens have been in cars, you’ll be wondering why it took so long for someone to invent this.
Taking the technology a step further, the screen gets haptic feedback, which means it pulses where you touch it. Unfortunately the pulse sounds cheap and has enough of a delay that often it happens after you’ve removed your hand. Not exactly a flawless execution, it’s a far better first effort than most and is generally intuitive.
If the screen sits idle for 20 seconds the surrounding controls and icons fade away. Need to adjust something? No worries; just move your hand towards the screen and before it even gets there the icons reappear.
Making it all the more impressive is the fact that the graphics are vivid and high tech, plus the screen is mounted in a piano black instrument panel with no frame, so it gives the impression of being a part of the car, not some addition.
While CUE is designed to impress, Cadillac isn’t relying on it to sell the car’s interior. We didn’t have the opportunity to sample the base ($44,075) or Luxury ($48,690) grades, though it’s fair to say most consumers will start at the Premium level ($53,585). Once there, no apologies or excuses are required. Serious luxury, however, comes at the Platinum ($58,160) level, with leather (and a higher grade of it) coating every possible surface. There’s also an Alcantara headliner, soft brushed aluminum and the only good looking wood we’ve seen in a Cadillac in decades.
VIBRATING SEAT: FOR SAFETY, NOT COMFORT
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The driver’s seat even includes a surprise: it vibrates. No, it’s not a massager, but rather a new safety system. The Safety Alert Seat, part of the Driver Awareness Package (standard on Premium trim), integrates lane departure and blind spot warning systems, and instead of having flashing lights or warning sounds, it will vibrate the seat on the left or right to alert you to the situation. It sounds like a gimmick, but it works.
Also integrated into the safety seat are rear cross traffic alert and forward collision alert, with full seat vibration warnings for each. Three distance settings are available for the forward collision alert, with the most sensitive causing our seat to vibrate a bit too often.
While not available at launch, Cadillac will soon offer a Driver Assistance Package, with features like an auto-brake that will stop the car for you if a collision is deemed imminent.
While there’s no massaging feature in the back seat area (either for safety or relaxation), they are heated starting at the Luxury grade. Space is significant, though not exactly as massive as one might expect – so don’t look for reclining seats. Those as tall as 6’3” should fit without issue. Of note, while the XTS is extraordinarily long, it’s not as wide as a flagship German luxo barge and so fitting three hip-to-hip in the rear won’t be as comfortable.
Where all that extra space is isn’t a mystery. Just pop the New Jersey style trunk to reveal 18 cu-ft of room, enough to carry even the best mobster’s nightly tally.
MORE TECH DELIVERS COMFORT AND DRIVING ENJOYMENT
As a highway cruiser the XTS performs as one might expect, eating up miles with ease and leaving the driver relaxed and comfortable – even on the larger optional 20-inch wheels with very low 245/40/20 profile tires. It’s even an enjoyable way to spend rush hour– as we found out in the stop-and-go traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard (emphasis on the stop).
Head into the hills and it’s best to switch the six-speed automatic transmission into manual mode, which will also firm up the magnetic ride shock absorbers. The fastest reacting dampers in the world, they’re offered as standard equipment for the first time in this segment. Also helping the XTS perform are standard Brembo brakes.
The steering is light and like Cadillacs of yore will have to add plenty of input on twisty roads. Push it and the car’s weight and size can’t be hidden, though that limit will surprise you with the XTS a far more capable machine than most will ever need.
What the steering is, is predictable, thanks to Cadillac’s decision to stick with a conventional hydraulic unit rather than a new electric one. As a result, there isn’t any on-center numbness or unnatural feelings.
Unlike German competitors, the XTS is front-wheel drive, which while a theoretical disadvantage is perhaps a real world advantage – especially as opinions change about what wheels power a car. Those looking for more can opt for an AWD version, starting with the Luxury trim, which features an electronic limited slip on the rear axle to slow the inside tire in a corner and help rotate the long chassis.
V6 ENGINE A LONE DISAPPOINTMENT
If there’s one area where the XTS fails to impress, it’s the powertrain. Motivated by the same 3.6-liter V6 with 304 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque found in the rest of the Cadillac range it’s good, but not great. The same can be said of fuel economy with a 17/28 mpg rating for front-drive models and 17/26 for AWD. During our test it proved more than capable in most situations, though in the up-hill Malibu canyons it was merely adequate, and we were never worried of laying down the power too hard.
More thrust would help the XTS deliver a driving wow factor, but as it stands its about the only area that we’re not thoroughly impressed with, and there’s an obvious advantage – price. The V6 powertrain and front-drive configuration appear to be the only compromises made in offering a full-sized luxury sedan at a mid-size price.
In many ways the success of the XTS depends upon conventional European luxury buyers.
Will Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6 owners even consider the XTS? If they’re able to set aside preconceived notions about the Cadillac brand and dare to drive domestic when all their peers are buying imported goods, then maybe.
And then remains another question: Do E-Class owners want a bigger E-Class? They might once they find out just how impressive the XTS is. A loaded up E is about the same as an impressively luxurious XTS, and no rival can match the extensive technology Cadillac has on offer.