2017 Cadillac XT5 Review: The American Luxury Crossover Grows Up

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2017 Cadillac XT5 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

More than maybe any other automaker over the past few years, Cadillac has shown that it isn’t afraid to take risks. The “Dare Greatly” brand has built a world-beating lineup in the ATS and CTS cars (especially the -V performance models), the new CT6 is a truly world-class luxury sedan, and the refreshed Escalade is better than ever, and selling in bigger numbers than it has in years. But despite the brand’s strides, its biggest-seller for years has been the SRX, a compact luxury crossover that was introduced in 2003, and has been largely the same since 2009.

So what do you do if your aging best-seller continues to move despite fielding more modern, competitive products in other segments? If you said “let it ride,” you’re wrong. Instead of a mild update or a next generation model, the SRX is dead. Cadillac had the audacity to replace its popular crossover with the XT5, a midsizer for 2017 and beyond.

2017 Cadillac XT5|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

On paper, the crossovers are similar. Five seat people mover? Check. V6 power and all-wheel drive? Yup. Big Cadillac grille up front? You bet. But the SRX felt old where the XT5 feels bold and thoroughly modern, and compromised where this new model feels thoroughly independent. The Cadillac of 2009 is far different than the company of today. It was still in Detroit, still too far under the umbrella of a bankrupt General Motors, and still working to break into incredibly exclusive, cutthroat segments. Today, it’s on its own operating from New York City, spun off from GM, and has a contender in virtually every luxury segment. There may still be a demand for the SRX, but there won’t be anyone longing for one once they’ve driven an XT5. The trick, then, is to lure buyers away from other crossovers to Cadillac. With the XT5, we think the company just might be able to pull that off.

Exterior

2017 Cadillac XT5|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Cadillac has been using its Art & Science design styling language for nearly two decades now, but it’s evolved a lot over the years. The SRX was modern back in ’09, but compared to the current razor-sharp Cadillac lineup, it looked dated. The XT5 doesn’t have that problem; with its tailored lines, and vertical lighting, it fits right in with the rest of the company’s offerings, while looking trimmer and cleaner than the outgoing model ever did.

Next to the competition – which includes the Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes GLC, BMW X3, and Lexus RX — The XT5 has a certain upright formality to it that’s refreshing in the segment. In a sea of soft-edged, monochromatic luxo-barges that seemingly blend into the scenery (with maybe a few exceptions), the XT5 looks formidable; it looks like a luxury vehicle without being ostentatious. That suited our fully-loaded Platinum model to a T.

Exterior Pros and Cons

2017 Cadillac XT5|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

+ Beautifully uses the current Art & Science language to create a thoroughly modern luxury crossover.

+ It’s big, but its restrained styling and emphasis on vertical lines make it look athletic.

+ Just the right amount of brightwork conveys luxury, and helps the XT5 stand out from the competition even further.

– Its formal looks make it a completely different animal from, say, a similarly-priced Jaguar F-Pace. If you want sporty, go elsewhere.

– There’s a lot of fresh air going to the engine; when the sun hits it just right, the front end can look like one giant grille.

– Chrome skidplate hints at off-roading prowess, but we wouldn’t want to take our chances.

Powertrain

2017 Cadillac XT5|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

The SRX took a few years to get its engine options just right; the XT5 seemingly has it figured out right from the get-go. The 3.6 liter V6 (also available in the CTS and CT6) distributes 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet to either the front wheels or all four wheels (our tester was an all-wheel drive model) via an eight-speed automatic transmission. While this delivers power smoothly, and is perfect for most occasions, it can leave a little to be desired at times, especially on on-ramps, and passing. Under hard acceleration, the engine note becomes coarse too, making things a little too loud inside the otherwise refined cabin.

Shifting comes courtesy of GM’s new shift-by-wire controller, which replaces mechanical linkage in the interior and insulates passengers even more from outside noise. Similar to units found in BMWs, it’s easy to adapt to, and quickly becomes second nature. The XT5’s real-time dampening suspension eats bumps and potholes without disturbing passengers, and the all-wheel drive inspired confidence during an unusually intense rain shower on a long drive up the Atlantic coast.

Powertrain Pros and Cons

+ 3.6 liter V6 suits the XT5 in most situations.

+ Active suspension kept things comfortable in both city and highway driving.

+ We liked the new shift-by-wire system more than we expected.

– The 3.6 starts to feel taxed under heavy acceleration.

– There’s a lot of room in that engine bay; we wouldn’t mind a few more engine options.

– The electronic shifter takes some getting used to. That said, it’s pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it.

Interior

2017 Cadillac XT5|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum interior (Editor’s Note: The shadow on the driver’s seat is the rear seat pull tab) | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

We like the XT5’s striking sheetmetal a lot, but inside is where it really shines. Unlike most of the competition, Cadillac’s interior designers seem allergic to sticking yards of black plastic inside the cars and calling it a day, and we love them for it. The XT5’s interior is a blend of different materials, textures, and patterns, and it all comes together in a warm, inviting cabin that’s topped with a massive panoramic sunroof. In all, it’s a great place to spend time.

Our range-topping platinum model had a rich, “Maple Sugar” leather interior, with matching suede-like microfiber accents, open-pore wood trim, a black contrasting lower dash, and nice aluminum trim that comes together in an interesting, thoroughly modern way that makes it our favorite in the segment. Plus, the heated and ventilated front seats (and heated rears) make for a comfortable ride no matter the time of year.

Interior Pros and Cons

+ Our favorite interior in the segment.

+ Plenty of room for five full-grown adults, with lots of storage room.

+ Fit and finish feels overall top notch…

– … but there are still a few out of the way places with cheap-feeling plastic (lower door panels, inside the center console).

– Cavernous amounts of storage space with the rear seats down, but can be a struggle to put back upright. We’d love to see a power retracting system offered a là the Ford Explorer Platinum.

Tech and Safety

2017 Cadillac XT5|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

While the XT5’s sheetmetal and interior are great leaps forward from the SRX, its biggest improvements come in the tech and safety departments. The new crossover has a stronger, stiffer structure than the outgoing model, but is still a healthy 280 pounds lighter than the SRX. Front, side, and knee airbags (for the driver) should go a long way in making the XT5 one of the safer crossovers in its segment.

To compliment the safer structure are a host of electronic nannies that come standard on the Platinum model. Surround vision (for parallel parking) is always welcome in city driving, as are pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, forward collision, blind spot, and cross traffic alerts. Our biggest gripe, however, came from the new vibrating seat warning that was designed to keep drivers alert. If you don’t expect it, it feels like someone replaced your seat with a Whoopie Cushion. We didn’t manage to turn it off in our time with the XT5, but if you can, if wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The XT5 features the latest version of Cadillac’s CUE system, with a push-button-like panel, not the polarizing haptic controls found on older Cadillacs. Paired with a color eight-inch high-resolution touchscreen, it’s seamless and easy to use. CUE is augmented by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The wireless phone charger/phone holder is semi-concealed under the armrest, allowing power cords to stay out of sight (for us iPhone users), and keeps the center console clean without your phone taking up a cupholder or sliding all over the place. With all that and GM’s trademark 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, a premium Bose 14-speaker stereo, there’s enough tech to keep everybody inside happy.

But the XT5 is also refreshingly driver-centric. On top of the safety aids, the crossover is one of the first Cadillacs to feature its all-new rear camera mirror, a high-res screen mounted inside the mirror which uses the backup camera to provide an unobstructed view out back without looking around rear passengers and through the rear window. At first, the system feels like a party trick, albeit a little distracting and difficult to quickly focus on, but in tight traffic, and in low light, it works surprisingly well. And if you don’t like it, you can replace it with a traditional mirror with a flick of a switch.

Tech and Safety Pros and Cons

+ HUD, MID, and rear camera mirror make the XT5 feel refreshingly driver-centric.

+ Wireless phone charger, Bose Stereo, CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and big touchscreen will make passengers happy too.

+ CUE gets better with each generation.

– The rearview camera can be a distraction at first.

– The vibrating seat warning system certainly gets your attention, but it’s a little too, uh, familiar for our liking.

 The Drive

2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

The XT5 is a great all-rounder. In our time with it, we were able to rack up hours of city, highway, and back-road driving, fill its cavernous trunk with groceries, and get caught in a few storms with flash-flood warnings, and the XT5 handled all of it beautifully. It ate potholes and imperfections in the road without jarring passengers, felt sure-footed in all weather, and provided hours of comfortable, worry-free driving in any condition.

Wrap Up and Review

2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum|James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

The luxury crossover segment is one hottest in the auto industry today, and in many ways, it’s a throwback to the luxury market of Cadillac’s heyday. The average buyer likely isn’t concerned about horsepower, performance data, the ins-and-outs of its design language, or the nitty-gritty behind the tech. They want a thoroughly modern, comfortable, good looking car that reflects what they paid for it (without being ostentatious), fits in at the office parking lot, can handle city and highway driving well, and does everything as good or better than the other models they’ve tested. To these buyers, the XT5 should look like a winner.

Cadillac has a singular purpose today, and it’s this: To become one of the most prestigious automakers in the world again. This is apparent almost everywhere you look in the XT5. It could use a little more power, and there are still a few fingerprints that remind you that it shares parts with some other GM models, but overall, it’s a huge improvement over the SRX, and a thoroughly competitive luxury crossover that stands out from its European and Japanese competition in all the right ways. And with prices ranging from $38,995 from a front-wheel drive model to $62,500 for the range-topping Platinum model (ours had the optional spare tire and rang up at $63,845), we wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to anyone looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Lexus NX/Mercedes GLC crowd. Lord knows we need a little variety in this segment. Thankfully, Cadillac is here to give it to us.

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