Roadshow

2019 Cadillac XT4 arrives in NY not a moment too soon

You can't have too many crossovers these days, and Cadillac will soon have a new one.

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Cadillac's new baby is exactly that: A compact crossover that slots below the already tidy XT5 and can probably fit in the glovebox of an Escalade. After a 2017 that saw the XT5 outsell all of Cadillac's cars in the U.S. by a 35 percent margin, the XT4 is something of a no-brainer, though the details of any vehicle so important never are. 

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Here are some first impressions of the XT4 after being among the first to see it in person during a world debut event at Cadillac House, the company's headquarters in Manhattan.

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Most of Cadillac's models are crowded in the Cars category while demand for its sole crossover, the XT5, dominates 2017 sales.

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The 2019 Cadillac XT4 sits well on its wheels, with short overhangs that keep it from looking like a starter vehicle.

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The XT4 is 8 inches shorter than the XT5, but small isn't the first impression you get thanks to a wide, planted look that is helped by the wheels being pushed out toward the corners on a platform developed from parts of Epsilon II (Malibu) and the rear of the XT5. The limited front and rear overhangs that result are part of what keeps keep the XT4 from looking like a starter vehicle, as does its large-but-not-toothy grille and a dramatic new rear taillight design.

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You won't mistake the XT4 for anything else when following one.

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Neither of the pre-production cars at the debut had a hood I was allowed to lift, but power will come from a new direct injection 2.0L turbo four doing 237 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque that comes on mostly between 1,400 and 4,000 RPM, so it should feel bigger than it is. A 9-speed automatic converts that power whether you get FWD or the fully decoupling AWD system with rear torque vectoring. EPA fuel economy is expected to be 27mpg average, thanks to cylinder deactivation.

This is clearly a two-row vehicle (Cadillac has a new three-row crossover coming later) but with emphasis on its nearly 40 inches of rear legroom that seemed legit during a quick hop in the back. Up front, the spacious feeling continues with a new dashboard style based on an almost uninterrupted horizontal span, a trick that makes a smaller cabin feel bigger. The main instruments are spare looking, with analog needles for speed and RPM on either side of an LCD information screen. That kind of lean look demands a quality execution lest it just look cheap, which this setup does not.

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A unified, horizontal span across the dash helps make the XT4 feel more spacious.

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In the center stack you'll find the much improved new version of the Cadillac User Experience (they don't seem to call it CUE any more) across all trim levels, on an 8-inch touchscreen that I was pleased to see nestled deeply in the dash rather than sticking up like a billboard outside Ebbing. It's easily reached, but if you don't want to touch it you can use Cadillac's first physical control set for a head unit that includes a large multipurpose knob surrounded by home run buttons and a real volume knob, not a capacitive touch strip to be found.

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Cadillac's new XT4 also ushers in a new physical control set for the head unit, while sticking with a conventional shifter rather than a confusing knob or push buttons.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard at all trim levels while built-in navigation is optional across the board.

The new XT4 starts at $35,790 when it hits showrooms in Fall 2018. The two samples I saw had the optional panoramic sunroof installed which is always more dramatic the smaller the car it's installed on; You'll want to check that box. Cadillac trim levels will be handled differently starting with XT4: The base is called Luxury (see how they did that?), with upgrades to Premium Luxury or Sport. Those two are a fork more than a hierarchy.

Beyond itself, the XT4 is important as the cork coming out of a bottle of four more new Cadillac models over the next two years, leaving the company with more crossovers than cars for the first time. If the XT4 can perform as well as the XT5 has in showrooms, it could change the company's business in fairly short order.