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Cadillacs of old were masters of the road, big luxury vehicles with V-8s and cutting-edge technology, such as the first electric starter and the first automatic climate control system. The 2013 Cadillac XTS retains the idea of a big, luxury vehicle with cutting-edge technology, but bows to modern engine downsizing with a 3.6-liter V-6, the same as used in the CTS model.
As for the XTS's front-wheel-drive platform, which it shares with the Buick LaCrosse, the Eldorado had front-wheel drive long ago. However, the Premium-trim XTS I tested came with a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, available on all but the base XTS trim.
Gauges are so last-century
Where the XTS really departs from tradition is in the cabin. Sitting in the plush driver's seat, I was looking at a blank panel where the speedometer and tachometer should be. When I fired up the engine, a neat little animation had those gauges flying in from the side, taking their rightful places before my eyes.
Yes, the XTS offers a full LCD instrument cluster, something that might bother traditionalists but that offers a lot of advantages. These virtual gauges look like the real thing, and each can host useful information such as navigation or range-to-empty in its center, selectable by the driver with controls on the steering-wheel spokes.
The center stack, completely devoid of dials or physical buttons, further defies tradition. Cadillac uses a touch surface for the XTS' climate controls and stereo volume. The former worked well enough in my testing, but I still prefer a dial for volume control. However, drivers will find the volume buttons on the steering-wheel spoke much handier to use, and should never really have to touch the slider.
The XTS' center touch screen, hosting the new Cadillac User Experience (CUE) cabin electronics interface, works in a way that's initially baffling. Looking at the map screen, for instance, there seems no option for zooming or entering destinations. However, as I put my hand near the LCD, buttons for those functions and more suddenly populated the screen. This proximity sensor is cool, but takes a little getting used to.
CUE streamlines entering addresses, letting me enter the entire address string from the onscreen keyboard, where other navigation systems break it up into separate screens for city and street. It also seems that CUE can understand partial addresses, employing fuzzy logic in its searches. The XTS has voice command, which let me say whole address strings. The navigation system's points-of-interest database was limited, lacking listings for some fairly large businesses, such as Fry's Electronics and Beverages & More, although it could find me the nearest Taco Bell.
The maps on the system were excellent, showing 3D-rendered buildings in downtown San Francisco. The system displayed traffic flow and incidents, using this data to dynamically adjust routes around bad traffic. And one feature I particularly like, previously seen on the CTS, is that the navigation system will proactively warn about bad traffic down the road even when it is not under route guidance. The car not only showed route guidance graphics on the main LCD, with lane guidance, but also gave turn-by-turn directions on the instrument cluster and head-up display, while voice prompts included street names.
A big problem with CUE is how slowly it operates. After you turn on the car, the main LCD shows an application load screen for a number of seconds before showing the main interface. I found this load time frustrating when I wanted to program in a destination right after hopping in the car. When I hit some of the onscreen buttons, there was noticeable lag while waiting for the system to respond.
The audio interface in CUE is every bit as ambitious as the navigation interface. It controls satellite radio, HD Radio, devices plugged into the car's USB ports, and the CD player. That last piece of equipment, a standalone unit in the glove box, seems like an afterthought in the XTS, old media just about obsolete. When using the XTS' stereo, I gravitated toward the USB ports, plugging a thumbdrive into one and my iPhone into another.
Instead of making me choose either of these USB sources, the CUE interface shows a common music library drawn from each, a particularly cool feature. In the Album category, for instance, CUE showed all the available music from each source in one list. Even better, its voice command let me select music by album, artist, track, or genre without me having to specify the source.
The stereo also supports Bluetooth audio streaming, and offers Pandora integration. The Pandora interface looked good and was fully functional, letting me select any one of my customized stations and give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Oddly, Cadillac puts the Pandora icon off in a different menu than the stereo interface.
Music plays through a 14-speaker Bose audio system, which includes 4 small speakers mounted in the shoulders of the front seats. The quality of the sound reproduction was excellent, and I was impressed to hear some quieter layers I had never before noticed in a few well-worn tracks. For example, La Roux's "In for the Kill" apparently has a cowbell track, which gets completely trampled by lesser systems. I did feel the bass, though adequate, could have been stronger with this system.
CUE has a full-featured Bluetooth phone interface, complete with voice command over a paired phone's contact list. It also offers an interface for the OnStar telematics service, making some services available from icons on the screen. OnStar in the XTS comes with the full suite of services, such as stolen-car recovery and accident response. The XTS gets integration with the OnStar app, making it possible to, for example, remotely unlock the doors.
Keep it smooth
All of these high-end tech features support the XTS' prime mission as a luxury cruiser. Although Cadillac touts the car's adaptive magnetic ride suspension, which sees use in such performance vehicles as the CTS-V, the XTS is not a sports car. That adaptive suspension, which lacks driver-selectable settings, feels tuned for comfort, for soaking up potholes and other bruising bumps in the road, rather than keeping the car flat in a fast corner.
The XTS rides down the road like a mattress full of kittens, and adding to that luxury feel is an electric power-steering unit so boosted that it only takes a single finger to pull the wheel all the way around. The seats feature heating and cooling, although there's no massage feature, as in some other luxury vehicles. The rear seat bench also feels very comfortable, and has its own climate control.
The 3.6-liter V-6 under the hood uses direct injection, helping it produce its peak 304 horsepower. However, torque is only 264 pound-feet, which becomes noticeable when accelerating. When I floored the gas pedal on a freeway entrance, the XTS did not suddenly turn into a rocket, but did make reasonable time up to 60 mph. It was fast enough for easy freeway merging, but not a car I would use to race trains to railroad crossings.
The engine is backed up by a six-speed automatic, a fairly sophisticated transmission but one that has been in use for over five years. From GM's Hydra-Matic series of transmissions, it did its job quietly in support of the XTS' luxury character. Appropriately, there is no sport mode on this transmission, but Cadillac does include a manual mode, with paddle shifters for convenience. This manual mode is best used for engine braking down a hill rather than by wannabe Nascar drivers.
The engine and transmission combination leads to an EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for this all-wheel-drive-equipped car. A few more gears in the transmission might get it higher. In my testing, which involved a lot more city driving than usual, the XTS only turned in 16.5 mpg, incessant red lights and heavy traffic taking their toll.
In that traffic, I would have preferred the XTS to drive itself, which it can almost do. Radar, sensors, and cameras give it a good set of driver assistance features, from collision warning to blind-spot monitoring. However, the XTS has a very unique way of alerting drivers to potential problems. It actually patted me on the butt with some actuators in the driver seat.
For example, if its forward radar thought I was about to ram the car in front, I got a nice, full pat on the rear. If I crossed a lane line without signaling and the car believed I had drifted over, it patted me on the side I had drifted on. I know many people will find this behavior way too intrusive, but I found it very effective. Other cars I have tested might warn about lane drift by slightly shivering the steering wheel or sounding a tone, both of which are easy to miss.
There was no missing the XTS' pats, and it was easy to get used to them. If I found myself really craving a massage feature on the seats, then driving recklessly might just make this warning feature an adequate substitute.
With its excellent noise insulation, the XTS proved a comfortable car to cruise around city streets or road trip down the highway in. Living in a temperate climate, I could easily pass on the all-wheel-drive option, but those in northern areas might feel more comfortable with front and back tires digging in. Engine power is adequate and fuel economy, at least in the EPA tests, rates very well for a big, luxury-class sedan.
There is a possible discrepancy in how the CUE system and LCD instrument cluster seem more likely to appeal to a younger demographic, while the comfortable cruiser nature of the car should attract an older set. That said, the 2013 Cadillac XTS features some pretty advanced tech in the cabin, while the driveline tech is at least ahead of the curve.
|Model||2013 Cadillac XTS|
|Power train||Direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||16.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard flash memory-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with contact list integration|
|Digital audio sources||Pandora, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Bose 14-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Collision warning, adaptive cruise control, HUD, blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$57,725|