There exists a pretty clear split among luxury SUVs of driving dynamics versus comfort. SUVs from Mercedes-Benz and Lexus tend toward a soft ride while those from Audi and BMW feel like sports cars in the turns. Add the 2017 Cadillac XT5 to the latter column, as Cadillac's latest SUV seeks a younger demographic favoring handling performance.
Looking around the cabin of the XT5, I noticed more than a few indications that Cadillac was chasing BMW, beyond just driving dynamics. The shifter for the eight-speed automatic transmission, a curvy pod that fit my hand well, resembles the ergonomically sculptured drive selector sticking up from the consoles of BMW models.
And like BMW, Cadillac minimizes knobs and buttons on the dashboard of the XT5, greatly simplifying the look. However, Cadillac favors more plush materials on cabin surfaces in contrast to BMW's more spartan approach. Following European tradition, BMW uses an indirect controller for its cabin electronics while Cadillac relies on a simpler touchscreen.
The XT5 takes the place of the SRX in Cadillac's lineup, but more than just an update with a name change, the XT5 leads an overall reinvigoration of Cadillac's SUV lineup, just as the CT6 signals big changes for its passenger cars. The XT5 is a five-passenger SUV, with no option for a third row, showing similar exterior dimensions to the SRX. However, a new chassis means it is lighter and offers more interior space.
The XT5's 3.6-liter V-6 engine, making 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, sits laterally in the engine bay, indicating the XT5 is built on a front-wheel-drive platform. As such, the XT5 can be had in front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive formats. The example I drove, in Platinum trim, came standard with all-wheel drive, which includes torque vectoring across the rear wheels to improve handling.
Rather than being a soft ride, the XT5 felt solid and extremely competent. Adaptive dampers continually adjusted to deal with changing road surfaces. The XT5 didn't insulate me from the pavement, instead maintaining fine control as if it were the master of the road. In cornering, that meant the XT5 felt steady, letting me aim its electric power steering as I pleased.
Putting a little more speed down in the turns, I felt the XT5's torque vectoring kick in, bringing more power to bear on the outside rear wheel, making the body of the car rotate neatly around. This all-wheel-drive system is capable of pushing 100 percent of engine torque to the front or rear wheels, and the rear differential can push 100 percent of torque to the left or right wheel. Theoretically, all the engine's power could end up going to one wheel.
The XT5 showed me its handling chops in Sport mode, but I spent more time driving it in Touring mode, designed for more comfort and fuel efficiency. Here, the XT5 operates as a front-wheel-drive vehicle, completely disconnecting the rear wheels from the drivetrain. Further enhancing fuel economy, the engine deactivates two of its cylinders when cruising, and uses its idle-stop feature to shut down the engine at stop lights. All of that should result in low-20s average fuel economy, not ground-breaking but not bad.
More so than its driving dynamics, the XT5 shows its leading place in the Cadillac lineup with a particularly innovative feature, the Rear Camera Mirror system, which essentially uses a video display in place of a rearview mirror. The display shows an image wider and crisper than you'd see in an actual mirror. What's really cool is that you don't need to adjust it -- however you twist the display on its mount, the view remains the same.
Two things bothered me about the Rear Camera Mirror. It made cars to the rear appear closer than they actually were. When parking, the backup camera, showing on the dashboard LCD with a surround-view monitor, more accurately indicated how much space I had behind the XT5. And when I glanced up at the Rear Camera Mirror system while driving, my eyes took a moment to adjust from the real view in front to the flat video display. This last point may just be a matter of getting more used to it. For people who don't like this system, it's easy enough to flip up the display and use the real mirror that is part of the system.
The touchscreen in the dashboard shows the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment interface, which looks like a reskinned version of Chevrolet MyLink. Nothing wrong with that, as the latest versions of MyLink work very well.
CUE impressed me with its navigation system, showing graphically pleasing maps and including one-box destination entry. With this type of system, I could enter a business name, city or street address, and the system would do its best to find my destination in its database. The only missing element here is online destination search, something that should be feasible as the XT5 comes with a built-in 4G/LTE data connection for its OnStar telematics service.
Digital music and radio sources, as well as a Bluetooth phone system come as part of CUE's infotainment suite.
More importantly, CUE in the XT5 supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Although I had to plug my iPhone into the car's USB port to use it, I gravitated toward Apple CarPlay while driving. The graphics, especially on Apple Maps, look very flat, not as nice of those native in CUE, but I liked having voice-based text messaging handy. CarPlay only offers Apple Maps for navigation, which I wasn't happy about, but I found its estimated times of arrival, even with serious traffic, proved very accurate.
First of four
The 2017 Cadillac XT5 is not only a welcome entrant to the luxury SUV scrum, but a fine representation of a reinvigorated company. When Cadillac first unveiled the XT5, the company said there would be three more crossover SUVs to come, suggesting an XT3 and XT7 as likely follow-ups with one mystery machine yet to come.
Tech and cabin design certainly satisfy modern luxury tastes, although the XT5 could make better use of its built-in OnStar data connection. The Rear Camera Mirror system is an interesting piece of technology, one that competitors are already developing.
Most important to keep in mind with the XT5 is how it favors sporty handling over a soft ride. That may seem an odd choice for a luxury five-passenger SUV, but it can look to BMW X5's success as precedent. For a more traditional luxury ride feel, look to the Mercedes-Benz GLE or Lexus RX.
What really may win converts to the Cadillac brand is the XT5's low base price of under $40,000. That base model lacks navigation and all-wheel drive, but the price opens the door for new buyers. Fully loaded, the Platinum trim XT5 goes for just over $60,000.