Seventeen years ago, Cadillac, following Range Rover’s lead, popularized the luxury sport utility vehicle with the 1999 Escalade. Five years later, it followed up with the three-row SRX crossover. Despite the crossover’s inherent goodness, it almost joined such mistakes as the Pontiac Aztek.
Six years later, though, Cadillac dumbed down and shrank the vehicle, giving it two rows. As a result, sales grew, and despite a lack of evolution since, the SRX’s popularity has flourished, with sales up 28.5 percent last year.
But now, the SRX has given way to the 2017 Cadillac XT5.
If you think of it as a third-generation SRX, you wouldn’t be wrong. That said, I am not sure what the name XT5 refers to, although XT is the new Cadillac nomenclature for crossovers, despite the fact that the marque produces a large midsize sedan called the XTS.
No matter what you call it, the 2017 XT5 enjoys styling that adroitly improves on the SRX’s harsh stylistic crispness. Up front, a bold grille up and a fresh fascia calls to mind the design themes used on Cadillac’s new CT6 full-size sedan.
What makes the vehicle more remarkable is that its size is largely the same as the SRX’s, yet it employs a new platform that’s 278 pounds lighter with a wheelbase that’s 2 inches longer and a track 1 inch wider. This smart engineering adds 3.2 inches of rear-seat legroom compared to the model it replaces, lending the cabin a roomy feel, something expected in a Cadillac and something that was lacking in the second-generation SRX.
Once inside, you’ll find an instrument panel, which, like the grille, recalls the CT6. This is not a bad thing, as previous Cadillac interiors lacked panache, even if their design mimicked the exterior styling. The sumptuously trimmed cabin uses cut-and-sewn wrapped panels with a choice of carbon fiber, two types of aluminum or three types of real wood accents. That said, there are some cheap plastics evident in the interior, especially on the overhead center console, which looks as if it came from a Chevrolet Malibu. And the sunglass holder isn’t fully lined, exposing its sharp plastic edges inside.
As in the new CT6 sedan, the XT5 uses Cadillac’s new rearview mirror, which transforms into a rearview monitor at the flip of a switch. It also features Cadillac’s newest version of its CUE infotainment system, with standard integrated Wi-Fi hotspot and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — a thoughtful touch.
Being a Cadillac, convenience features are numerous, and include a rear hatch that opens with a wave of your foot beneath the rear bumper, as well as door handles with integrated LED lights. And of course there are driver assistance features including a color heads-up display, automatic front and rear low-speed braking, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, side blind zone alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic parking assist.
Of course, stylish swagger and comfy cabins have long been Cadillac trademarks. Unfortunately, the XT5’s performance comes up short, even if its handling excels.
The marque’s naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6 produces 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, and is coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine smoothly and unobtrusively shuts off two of the V-6’s cylinders under light loads, which helps with fuel economy, but may explain why the XT5 lacks the effortless acceleration expected of a vehicle in this class. The engine’s lack of torque is noticeable, and your foot constantly has to request more power. This is disappointingly reminiscent of the second-generation SRX.
Although offered with front-wheel drive, the XT5’s all-wheel drive system is worthwhile, able to transfer all of its torque to either the front or rear axle, as well as across the rear axle. Drivers also can disconnect the rear drive unit to improve fuel efficiency.
While the XT5 feels underpowered, its handling is accomplished. Throw the XT5 hard through the twisties, and it turns positively athletic. Yes, there’s body lean, and the nicely weighted steering lacks feel. It’s not helped by the sport mode, which firms up the ride and sharpens the steering and transmission shift points, but doesn’t make it noticeably more fun to drive. Once the pavement ends, the XT5 ably copes with light off-roading with a surprising nonchalance.
Like the model it replaces, the Cadillac XT5 is fashionable, and capable, but not exactly swift. That renders it a worthy replacement for SRX lovers, and one worth considering if you’re looking for something sophisticated crossover utility vehicle.
Base prices: $38,995-$63,495
Engines: 3.6-liter V-6
Torque: 271 pound-feet
Fuel type: Regular
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19 mpg/27 mpg (FWD); 18 mpg/26 mpg (AWD)
Wheelbase: 112.5 inches
Length: 189.5 inches
Cargo capacity: 30-63 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,985-4,257 pounds
NHTSA rating: Not rated