Test Drive: 2017 Cadillac XT5

Cadillac’s replacement for the SRX is called the XT5, and though it’s similar in spec and size and kit to an abundance of posh-ute competitors, a number of notable differences help it stand apart in a market segment that’s more crowded with chrome and leather and glitz than a burlesque expo.

It’s not the sports car of the luxury utility scene, but it’ll play ball eagerly if you want to push it.

Like its ringmates, the XT5 has six-cylinder power, all-wheel drive, a great big sunroof, a spleen-rupturing stereo, and climate-controlled leather memory seats. But the differences, and how they contribute to a uniquely modern luxury utility offering, are what stand out most here – and they’ll be the focus of this review.

The first of these differences relates to the use of a signature Cadillac technology that might just require drivers to reprogram their muscle memory.

We’re talking about Continuous Damping Control. It helps the XT5 adapt to different road conditions and give a smooth ride.

But what’s this about muscle memory?

Big squishy crossovers are heavy and ride softly on springs. When exposed to bumps and humps and whumps, the result is a ride that churns and lurches like your digestive system after Taco Tuesday in the office cafeteria. Hit a bump or dip mid-corner, and your back and butt muscles tighten, subtly and subconsciously, in anticipation of the ensuing body movements of the vehicle. But with Continuous Damping Control, there’s no need for it – since those subsequent body motions are all but arrested the instant they think about existing. You hit a bump, feel it a touch, and hear it a little, but the XT5 just stays flat, maybe with a little squirm. And it’s funny, because you still tighten your muscles up in anticipation, and it takes a while before they learn they don’t need to.

Result? You don’t feel like you’re driving a four-wheeled inflatable bouncy castle, and after hours on the road, you feel more relaxed, fresher and less strained. Continuous Damping Control, as used in the XT5, is an easy-to-appreciate feature for the long-haul driver after a consistently stable and comfortable ride.

A Sport mode stiffens the dampers, gives a more direct feel, and better communicates the condition of the road beneath. Operated thusly, XT5 is unbothered by quick browsing of winding roads. Thanks again, Continuous Damping Control: usually, crossovers this comfy handle like a trash-bag full of pudding, but XT5 is surprisingly tidy and flat. It’s not the sports car of the luxury utility scene, but it’ll play ball eagerly if you want to push it.

Another stand-out difference? The XT5’s cabin. The design is on another level for elegant simplicity, complete with a centre console stack that has, like, six buttons on it instead of the usual array of consoles, panels, knobs and dials found in comparable Lexus, Mercedes and BMW models. The shifter is a small joystick, and there’s no console around it. The cupholders have aluminum inserts, and are covered by a lid, itself trimmed in stitched leather too.

So the look is clean. Uncluttered. Tidy. Intensely detailed, but blessedly simple. And with so few controls and consoles chewing up visual scenery, the entire forward dash is a canvas for designers to showcase not the tech and the gadgets, but the richness and abundance of the materials themselves. Isn’t that what luxury is all about?

The tester’s dashboard was fully encased in leather and suede, with some aluminum and carbon-fibre-esque accents adding depth. There isn’t a single crooked stitch or crinkle in the velvety leatherwork. Even the perforation and embossing in the seats invite lengthy inspection. And the XT5 smells like a fine furniture store, and so will you, for an hour after you get out. The cabin is probably the XT5’s most compelling quality.

Functionally, the cargo space is relatively wide and deep, accessed by a motorized tailgate, and flexibly partitioned by a handy sliding-rail divider to keep gear in place. Seatbacks fold full-flat when needed. Rear seat headroom proved barely adequate for those of average height, thanks to the tester’s panoramic sunroof. Up front, as with the rear, entry is a simple sideways slide-and-plop.

Also, there are fancies. Lots of them. Usual suspects aside, the XT5 uses a handful of exclusive technologies that surprise and delight. There’s the rearview camera mirror, replacing the traditional mirror with a high-resolution display. Drivers get a much wider viewing angle out the rear, without obstructions caused by rear seat headrests or window pillars, and a clearer image in the dark. Once trusted, the system provides improved situational awareness to the rear. Image quality is fantastic, and after dark, special software fine-tunes the image to bring out details, even farther away.

Note: the tester’s camera mirror system wasn’t working initially, though a quick and painless warranty check-in at a local Cadillac dealer fixed the problem: a loose coaxial cable.

There’s in-car wi-fi, which turns the XT5 into a rolling wireless router. On my test drive, it proved ideal for streaming Olympics coverage to a nearby iPad (in full HD, without any lagging, I’ll add) for passing the time during a rainy camping trip. Further, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay upscale key smartphone interfaces into the central command screen, which runs a more logical and faster-responding version of the Cadillac CUE system.

If you’re a gadget geek, you’ll love the XT5’s wireless smartphone charging system, too. Slip your phone into the console-mounted slot, and the top third peeks out as it sits charging away, sans cord. Said slot is exposed to the air-conditioned interior of the center bin, keeping your phone cool, which helps it charge faster. Slick stuff, and well thought out.

Another important gadget functions in the background to make the XT5 a nicer place to be on the highway. An active noise cancelation system emits sound-neutralizing waves from the audio system speakers, intercepting and eliminating offensive sounds from the environment as you drive. The XT5 isn’t mind-blowingly quiet at 115 km/h, but it’s quiet indeed, with little more than a muted roar seeping past the white-noise sound waves and other sound-deadening implements.

Power comes from GM’s next-generation 3.6L V6, now with added fuel-saving technology and output rated at 310 horsepower. Drive gently, and you’d hardly know the XT5 had a powerplant at all: it’s buttery smooth and virtually inaudible. Called upon for a full-throttle maneuver, the engine emits a pleasing roar, and pulls hard to max revs.

This isn’t the thriller powertrain in the segment: the eight-speed automatic shifts slowly and cautiously no matter what, with a marked off-throttle gap between each gear at full throttle. Further, the giggle-inducing upshifts and downshifts and rev-matching flaunted in comparable European machinery aren’t present here. Likely no matter – though the engine sounds gorgeous when opened up (not quite Lexus RX 350 gorgeous, but close), the XT5 is on top of its game when driven leisurely, even if it lacks the turbocharged low-rev torque characteristic of many competitors.

LED headlights provide adequate peripheral roadside illumination and fantastic colour, but the high beams (automatically activated), are fantastically potent, turning the XT5 into a four-wheeled light-cannon that blasts clean white light a great distance up the road. Brake pedal feel is firm, precise and confidence-inspiring, though emergency stops took longer than your writer expected. Finally, note that as XT5’s AWD system can be fully switched off, you’ll have to remember to turn it on again when you need it.

Complaints? There’s a bit of a learning curve required for drivers to confidently interface with some of the tech here. A few drives are required before the camera mirror stops feeling funny, the shifter requires a strange motion (push up, hold left) to engage reverse, and the CUE system, though faster and more vivid, is still not the market’s most intuitive. Further, though comfortable and supportive once settled into, the front seats are perhaps a tad too stiff, since those of average proportions will have to drop down onto them a little.

One other gripe: XT5’s body motions are exceptionally managed thanks to its fancy shocks, though extra-rough roads can still coax noise and harshness from the suspension, thanks to the baller-status 20-inch wheels.

Ultimately, the core appeal of the XT5 all comes together beautifully on a lengthy drive. You can ask Siri to call your mom, or to remind you to pick up some milk. You can summon a real-life OnStar advisor in three seconds, and have them program navigation coordinates for you. Your phone charges away wirelessly. Lights, wipers and climate control all self-activate as required. The rear camera mirror provides an at-a-glance image of your rearward driving environment.

And you glide along, with Continuous Damping Control keeping the XT5 flat and stable, and with the active noise cancellation keeping the XT5 quiet and relaxed. It’s more easygoing a cruiser than a BMW X5, since it rides more comfortably, and feels less heavy and dense. And the cabin, with its simple, clean approach, creates a more laid-back but even richer atmosphere that’s conducive to unwinding and relaxation.

If your priorities in a luxury utility ride include some really advanced and well-implemented high-tech doodads, a consistently comfortable and relaxing driving experience, and cabin that strikes a unique blend of simple and lavish, the XT5 should be considered a priority test drive.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 6 years/110,000 km roadside assistance
2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum AWD
2017 Cadillac XT5 Platinum AWD
Base Price $68,595
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,950
Price as Tested $71,300
Optional Equipment Trailering Package ($655)
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.4
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
10 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy