Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 Cadillac XT5 2

Images: Paul Williams, Amee Reehal for Cadillac

Dare greatly, we’re told. That’s what Cadillac says it’s doing; that’s what they’d like buyers in this segment to do as well. Dare to buy a Cadillac.

Here are three words you may not have associated with Cadillac: distinctive, sophisticated, agile. Yet those are the three objectives Cadillac has most recently chosen to guide its brand into the future.

So far, so good, it turns out. As Cadillac introduces its new models (CTS, ATS, CT6) the quality advances are obvious; the vehicles are truly impressive and world-class competitive in comparison with past efforts. The latest model, the 2017 XT5, will likely be Canada’s best-selling Cadillac (as was its predecessor, the SRX), an added motivation to not get this one wrong.

Inside, outside and in-between. These three words provide focus for guests of the Fogo Island Inn. Not so much objectives (right away you can see this is a different approach to presenting the brand), these words are more about experience. What is it like to stay at the Inn? What’s different about it? Why should you go?

Cadillac sees commonality, here. So they chose the exclusive, award-winning and very daring Fogo Island Inn as the location for the XT5’s Canadian media introduction. And did I say “daring?” That’s a Cadillac mantra, too. Dare greatly, we’re told. That’s what Cadillac says it’s doing; that’s what they’d like buyers in this segment to do as well. Dare to buy a Cadillac.

As noted in our Cadillac XT5 First Drive, this vehicle is fundamentally a much-improved SRX. But it’s not just a refresh and rebadge. The exterior is smoothed and massaged into a form that seems at once more approachable but still dramatic and arguably more imposing; the interior is a surprise of sophisticated lines, quality manufacture and attention to detail.

Under the hood, an all-new 3.6L V6 makes a smooth 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque through a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models are available and pricing ranges from $45,100 for the XT5 to $68,595 for the XT5 Platinum (“free flow” options will further increase the price if chosen).

On the narrow, winding roads of Fogo Island (population 2,500) with its predominance of pick-up trucks and well-used sedans, the Cadillac XT5 with its sleek form and flashy LED lights does not easily blend in. You could see that even to residents now accustomed to tourists and fleets of rental cars, heads turned as an XT5 motored by, preceded by the mildly superior smirk of the new Cadillac grille.

Drive one of these to the futuristic – shocking, even – architecture of the Fogo Island Inn, though, and clearly vehicle and building are of similar aesthetic. Look at the Inn from a distance and it just seems so incongruous compared to the rocky, windswept landscape of this near-subarctic region. What was he (Todd Saunders, architect, Newfoundland-born) thinking?

Quick hits: 7 things you need to know about the 2017 Cadillac XT5

Well, he was thinking about the combination of traditional and modern, for one thing. And it really is a surprise when you get up close to the exterior walls of the Inn, that from a distance look like they’re formed from some kind of aerospace polymer, to find they’re actually made of tongue and groove wooden boards laid horizontally, just as you’ll find in one of the many century-old “salt-box” houses that decorate the island’s coast. Strong, simple, typical of the region, the Inn is built the same way.

Inside, and just as surprising, it’s the same thing. The walls, the ceilings, the floors… wood boards assembled using local timber, constructed using standard rustic house and boat building techniques. Even the furniture in the rooms and the lobby are built at a local shop by Fogo craftspeople; the quilts and blankets on the beds sourced from local quilt makers and weavers, the needle work cushions on the seats, the crocheted rugs, the seafood and vegetables in the very high-end dining room, it’s all sourced from the island and the entire enterprise has arguably saved the island’s economy and culture following the collapse of the cod fishery here three decades ago.

This was the vision of the Inn’s founder, Zita Cobb, herself born on the Island, leaving for a career in high technology in the 1990s and returning inspired and with the means to do something really bold.

But don’t get the idea that the Fogo Island Inn is some kind of luxury pseudo-19th-century Bed and Breakfast experience. No, this multi-award winning establishment with its artists-in-residence program, art gallery, theatre and rooftop saunas and 29 light-filled rooms all facing the ocean is targeted at a sophisticated, international clientele. It is a five-star hotel (or six, if the dial goes that high) but it is absolutely not typical.

Cadillac would be thrilled to regularly rub shoulders with the Fogo Island Inn and its affluent clientele. To share the stage with this multi-award winning establishment featured in art, design, architecture, cuisine, business, photography and tourism media throughout the world.

Looking at the XT5, I think you have to agree that it is indeed distinctive. Seems to me that from all angles it’s different enough from the competition to make the XT5 identifiable (that is, one can fairly easily distinguish the XT5 from the masses of other SUV-type vehicles on the road).

Which leads to the Cadillac objective of sophistication, and here, too, I think the brand is successful. Basically, it’s toned down and refined its appearance, evolving the company’s sharp-edged Art and Design styling by sculpting the vehicle into a more pleasing, less aggressive form. This goes for the interior, too, where quality is immediately evident and the line between enough and too much has been much more effectively demarcated compared with past Cadillac models.

The XT5 is also sophisticated in its use of technology. The electronic rear-view mirror is pretty cool, preventing the rear head restraints and cargo behind the rear seat from obstructing the view. The new Electronic Precision Shift (it debuts on the XT5 and will be introduced throughout the range) is a clever electronic shifter that’s simple to use and frees up space below for storage. There’s standard stop-start technology, side blind-zone alert, intelligent headlights, a fully adjustable rear seat, optional intelligent cruise control, a new body structure that’s stiffer, safer and lighter (132 kilograms lighter than the SRX; nearly 300 kg lighter than the Mercedes-Benz GLE). And there is, of course, the full range of luxury amenities available like ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, full connectivity and updated CUE (Cadillac User Experience interface), the latter of which is thankfully much improved over previous versions.

And agility, as you might expect from the weight reduction, is likewise improved. But that observation somewhat understates how nimble and easy-to-drive the XT5 is on the road. The new chassis features a latest-generation CDC4 real-time damping system by ZF, hydraulic bushings and a new five-link rear suspension that uses cross-axis ball-joint link pivots (they move fore and aft, but not laterally, which contributes to vehicle stability). The rack-mounted electric power steering features a quick 16.5:1 ratio that makes the XT5 very responsive but doesn’t detract from its substantial feel. It is an easy, responsive and comfortable vehicle to drive.

We didn’t get a lot of variety on Fogo’s roads, however, so the drive impressions are somewhat restricted to shorter, medium-speed trips. What I can tell you is that the cabin is super quiet, the rain-sensing wipers work well (yes, it was wet), outward visibility is good (it was also foggy) and the automatic climate control system and heated steering wheel worked well and were appreciated (and it was cold for our Fogo Island visit, but they did put the conditions to use by supplying iceberg chips to cool our apple cider).

The takeaway is that Cadillac gets luxury. What the company now must do is convince luxury buyers that this is a brand worthy of their consideration. To that end, we’ve seen new Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen (ex-Audi executive) recently open the brand’s global headquarters in New York City, open the first Cadillac coffee shop/boutique/art gallery in the same city (330 Hudson Street, if you’re in the area) and move to establish relationships with established and up-and-coming fashion, art and design luminaries. Kind of Fogo Island Inn-ish, yes?

Cadillac exec’s hinted that maybe we’ll get a store here in Canada, once they begin to proliferate. But right now they’re just looking for the vehicles to proliferate. As mentioned above, as far as sales volume is concerned, the XT5 will likely lead the way.

The 2017 Cadillac XT5 is available now.

Pricing: 2017 Cadillac XT5
XT5 FWD: $45,100
XT5 FWD Luxury: $49,250
XT5 AWD Luxury: $52,120
XT5 AWD Premium Luxury: $$59,830
XT5 AWD Platinum: $$68,595