Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Cadillac XT5 AWD Platinum

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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Things were so much simpler in the 20th century. Enter your favourite wine store, and you’d see solid, clear offerings of a precise variety: bordeaux, cabernets, chardonnays, merlots, and pinots.

All perceived flavours are of authentic sources: the wood is wood, the leather is the real thing, even up on the dashboard, and the suede-looking material used throughout is, indeed, suede.

Red or white. Simple.

Today it’s all about the blends.

The blends also took over the car market at the turn of the century, only here, we call them “crossovers”.

Oil-swilling car guys love their sport cars, sedans, and trucks, but identity-challenging crossovers are taking the market by storm. And whether labelled as coupes, sport utilities, or what not, you can’t read what they are just by looking at their names.

Car connoisseurs may turn up their noses at the vehicular mish-mash. But just like blended varietals, the crossovers come in many shapes, sizes, and flavours, customized to each individual’s taste, no matter what the critics think.

And some of them are starting to be swayed, accepting the new ways. Many producers have found success in this novel field, even that bastion of tradition, Château Cadillac.

The Look

To be fair, Cadillac embraced the winds of change long ago. The first CTS marked the entry of “Art and Science” approach and ousted Landau roofs for good.

The firm and bold base of the CTS was the bones on which Cadillac’s first crossover, the SRX, was built. This seven-seater was a critical darling, garnering rave reviews – but a cold reception in the marketplace.

For its second generation, the SRX shelved the rear-wheel-drive architecture and third row, reinvented as a moderately blinged, five-seater whose sales took off while reviews plummeted.

Classic Caddie sedans, meanwhile, were left to age on the shelves.

Enter the XT5. In mid-2016, Cadillac replaced the SRX with this new crossover, labelled as a 2017 and underpinned by the brand-new C1XX platform, one shared with the new generations of Terrain, Traverse, and Enclave.

Nurtured for the premium market the XT5 runs in, the platform was trimmed of rear overhang – as no third row was needed – and offered an expanded wheelbase over the SRX, to provide dignified legroom in the second row.

Despite casting a similar shadow to the SRX, the XT5 boasts a foodie-fit 140 kg weight reduction. (Still, at two imperial tons, it provides a solid pairing to a 3,500 lb tow of your choice.) This weight reduction was obtained through a careful blend of four types of steel, welded and bonded together. Subframes are rubber-isolated to keep noise, vibration, and harshness under control. The suspension is, of course, independent at all four corners and graced with thick sway bars.

Cadillac’s designers gave the XT5 a dashing silhouette. The front end is front-of-the-cellar worthy, with slim, signature LED headlights bracketing the traditional egg-crate grille, which, while hard to ignore, doesn’t revel in the excesses of some competitors.

In profile, the lines subtly rise towards a Kammback tail, gently held by finned taillights that are perhaps wanting for more daylight details. The tester’s 20-inch alloy wheels fill the huge wheel wells, with a pronounced “tail up” attitude.

Limiting overhangs and placing the wheels right at the four corners make the XT5 appear smaller than it is, but muscular and athletic. Wrapped in an understated Harbor Blue Metallic, new for 2018, and donning a tasteful splash of chrome, the XT5 delights and proves it firmly belongs with other premium offerings.

Under the hood you’ll find General Motor’s new 3.6-litre V6, a modern direct-injected DOHC design that only shares its capacity with previous offerings, coupled to a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission.

This modern mill offers cylinder deactivation, auto stop-start technology and variable valve timing. Optional all-wheel drive sends power to the rear wheels via a computer-controlled triple clutch setup developed by Haldex; the first one couples the transaxle to the rear wheels, while two others in the rear axle split torque between left and right. A clever assemblage, I must say.

The Nose

This specific XT5 is wearing the Platinum trim. The bouquet is of fine aromas: semi-aniline leathers, suede, and wood notes. All perceived flavours are of authentic sources: the wood is wood, the leather is the real thing, even up on the dashboard, and the suede-looking material used for the headliners, roof pillars, and dash fascia is, indeed, suede, providing a luxurious atmosphere.

As a tribute to a Canadian spring tradition, the tester’s interior colour is named “Maple Sugar”, but while pleasing to the eyes, a word of caution is due for blue jeans lovers: even though barely 8,000 km had passed on the odometer, dye transfer was sadly quite in evidence on the driver’s seat.

Your first impression when boarding will be the nose of flagrant leather, followed by the revelation of a driving position that is somewhat lower than in the more plebeian C1XX cousins. The XT5 offers, however, that elusive “natural” seat height where one neither climbs nor drops in the vehicle.

While the visual mix of pale leather, reddish wood and black plastics is pleasing to the eyes, it is readily apparent why most competitors choose to put black on the upper portion of the instrument panel: the vast, light beige leather surface on top generates distracting reflections in the windshield, annoying at times, such as in the momentary blindness when entering a car park.

With three memory settings, fully electric adjustments for seating and steering wheel, finding one’s perfect position is easy as (maple sugar) pie. Said steering wheel is thankfully all black, with a thick leather rim and beautifully enhanced with wood trim. The heated rim was much appreciated in this frigid spring, however, the temperature contrast with the cold metal trim one inevitably touches at three and nine will drive your hands higher or lower on the rim.

Cadillac’s infamous CUE (Cadillac User Experience) sits centre stage, and while its menus are somewhat improved, it is lacking the refined, tactile feel of the redundant buttons and – egad – volume knob that grace the Enclave.

The touch controls that sit below the screen offer varied and irregular responses, especially the volume bar, which I rapidly abandoned, preferring the steering wheel buttons. Using the volume control on the tactile screen was simply an exercise in frustration. If exploring CUE with the vehicle immobilized in Park, a few clever features can be found, like the automated heat setting for the steering wheel and seats. It proved well-adapted to temperature changes, however the seat heaters seem to be designed for Sonoma Valley winters, never really reaching toasty levels. Set below CUE are the HVAC controls that are better left in “auto”, as the thin-plastic-skinned buttons offer no tactile joy.

In the true Cadillac spirit, the rear seats are regal, with fore–aft movement along the cushion’s 60/40 split, reclining seatbacks (with 40/20/40 division), centre armrest, and heated outboard positions. Rear seat riders even get their own HVAC controls where they can set air flow and temperature. Despite the high beltline, the rear compartment is airy thanks to the vast panoramic glass roof.

The trunk is enormous and will easily accommodate the requisite set of golf clubs. An in-floor track system comes with a moveable partition that is practical, if a bit flimsy feeling. When not in use it can be collapsed and secured in the under-floor compartment; this deep cave is a good place to hide your valuables from daylight. Manual controls allow one to drop the rear seats from the cargo area, although there is no electric help to raise them back up, a bit lacking at this price range. The hatch itself is powered, although the hands-free mode never quite worked for me.

The Palate

To properly conduct a tasting, one has to cleanse their palate to remove previous impressions. And I had just experienced an Escalade, whose Start button awoke a refined yet subdued menace from under-hood.

There was no such aural pleasure with the XT5.

Despite its impressive data sheet, the sound of the 3.6L V6 at idle brought me right back in time to my mother’s 3.1L Chevy Celebrity. And that memory stayed under all conditions except full throttle.

The XT5 badly needs improved exhaust acoustics unless its vintners want the experience to remain forever corked. To add insult to injury, the rental car soundtrack is ever present, even at residential speeds, as the entire engine compartment appears to lack any serious form of soundproofing, unlike the rest of the chassis.

Cadillac’s engineers need to take a Buick Enclave Avenir for a spin, to see how the same 3.6L V6 can sound. While at it, they can have a look at the transmission’s Pause-Clunk!-Found! gear antics when the driver decides not to stop completely and resumes throttling ahead.

The 14-speaker Bose stereo provides aural pleasure the drivetrain can’t dream of, so my muse Lana was part of all drives.

While all XT5 variations share the same drivetrain – the only option being front- or all-wheel drive – the Platinum comes with 235/50R20 tires on polished wheels and continuous damper control shocks supplied by ZF Sachs. As a result, even when set in the softer of three settings (Tour, AWD, and Sport), the XT5 offers a rather firm ride (watch for spills).

The steering is pleasantly heavy, and the XT5 attacks corners with surprising aplomb for a crossover. Brakes are also strong, with a firm and reassuring pedal. Clearly, the top-of-the-line Platinum trim is the sportier offering, placing the XT5 nearer its German rivals and further away from merlot-mellow competitors such as the Lexus RX.

The rear body structure sadly creaked like an oak barrel on bad surfaces, perhaps a sign of excessive rigidity in the dampers, and not enough of it in the structure that surrounds the hatch opening. Pushing the stubby electronic shifter to “M” unlocks the hidden paddles behind the steering wheel, but between their poor location and the eight gears to get lost in, there’s not much point to them in regular driving. I soon told myself that elevating the experience would involve inserting Cadillac’s turbocharged 2.0L four under the elegant hood, for presence, playfulness, and torque.

Funny I should say so, as Cadillac does indeed build this variation… for the Chinese market.

Buyers looking at a gentler blend would do better with the lower-end varieties, sporting 18 inch wheels, more sidewall and conventional damping. Their prices are also more palatable.

Cadillac’s sales are on the rise lately, which seems to support this theory.

The XT5 boasts excellent all-around visibility despite the high beltline (you’ll feel that one though when swiping your parking card). The camera-based interior rear-view mirror takes some getting used to, akin to wearing your first set of progressive lenses, but once you adjust to it, you’ll love the way it covers blind spots thanks to its wide angle view. Should you not adapt, a regular mirror is available at a flip of a switch.

While I have my doubts about the value of the Platinum trim, I heartily recommend the Driver Assist Package. The adaptive, full-speed-range cruise control is smooth and efficient, to the point you forget it’s even there – no Acura jerkiness here. Should that semi cut you off too, the automated brakes are quick to react, although the self-tightening seatbelts that tug at you at every departure are annoying.

The cross-traffic alert is extremely efficient when backing out of a blind parking spot, and will vibrate the seat on the side of the incoming vehicle. And, trust me, you’ll swing parallel parking manoeuvres at every opportunity just to appreciate the XT5’s impressive automated dexterity in this field.

The Finish

While we’re taking notes, let’s appreciate the fact that the XT5 rolls on regular fuel, a rare frugality in the premium world. However, under my tenure, it swigged at an indicated rate of 12.9 L/100 km under urban mixed driving, despite the eight cogs, the cylinder deactivation, and automatic stop-start. This is less than 3.0 L/100 km better than my previous week’s Escalade.

Somebody scored a 7.5 L/100 km on the trip computer, so the potential is there. With fresh, crisp looks, an aromatic interior, a lively chassis, and a splash of technology, the XT5 is a vibrant alternate offering in the premium crossover segment, but one that would be elevated to top-tier contender status by pairing this beguiling package with the 2.0T mill the Chinese are getting.

With such a pairing, more zip would be achieved, and with less sip, one would hope.

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 310 hp @ 6,600 rpm
Peak Torque 271 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 12.8/9.3/11.2 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 849 / 1,784 L seats down
Model Tested 2018 Cadillac XT5 AWD Platinum
Base Price $69,110
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,000
Price as Tested $73,805
Optional Equipment
$2,595 – Driver Assist Package (Adaptive cruise control with full speed range, automatic safety belt tightening, automatic parking assist, automatic collision braking, forward/reverse automatic braking) $2,595