BIRMINGHAM, MI – Proving some forms of downsizing can be a good thing, General Motors Co. slims down the ’10 Cadillac SRX to a leaner, sassier cross/utility vehicle intended for broader appeal.

Not that the previous-generation SRX misfired so terribly. Although its optional, hulking Northstar V-8 in today’s political climate would border on scandalous, the previous generation’s available Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) turned in superb car-like handling for a CUV.

And after its ’07 refresh, the interior easily was competitive in the large luxury CUV segment, earning Ward’s Interior of the Year honors.

But the big, boxy rear end of the old SRX turned many people off, while the third-row seating it enabled was awfully cramped for anyone graduated from grammar school.

Consumers said the older model was too wagon-like, even if it was the least expensive entry in its segment.

For proof of their sentiment, look no further than sales of the popular Lexus RX 330 and RX 350 middle luxury CUVs over the lifespan of the first SRX, which launched in 2004.

Between 2004 and 2008, the RX line, which always stood as the SRX’s primary competitor despite occupying separate segments, outsold the Cadillac CUV by a margin of 5-to-1, according to Ward’s data.

Whether consumers gravitate to the new model’s much sportier but still hewn-from-stone exterior styling remains to be seen. However, it definitely stands out in a sea of vanilla-flavored 5-passenger luxury CUVs.

Arriving now and priced at a razor-sharp $34,155 for a starter package including an 8-speaker Bose audio system, 8-way power front seats, full-color driver information center, 18-in. wheels and sophisticated direct-injection V-6 delivering 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on the highway, it also represents a great value.

Plying the downtown streets of this posh Detroit suburb, the SRX’s styling doesn’t just turn heads, it nearly snaps the necks of housewives toting Starbuck’s skim lattes and Prada handbags. In its five years on the road, the SRX has attracted an overwhelmingly female customer base.

Like other Cadillac models, the new SRX glitters as it arrives with its intricately woven, multi-shield grille. But a new, punchier Wreath & Crest badge – it’s about the size of a Nobu party platter – is what really attracts attention.

The fast, sharp lines on this Cadillac sweep the eye rearward, with the only break being a chrome front fender vent housing side marker lamps. The styling finishes as crisply as it begins, with an integrated rear roof spoiler indicating the CUV is as sporty as it is delicately designed.

A standard 18-in. wheel and Michelin tire package smooth out the ride but also nicely fill the wheel wells to add another degree of sure-footed sportiness.

This is where the new SRX departs most abruptly from its predecessor. While shorter in overall length, wheelbase and height than its predecessor, the new model is more than 3 ins. (7.6 cm) wider to give it a more planted stance.

It also rides slightly lower and features a higher beltline that compresses the greenhouse. Combined with a more raked windshield, the new model exhibits a sexy, coupe-like profile, much like other sporty CUVs coming to market.

Together with a tighter suspension, which GM considers a key differentiator between the new SRX and the traditionally plush-riding RX 350, the Cadillac CUV inspires greater confidence on the open road and nimbly darts about traffic and crowded parking lots.

Variable-orifice damping replaces the pricey MRC of previous models, but still optimizes ride and handling depending on the driving mode.

’10 Cadillac SRX
Vehicle type front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger CUV
Engine 3.0L DOHC direct-injection all-aluminum V-6
Power (SAE net) (SAE net) 265 hp @ 6,950 rpm
Torque 223 lb. ft. (302 Nm) @ 5,100 rpm
Compression ratio 11.7:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic w/manual mode
Wheelbase 110.5 ins. (280.7 cm)
Overall length 190.5 ins. (483.9 cm)
Overall width 75.2 ins. (191 cm)
Overall height 65.7 in. (166.9 cm)
Curb weight 4,224 lbs. (1,916 kg)
Base price $34,155
Fuel economy 18/25 (13.1/9.4 L/100 km)
Competition Lexus RX 350, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lincoln MKX, Acura RDX, Infinti FX
Pros Cons
Head-turning exterior Pesky torque steer
Spunky, downsized V-6 Glitch mars lux interior
Tightly sprung suspension Bummer, no ACC

The new SRX slims down by foregoing a third row. But what it sacrifices in people-carrying capacity, this model makes up in desirability. Its target market is not the soccer mom with a gaggle of kids, but 40-something women needing just enough space for a passenger or two and cargo.

Fuel economy improves by downsizing to a standard 3.0L direct-injection gasoline V-6 from a more thirsty 3.6L V-6. The smaller engine actually gains horsepower and torque, while an optional 2.8L turbocharged V-6 coming later in the fall will provide comparable performance to the previously available V-8.

Driving enthusiasts might miss the rear-wheel drive that came standard on previous models. But over four days of testing our front-wheel-driver, we never found ourselves yearning for more lateral grip or lamenting the CUV’s poorer front-to-rear weight distribution.

Cadillac cites studies showing buyers of these vehicles still like performance, but they’re not that detail-oriented. Besides, with only a slight transmission tunnel through the passenger compartment for all-wheel-drive models, legroom for all occupants is generous.

As with all Cadillacs these days, the interior of the new SRX receives cut-and-sew leather that imparts a feeling of handcrafted workmanship.

Our well-equipped tester came with Sapele wood trim that contrasts nicely against soft-looking pearl-nickel accents and chrome door pulls that appear as if they were twisted by a blacksmith.

Second-row seats are configured in a 60/40 split, and a pop-up head restraint improves safety for center passengers. An “UltraView” double-sized glass roof nearly stretches B-pillar to B-pillar and extends over the second row.

Rear cargo capacity is adequate, with a new track-based cargo management system yet to be equipped on early test models. But on separate errands about town, a nifty well under the floor keeps a 2-gallon (7.7 L) gasoline can and half-a-dozen bags of ice from sliding around.

Up front, styling cues resemble that of the CTS sedan, but climate-control vents seem chunkier, perhaps to lend some ruggedness. The driver information center glows a pleasant red and icy blue.

One complaint: The retractable cubby beneath the center stack does not open and close as smoothly as it should, and an unsightly gap at the bottom of the tray mars the otherwise airtight fit and finish.

Also, adaptive cruise control is absent for now and a spare tire is optional, leaving only an inflator kit for roadside emergencies.

Our tester, a mid-range “Performance Collection” model costing $42,175, includes the standard 3.0L DI V-6. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with tap-up/tap-down functionality, it provides ample power.

But under heavy acceleration in the corners, our FWD tester growls back with some nasty torque steer, an almost unavoidable consequence when sending so much power to the front wheels.

Performance models with GM’s advanced AWD system from Haldex AB solves that problem, but the option costs roughly $2,500. The torque-vectoring system sends torque not just from the front to rear axle but from side-to-side, depending on where power is needed. What’s not to like? The redesigned SRX is exactly the CUV Cadillac needs.

Its appeal should cut a wide swath, but mostly it will cement a well-established relationship with women. Like a forcefully driven stiletto heel, this SRX has the potential to dig painfully deep into Lexus’ longtime dominance.

jamend@wardsauto.com