PARADISE VALLEY, AZ — The program headquarters during test drives of the all-new Cadillac SRX and XLR is a resort nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain.
The town's name is appropriate for Cadillac dealers and enthusiasts. They should be in paradise. It would be hard to be anywhere else whenCorp.'s luxury division is debuting a vehicle into the hot cross/utility segment and a convertible sports coupe simultaneously. “We've had some success,” Cadillac General Manager Mark LaNeve says. “It's just begun in a way. But indications are we're on the right track.”
Road track or warning track? Well, it is baseball season.
Batting lead off, the Escalade SUV got the Cadillac resurgence under way in 2001. Next up, the CTS sedan went on to success in 2002 (although European and Japanese buyers have yet to cast their votes). Now it's time for SRX and XLR to step to the plate. Can Cadillac hit another one over the fence? Lets call it a ground-rule double.
SRX is headed for the all-star team. Disbelievers of Cadillac's revival: Prepare to be converted. SRX is executed better than CTS or Escalade. The CUV offers all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive. It's powered by a choice of engines — an all-new 3.6L DOHC V-6 producing 260 hp or the next-generation 4.6L Northstar V-8 generating 320 hp. Both engines are mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Only the bigger powerplant is available for our test drive. Caddy is focusing exclusively on V-8 sales during the early months of SRX's public rollout, which gets under way this summer.
Northstar's performance is hampered during testing as it struggles to breathe on mountain roads climbing above 7,000 ft. (2,134 m). While power off the line is adequate but not stunning, SRX flexes its muscle in passing mode. But the story of SRX's engine performance really should be told with subtitles because inside the cabin it feels like a silent movie. Noise levels rival Lexus, even beating the LS 430 at 2,500 rpm by 1 db, according to GM Powertrain data. GM addressed engine noise by using a polymer coating on the pistons, a steel crankshaft, stronger ribs on the oil pan, a fuel-rail damper, an acoustic engine cover and a cast-iron exhaust manifold — features not used on Northstar's front-wheel-drive version.
SRX's low center of gravity and a chassis management system that includes 4-channel Stabilitrak and Magnetic Ride Control permits the CUV to handle a twisting road course as well as the CTS. The SRX is 2 ins. (5.1 cm) lower than Chevy TrailBlazer and 0.5 ins. (1.3 cm) lower than theX5. The AWD system effortlessly pulls the SRX up a steep dirt hill. SRX's driving experience boils down to one word: confident.
The interior includes two segment-busting options: a power folding third seat and a mammoth 5.6-ft. (1.7-m) sunroof. The roomy interior will make competitors jealous (especially CUV-less Lincoln). But the gauges are morbidly black and need a styling enhancement — perhaps silver rings. The instrument panel top hat features a graph-paper-inspired design that feels better than it looks. Visibility is good, although the arched rear window imposes some limitations. SRX's exterior design continues Cadillac's diamond-cut styling. And it successfully poses the question that every CUV should. Is it a car or a truck?
There is no quandary trying to classify the next batter on deck: the XLR. It's a dazzling sports coupe, bearing some resemblance to an offshore boat with its long nose and stunted tail. However, XLR is an oddity: a convertible that looks better with its top up. It may be the most complex retractable hard top system, taking nearly 30 seconds to fold down automatically.
While driving with the top up, it doesn't feel like you're carrying an umbrella. Anyone under 6-ft. 5-ins. tall (195 cm) won't have a problem sitting inside. However, noticeable wind noise emits from over the driver's left shoulder. Something isn't fitting right. With the top down at 70 mph (112 km/h), air currents annoyingly bump the driver's headrest forward.
The Bvlgari-designed gauges are classy. GM chose a dull material for the center stack to reduce glare and prevent fingerprint smudges. But the result is a covering that disrupts interior continuity. The DVD navigation system is slapped into the instrument panel with little consideration for integration.
The posh steering wheel includes controls for an impressive adaptive cruise control (ACC) that won't give you whiplash. The ACC system controls the same Northstar engine found in the SRX, although it's geared slightly different and will propel you to 60 mph (97 km/h) more than a second faster at 5.8 seconds. The powerplant is mated to a 5-speed automatic gearbox with Driver Shift Control. If you're a fan of auto-shift transmissions, XLR's system won't change your mind. It's capable, but unremarkable.
The aluminum-composite hybrid suspension handles sharp corners and loose curves with no problem. But without significant down force, such as hitting a lazy dip on the freeway at 70 mph (112 km/h), the suspension acts squirrelly. Too much bounce. XLR's suspension geometry and damping characteristics need some fine-tuning. There is surprisingly adequate trunk space. Throw in the cleats, baseball glove and bat.
As if the SRX and XLR double play isn't enough, the test drive also includes the '04 CTS featuring some interior upgrades, retuned suspension and an all-new 3.6L V-6 engine (automatic transmission models only) with variable valve timing and dual-outlet exhaust. The powerplant cranks out 255 hp, up from 220 hp currently. The 35-hp increase isn't as noticeable as it should be.
Well, triple plays are difficult to complete — even in paradise.