By on June 4, 2010

Figuratively as well as literally, Bob Lutz’s work at GM is now done. Shortly before the towers fell (it seems so long ago) Rick Wagoner answered many an auto journalist’s prayers by recruiting the living legend to dramatically improve the company’s product development process and the cars it yields. In retiring (not for the first time, but probably for the last time), Lutz has declared this mission accomplished, with GM’s latest cars as proof. The Cadillac SRX 2.8 turbo is the most expensive—and so least cost-constrained—of these new cars. What does it tell us about what Lutz was able to accomplish, and about what work remains?

Historically, the “car guys” within the auto makers have been engineers. And yet Lutz, often proclaimed the ultimate “car guy,” started out in sales and marketing. No matter. Upon arriving at GM, he reduced the power of both marketing and engineering in favor of design. Marketers with questionable taste would no longer interfere. Engineers would no longer decide what could and could not be done. Designers would once again be free to execute their visions. So, if nothing else, the new SRX should look a lot better than the old one.

Not that this was a high bar to clear. Constraints imposed by borrowing heavily from the CTS sedan weren’t the only challenges faces by the designers of the original SRX. It was conceived in cluelessness, with even the vehicle’s basic proportions subject to much doubt. Lexus with its pioneering RX had opted for the chunkiness of an SUV. Should Cadillac do the same, or make the most of a rear-wheel-drive chassis with a longer, lower, more wagon-like shape? Ultimately they opted for the road less traveled—a route even the purveyor of ultimate driving machines dared not take—and paid the price. The original Cadillac SRX won buff book comparison tests. But it did not win the comparison tests that really mattered, and was greatly outsold by the Lexus.

Cadillac didn’t repeat this mistake (yet). For the second-generation SRX it has essentially taken the Lexus RX—chunky proportions, front-wheel-drive platform—and styled it like a Cadillac. Copy cat, cop out, or simply the right way to go? Perhaps all three—they’re not mutually exclusive.

With the new SRX, Cadillac has successfully transferred its Stealth fighter-influenced “art and science” aesthetic to the proportions people clearly prefer in a crossover. This is post-Lutz art and science, so the original’s severe forms have been softened to add some conventional beauty to the mix, but it’s still bolder than the competition and distinctively Cadillac. Look closely at the tail lights for a tasteful homage to the tasteless fins of Cadillac’s glory days. A caveat: wheels make a huge difference. Eighteens, the standard size, never looked so small. This exterior demands the optional 20s. Because of its proportions and those large wheels, the SRX looks like a compact crossover. But don’t let your eyes fool you—with an overall length of 190.3 inches, it’s even a few inches longer than the clearly midsize Lexus RX and Lincoln MKX, and about eight inches longer than the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60.

You can save a bundle by opting for the roomier Chevrolet Equinox or GMC Terrain. But the extra cash for the Cadillac doesn’t only buy a more prestigious badge. The SRX is a half-sib to the mainstream crossovers, sharing some platform bits but not others. It does share a premium platform with the upcoming Saab 9-4X, and even the sound when closing the doors suggests that the Cadillac is a different class of vehicle.

Lutz wasn’t always a champion of interior quality. Under his watch Chrysler cranked out some of the industry’s chintziest cabins. But he saw the light between gigs, and Cadillac benefited most of all. With an upholstered IP, real wood trim, aromatic leather, and snazzy red, white, and blue instrument cluster, the new SRX is far nicer inside than the Equinox and Terrain. As it ought to be. This said, some of the knobs would benefit from a more premium surface and feel. Beyond materials, this is an attractively styled interior, with numerous artfully interesting details.

If only as much thought had gone into the driving position and seats as appears to have gone into the instrument cluster. As in other recent GM designs, the pillars are massive, the base of the windshield is in another timezone, and the beltline is relatively high. Consequences of giving the designers free rein? The beltline and raked windshield, most likely. But surely the A-pillars aren’t monstrous for aesthetic reasons. Or simply for safety reasons—those in the Volvo XC60 are much thinner. So why are they so thick? Bean counters deny requests for the highest strength steel? The engineers would have preferred thinner pillars, so something got in their way and was allowed to stay in their way. Thin pillars must not be a Lutz priority.

Positioning the IP and windshield so far away does enhance perceived roominess. But it also makes the SRX feel larger and less agile, an attribute which, Lutz or no Lutz, continues to typify GM vehicles. Add in the high rising beltline and thick pillars, and visibility from the driver’s seat—a key reason people buy this class of vehicle—isn’t up to the class norm. For backing up you’ll want the optional rearview monitor. An around-view monitor like that offered in Infiniti’s crossovers would provide a more complete picture of what’s going on outside the bunker.

Like those in the CTS, the SRX’s front seats don’t quite feel like luxury car seats. They’re too small and too firm for a luxury vehicle role, yet the bolsters are too widely spaced for a more sporting role. A deal killer for some physiques: the rock hard headrests jut far forward in the interest of whiplash protection. Competitors somehow avoid taking such extreme measures.

Rear seat passengers can get more amenities here than in an Equinox or Terrain, including climate controlled rear air vents and seat heaters. What they don’t get: as much rear legroom as in the Theta twins. And yet there’s still considerably more than most direct competitors offer. Unfortunately, the spec sheet isn’t everything. Many competitors have more comfortably positioned and shaped rear seats. Children also have an easier time seeing out of other crossovers; younger ones will find their view limited to treetops in the SRX. Then again, in an SRX with the optional dual screen video system they won’t be looking out the windows anyway. Cargo volume is competitive. A U-shaped rail for securing cargo looks nifty, but what’s the functional benefit?

The SRX’s standard 3.0-liter V6 kicks out 265 horsepower—at 6,950 RPM. The torque peak, where a much less impressive 223 foot-pounds reside, is a similarly lofty 5,100 RPM. Similar figures amazed the world two decades ago in the Acura NSX. And GM’s new 3.0 might have dazzled in a reworked Kappa sports car. But in a 4,200-pound SUV (4,400 with AWD) it’s out of its element. One gets the impression that GM had a much lower curb weight target for the new SRX (and a number of other recent vehicles), and then missed it by a few hundred pounds—not the sign of a well-functioning product development system. For the 2011 model year, GM has seen the light and yanked this engine from the similarly hefty Buick LaCrosse AWD in favor of the much stronger yet equally efficient 3.6. But the 3.0 soldiers on in the SRX, perhaps because a 3.6 would step on the toes of the optional 2.8-liter turbo.

The 295-horsepower 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 accords itself fairly well in the SRX. Because of the mass it must propel this engine never feels especially strong, but unlike the 3.0 it never feels sluggish or strained, either. Only those paying very close attention will be aware that the engine is boosted. Throttle response isn’t as sharp as it is in the best naturally aspirated engines, and there’s some surging and lulling under light throttle, but boost lag isn’t readily evident. Neither is torque steer—the boosted engine is only available with all-wheel-drive. Fuel economy ranged from 16 MPG in moderately aggressive driving to nearly 20 in casual mixed driving.

The biggest problem with the turbocharged engine: it adds $3,820 to the SRX’s price yet provides only marginally competitive performance and fuel economy in return. For this kind of cash GM should be offering a turbocharged 3.6 with specs like those of Lincoln’s EcoBoost 3.5. In which case a naturally aspirated 3.6 would make a fine base engine. The closest competitors are all fitted with 3.5s for a reason. Where was Lutz’s “car guy” influence when GM was specifying the SRX’s engines? Did he save his love for the Vs?

With the move from the old rear-drive platform to the new front-driver, handling clearly wasn’t going to be a top priority. After all, class-leading handling didn’t do much to make the original SRX a success. And so the SRX meets low expectations here. Steering effort isn’t too light, but nevertheless the overly large, overly thick steering wheel (Lutz’s personal preference?) communicates zero road feel. Need feedback? Turn the wheel and see how much the world beyond the distant windshield rotates. Between the “wide open spaces” driving position and this steering you can forget about forming an intimate connection with this machine. Whether he intended to or not, Lutz doesn’t appear to have done much to make GM’s cars more involving.

A shame, because in other ways GM’s suspension engineers have done surprisingly well with the hand they were dealt. The new SRX’s chassis feels more poised and tightly controlled than that of a Lexus RX, and leans less in turns. An active rear differential helps compensate for the SRX turbo’s 57/43 weight distribution by shunting torque to the outside wheel in turns, but just enough to keep understeer at bay. As in other GM applications of the trick diff you’ll need a loose road surface to induce oversteer via the throttle. This system is not nearly as entertaining as Acura’s SH-AWD system.

Even with the 20-inch wheels the SRX’s ride is absorbent, yet without the bobbling or floatiness that often afflicts softly-suspended SUVs. This outstanding ride-handling compromise might be partly due to the adaptive shocks included with all-wheel-drive on the top two trim levels (also the only trim levels where the turbo engine is offered). Noise levels are very low, but the quality of sound within a Lexus seems just beyond the grasp of GM’s engineers. It’s not just a matter of the sounds you keep out. You also need to let just enough of the right sounds in.

The first SRX proved that driving enthusiasts weren’t a profitable target. So as much as such enthusiasts would like a turbo 3.6 with more communicative steering and more supportive seats, these didn’t happen even with a “car guy” running the show, and aren’t likely to appear in the future. Instead, the new SRX logically pursues the non-enthusiasts who have been buying the Lexus RX, Acura MDX, and Lincoln MKX (yes, lots of X at this party). With product development funds running short, Cadillac wasn’t swinging for the fences this time around; in most respects they aimed for, and achieved, “good enough.”

What, then, will lead buyers to overlook the subpar visibility and opt for Cadillac’s brand of X? In the end, where is Lutz’s influence most evident? Not in anything that requires especially close cross-functional collaboration. Instead, the strengths of the new SRX are in styling and in interior ambiance, signs of a new GM where the designers lead and everyone else “makes it work.” Cadillac’s past successes often followed from prioritizing styling over practical considerations. Does the world now demand more thoroughly integrated and optimized vehicles, or will this work in their favor once again?

Cadillac provided the press-fleet vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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31 Comments on “Review: 2010 Cadillac SRX...”


  • avatar
    John R

    I’m curious. Did Infiniti sell more FXs than GM could sell 1st-gen SRXs?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the FX might have been the only competitor the SRX did outsell, and not by much. An old AN shows the SRX just ahead during the first nine months of the year in both 2008 and 2009. Sadly, Infiniti would sell a lot more units if they rebadged the Murano. Apparently this is not a lesson they care to learn.

      On the reliability front, I’d like to provide stats for the new SRX. Not yet enough owners signed up, though.

      Know someone who owns one? Please send them here:

      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

    • 0 avatar
      daga

      Before 2009, FX was selling consistently 10-20% above SRX. Of course both get absolutely stomped by the RX. (400-600% more sales)

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Fat A-pillars are the bane of the modern car. That coupled with gun-slit windows make GM a prime offender of poor vehicle visibility and therefore questionable safety.

    • 0 avatar

      As noted in the review, The SRX’s are much thicker than those in the Volvo XC60, and I doubt Volvo is shortchanging safety.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Gov’t Motors is in the process of figuring out structural rigidity… and much like Hyundai from 10 years ago, added heft and weight are the only solution they’ve managed to figure out so far.

      Great review, Michael — you identify what’s wrong with the SRX from the enthusiast standpoint, then rightfully point out why GM chose that route.

    • 0 avatar

      I liked the old SRX better than the new one. It was big, bold and very American. I’m not sure what to say about this “lexus clone”.

      Too bad the base models are too slow.
      http://www.epinions.com/content_483642740356

    • 0 avatar
      Wallyray

      I definitely prefer my ’04 SRX, purchased in Jan. ’04, which has never had any repairs. Of course, I only have 70,000 miles on it so far. I would never buy one of those Lexus crossover clones.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Another good review and spot on in most regards. The 3.6 should be the std engine in this heavy cute ute and the thirsty 2.8 shown the door replaced by GM’s upcoming 3.0 liter turbo which is supposed to compete with Fords 3.5 Ecoboost. I also don’t understand why the Equinox’s sliding rear seat isn’t included here. It would give the SRX yet another adavantage over it’s competitors.

  • avatar
    civicguy

    Small thing, but why do most reviewers at TTAC leave out the model year in their review titles? I think it helps keep things straight, especially when OEMs tend to change things often throughout the model. It may be obvious to some, but not to other IMHO.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting and thoughtful review. Speaking as a person who has zero aversion to station wagons (In fact, I own one: a Saab), I gave at least mental consideration to the old SRX, based on the buff book accolades and the external appearance. The turn-off for me was consistently abysmal frequency of repair records in the CR database (which despite its methodological flaws, has proved pretty accurate at predicting the problem areas of cars that I have owned over the years).

    As we know, enthusiasts will put up with no end of repair problems — and bills — just to savor that one epiphanic moment when everything aligns perfectly in a transcendent rush of automotive bliss.

    That doesn’t describe station wagon buyers, however, so I wonder how much the old SRX’s unreliability cost it. Also, it took a few years for Cadillac to get the interior up to par for a car of that price.

    Finally, a suggestion: While the full specs of the car under review are not necessary, the price of it would be a useful piece of information, especially when the review is discussing comparable competitors.

    • 0 avatar

      List price of the Cadillac SRX Premium 2.8T with rear entertainment is $53,980. Not cheap.

      A similarly equipped Lexus RX 350 lists for $51,995. Adjust for the Cadillac’s extra features, though, and TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool puts them $25 apart. At MSRP. Compare invoices, and the Lexus has a $3,000 advantage even after the adjustment.

      A Lincoln MKX is about $300 less before adjusting for feature differences, but includes about $3,000 less stuff.

      http://www.truedelta.com/prices.php

  • avatar
    Seth L

    It sounds decent.

    Michael, how are the reliability numbers on the last generation SRX? Anecdotally it seemed to have a lot of gremlins.

    • 0 avatar

      I have very small sample sizes for the 2004 and 2007 SRX, and not even that for the other years. From the data I have it appears to require about twice as many repairs as the average vehicle. I agree that this could be a major reason it did not sell better.

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    I checked one of these out at the L.A. Auto Show a few months back and was just appalled by the crappy interior fittings. The leather smelled nice but looked cheap, the door panels were made of the same garbage easy-to-scratch plastic stuff that goes into the GMT-900s, and the switchgear was unremarkable.

    There were a few cool details (turn signal indicators, in-speedo LCD) but overall it could have been in a CR-V and not looked terribly out of place. Jumping out of the SRX and into an RX350 was like going from a Focus to a Bentley.

  • avatar
    SV

    Thick pillars seem to be a GM-wide issue. I was in a Malibu recently and shocked at how thick and constricting the A-pillars were. The new LaCrosse is similar.

    Other than that, this is an attractive car, certainly more so than the Lexus RX. A luxo-crossover is not my first choice of vehicle but if I had to choose I think this would be up there, along with the Audi Q5.

  • avatar
    NickR

    “Fuel economy ranged from 16 MPG in moderately aggressive driving to nearly 20 in casual mixed driving.”

    That’s abysmal. I’d be disappointed if this thing had a V8 that did that poorly.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen cockroaches that look better than this thing. Of course, it’s hard to make a crossover look good. In fact, I can’t think of one I like unless you consider the old CRV a xover. In fact, pardon me while I get a little coca cola to calm the nausea. I suspect a xover could be made to look at least decent. but like I said, this one makes roaches look good.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    The Saturn version is actually more appealing (can’t believe I just said that)

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I always liked the old SRX, and kept my eyes open for a low mileage trade-in with the V6 that I might snap up, but never saw one in a color I would go for at a price I would go for. It seems a lot of people (unfortunately) went for the Northstar V8, which while providing plenty of thrust, isn’t anywhere near as reliable as GMs LS V8s, or even GMs V6 that was used in the SRX.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    “I’ve seen cockroaches that look better than this thing.”
    Really? ;)
    http://i212.photobucket.com/albums/cc271/corneliasdad/cockroach.jpg

    It´s ugly, but that´s the nature of crossovers.

    Entusiasts don´t buy those behemoths.

  • avatar
    bulldog

    I have a 2007 SRX AWD Northstar w 52K miles-only problem so far is the sunroof (BIG sunroof) guides failed and the apparatus needed repair-like the power, the 6 spd trans, the size. When parked next to other SUVs we are always amazed how small our SRX is compared to others SUV/Trucks. Have looked at the new SRX and there is not enough there for me to give up what I have-more room, more power, and better mileage- RE mpg-18.8 city/21 hiway-but that CTS V wagon has my interest!

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Folks are complaining about the thick A pillars? They must be huge! My Cobalt’s A pillars were thick enough to actually hide some cars and all motorcycles & bicycles coming towards me for quite a dangerous distance. I learned to not just look to the right (which was usually sufficient in the cars I had before) to make sure it was clear, but to actually lean over to look around the pillar to make sure it was okay to pull out. The Cadillac’s pillars must be like Greek columns if people are complaining. Keep up the good work, GM!!!

    Never buying a GM car again.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    As always, Michael, a great review. I’m still seriously considering this car to replace a European CUV, though driving one a couple days certainly highlights the drawbacks you point out. I would only add that (a) I found it far more pleasurable to drive than the class “benchmark” Lexus RS; (b) I chalk all the wide pillars up to rollover and side impact standards; (c) though purely a matter of personal taste my wife and I find it handsome; and (d) every single person to whom I have spoken who has one claims to LOVE it.

  • avatar
    revolver1978

    I want to like this vehicle, if only because in the used market a CTS wagon will be impossible to find. . . .
    Seeing it right next to the wagon at the auto show was very telling. Not only is it bigger and less fuel efficient, but it has no spare tire (it’s equipped with run-flats.)
    It’s also odd that the Cadillac doesn’t have a rear-view camera standard, but the GMC Terrain does, and at a much lower price point.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    The black cladding on that runs along the bottom of the vehicle really makes it look cheap. Even my “off-road-ready” 4Runner has painted skirts and bumper lowers. I suppose if these portions were painted, it would look less like a high riding SUV and the body would have add’l visual bulk. What is with the underbite in the final picture? MMmmmm french fried potatoes.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    A very thorough and informative review. Keep them coming, Michael!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    A deal killer for some physiques: the rock hard headrests jut far forward in the interest of whiplash protection

    Michael: I’ve noted this as a common complaint in your last few reviews. I suspect that increased attention to the results of whiplash testing is the cause of this, and we’re going to see much more of it as time progresses. Drivers who don’t like it are going to have to get used to it.

    Saab and Volvo have both, traditionally, had very far-forward head restraints. Personally, I quite like them—it’s why I bought a 9-3—but I have very bad posture and carry my head quite far forward as well.

  • avatar
    johnprag

    It’s a good looking vehicle.  I’m considering it against the Audi Q5.  The things I prefer with the Q5 are things like the amber (yellow) rear blinkers, mirror mounted side signal repeaters and the rear fog light.  No American made car offers this safety feature.  After living in Europe for a few years I’ve come to recognize the value of a rear fog lamp!  They really work!


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