Large organizations are prone to overly simplistic thinking. It’s just too hard to communicate anything complicated or nuanced to all involved. One overly simple idea: reduce the size of the engine, and fuel economy will improve. Need a performance variant? Shrink the engine a little more and add a turbo. The actual result in the case of the Cadillac SRX: a base engine with too little torque and an optional engine for which GM charged $3,820—to provide performance similar to everyone else’s base engines. For 2012, the SRX receives a solution that was obvious from the start: the corporate 3.6-liter V6 replaces last year’s 3.0-liter. The turbocharged 2.8 is gone. And?
And the 3.6-liter V6, revised for 2012, performs adequately. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t have an upscale or sophisticated sound, but it isn’t hard on the ears, either. It’s not quick—the SRX with all-wheel-drive weighs 4,442 pounds, about 300 more than the CTS sedan powered by a 318-horsepower longitudinal variant of this engine—but it’s not slow, either. The all-wheel-drive system includes an active rear differential, but the engine, while dramatically torquier (265 pound-feet at 2,400 rpm, up from the 3.0′s 223 at 5,100), still isn’t torquey enough to take advantage of it. Fuel economy? The trip computer reported about 17 miles-per-gallon in suburban driving, about 21 on the highway. The EPA numbers: 16 / 23, just a bit worse than the “fuel-saving” 3.0′s 17 / 23 and better than the 2.8 turbo’s 15 / 22.
With the new 308-horsepower engine (up from 265 for the 3.0 and 295 for the 2.8T), the Cadillac edges even closer to the class norm. The Lexus RX 350 has a 275–horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The Lincoln MKX a 305-horspower 3.7. The Acura MDX a 300–horsepower 3.7. The others are all within 150 pounds of Cadillac (the Lexus a little lower, the Lincoln and Acura a little higher). All have six-speed automatic transmissions and all-wheel-drive systems that engage when the front wheels slip (the Acura’s system in a more proactive manner than the others). So straight line performance is similar.
Braking, not so much. The Cadillac might stop as well as the others (I didn’t measure this) but its brakes require an unusually large amount of force. At a BMW comparison drive I attended about a year ago, the organizers felt the need to warn all participants about the SRX’s brakes. On the other hand, if you like a very firm brake pedal, the Cadillac delivers.
Dimensionally all four luxury crossovers are again similar, and so all are similarly larger and bulkier than the relatively spry Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Volvo XC60. The Cadillac feels especially solid and has the most tightly damped suspension of the bunch, but still manages to feel larger and bulkier than it actually is thanks to numb steering and a distant windshield. If it’s any more fun to drive than the others this is strictly relative. Of course, Cadillac tried catering to driving enthusiasts with the original SRX, and it sold poorly. The current one, with its much more mainstream (i.e. Lexus RX-like) configuration, is selling far better.
In terms of interior dimensions, the Cadillac doesn’t quite measure up, with a somewhat tighter rear seat and cargo area than the others. The Acura is the champ here, with a wider cabin and a third-row seat (adults only in a pinch). But the Cadillac isn’t so far behind that these deficits are deal-killers. The front seat, which is a much higher priority for many buyers, feels fairly roomy. What it doesn’t feel: notably comfortable. The cushion is flat and firm, even hard. Among this year’s Cadillacs, only the upcoming XTS has the large, cosseting seats many people expect in a Cadillac.
My favorite feature in the Cadillac: a rear seat belt reminder that shows which of the three are in use and lights up a warning if any are undone while the car is still in motion. This feature is very useful if you have kids—no need to visually check whether they’ve buckled up. I expect to find it in more and more car models going forward. Perhaps even all of them, if car safety regulators get their way.
The tested SRX, the top trim with all-wheel-drive and optional dual-screen entertainment system, lists for $51,055. Compared to the Lincoln MKX, the Cadillac is priced within $500. Adjust for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool bumps the Cadillac’s advantage to $2,000 at MSRP, $1,100 at invoice (Cadillac dealers must work with especially miserly margins). The Lexus is the one both Cadillac and Lincoln are gunning for. When the RX 350 and SRX are both similarly loaded up, the Lexus costs about $3,000 more—at MSRP. Compare invoices, and they’re only about $400 apart because Lexus dealers enjoy much more generous margins. Adjust for remaining feature differences and the Cadillac’s price advantage grows by about $1,200. The Acura is priced a little higher than the Lexus. So the Cadillac is actually the least expensive. With the $3,820 2.8 turbo, it lost this important advantage. So in this respect the new 3.6-liter engine is very successful.
The rear seat belt reminder doesn’t turn you on? Going over the specs and features, now that the weak base engine is history nothing else stands out, positively or negatively? Why, then, pick the Cadillac over the others? One word: styling. The Acura, Lexus, and Lincoln are nothing special to look at. The last still looks a bit much like…a Ford. The Cadillac, with its chunky styling and aggressive stance (with the must-have 20-inch wheels), looks nothing like the others and nothing like a Chevrolet, either. Instead, it appears crisp and upscale, especially in “gray flannel metallic,” vying with the second-generation CTS as the best realization of the marque’s polarizing art-and-science design language. You might not like it, but you won’t mistake it for something else. Judging from sales, plenty of people do like it.
Cadillac provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.