Once upon a time, being the “Cadillac of <insert a noun here>” meant something magical. The problem is: it’s been 60 years since Cadillac was “The Cadillac of cars.” While the phrase lingers inexplicably on, GM is continues to play off-again/on-again with a flagship vehicle for the brand. The latest example is the all-new XTS. Instead of being “the Cadillac of flagships,” the XTS is a place holder until a full-lux Caddy hits. Whenever that may be. In the mean time, Detroit needed to replace the aging STS and the ancient DTS with something, and so it was that the XTS was born of the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Malibu.
Engineers might have tried stretching the STS, or re-skinning the DTS yet again, but cash was in short supply so Caddy found their platform further down the food chain. Engineers took the Epsilon II platform (shared with everything from the Opel Insignia to the Roewe 950), stretched it to 202-inches long and hey-presto, the XTS was born. Unfortunately Cadillac wasn’t allowed to change the platform hard points, so the same 111.7-inch wheelbase and 62-inch track as the rest of the Epsilon rabble remains. With the wheelbase staying the same, the cabin had to be pushed as far to the wheels as possible to maximize interior space. For some gangsta feel, the belt-line was kept high, and for practical reasons the cabin was extended over the trunk to create a coupe-like profile and more rear headroom. Just for kicks the XTS’s narrow nose was raked to create a “cowcatcheresque” profile. The result is a sedan with awkward proportions, especially when parked next to the CTS, ATS, STS or DTS. (Wow that’s a whole bunch of TSs.)
Of course, style seems to be a problem for American luxury brands lately. Lincoln’s new nose took the recently refreshed MKS from country-farm-girl to tragic-farming-accident and while Chrysler doesn’t pretend to play in this segment, the new 300 is less attractive than its predecessor. (The 300 is unquestionably the most attractive and commanding sedan in this trio however.) What redeems the XTS? It still has plenty of bling and the fin is back. I must admit, I have the fin-love that dare not speak its name. Honestly.
The problem with an awkward exterior is that first impressions matter. Pity. The XTS has GM’s best interior ever. Aside from the bugaboo of a plastic airbag cover (an ailment many luxury brands suffer from), every touch point is near perfection. From the tasteful two-tone stitched dash to the microfiber headliner, the XTS’s materials would pass an Audi taste test. Compared to the MKS, the Cadillac is more attractive and assembled with more precision. Compared to the Chrysler 300’s new luxury level interior, the Caddy is the place to be even though the 300’s leather dash is sublime. Unfortunately every silver lining has a cloud, and so it is with the XTS. There was a pleather dash part that was strangely crinkled and the glove box would routinely fall open beyond its stops and crash completely to the floor. (Check out the video for that.)
Thanks to the XTS’s odd profile, rear seat legroom measures out at 40-inches, 1.4 ahead of the MKS while also providing 46-inches of legroom up front (four more than MKS.) In addition, the XTS provides more head room in the rear and much nicer trappings. As proof that more traditional body shape provides more rear room, Chrysler’s 300 bests the XTS by 1/10th in rear legroom and rear headroom but in true-livery fashion leaves less space to the driver. Because the XTS is narrower than the competition, sitting three abreast in the rear is a “cozy” affair.
All XTS models get the new “Cadillac User Experience” or CUE system controlled by a gorgeous 8-inch LCD in the dash. Most navigation systems use a resistive touchscreen with a matte plastic surface that can easily scratch and causes images to look “fuzzy” at times. Cadillac stuck out their neck and used a more expensive capacitive touchscreen with a glass surface that is easy to clean and delivers graphics that are crisper than any system I have seen to date. What was Caddy’s muse? Think iPad.
Powering the LCD is software that gives MyLincoln Touch a run for its money. CUE supports “natural” voice commands to control the majority of system functions from iPod control to destination entry. Cadillac has gone USB crazy with three USB ports that all provide enough power to charge an iPad, something very few systems can do. CUE takes a novel approach to using multiple USB devices, the system indexes them together as if they were one music library so there’s no need to switch from one to the other to look for a song. CUE also sports the best iOS device integration available, for more information, check out the video at the top of the review.
Base XTS models come with an 8-speaker Bose system while upper trim levels of the XTS get a 14 speaker surround system with speakers integrated into the front seat backs. The 8 speaker system is well-balanced but seemed unable to handle moderate volume levels without some distortion. Thankfully the 14 speaker system proved an excellent companion and competes well with the up-level systems from the Germans.
As you would expect with a first generation system, I encountered a few hiccups. Despite the screen being large and high-resolution, CUS uses fairly “chunky” maps that lack detail and aren’t as attractive as iDrive. In addition, the “soft” menu buttons around the map cut the window down to a narrow slot making it difficult to use CUE as a map when navigating around downtown. The ability to “multi-touch” gesture on the screen for zooming sounds cool, but the response time is slow and the process proved more aggravating than useful. Lastly, much like Ford’s Touch system, CUE crashed frequently (four times in a week). While the crashing is a concern, my statement about Ford’s system applies equally to CUE: I can handle occasional crashing as long as the rest of the system is snazzy and does everything I want my car to do. Still, let’s hope Cadillac has a software update pronto.
The XTS is a conflicted vehicle. For every awkward exterior angle, there is a tasteful dash seam. For every complaint I have about CUE, there is a 12.3-inch LCD “disco dash” that stole my geeky heart. Sure, the cost of LCD-admission is the $54,505 XTS Premium, but this is the best LCD instrumentation ever. Yes, Jaguar/Land Rover/Mercedes have been toying with large LCDs for a while and even Dodge has a moderately configurable screen in the Dart, but the XTS makes use of the LCD. Huh? In JLR products, the LCD has one “look” (imitating traditional dials) and if you don’t like it that’s just tough. Cadillac gives you four layouts that range from traditional gauges to a modern digital theme and allows sections of the display to be further customized.
In addition to the LCD gauges, the XTS offers available pre-collision warning, lane departure warning, cross traffic detection, blind spot monitoring, heads-up display, adaptive cruise control and a system that will automatically stop you if you try to back over Jimmy on his skateboard. Most of these systems communicate with you through your backside via a seat that vibrates the cheek corresponding to the side of the vehicle that is in danger. Sound strange? It was, yet I found myself changing lanes sans signals so the “Magic Fingers” would feel me up.
Under the stubby hood you’ll find one engine: GM’s 3.6L direct-injection V6. Instead of the 321HP/275lb-ft tune the baby Caddy uses, this mill produces a more sedate 304HP at 6,800RPM and 264lb-ft at 5,200RPM (400RPM higher than the ATS’s peak). While there are rumors of a twin-turbo V6, I will believe it when I see it. Until then, all the power is sent to the front wheels via the GM/Ford 6-speed transaxle, or to all four wheels if you opt for a $2,225 Haldex AWD system.
Our AWD tester hit 60MPH in 6.1 seconds so it’s hard to call the XTS slow, but neither is it fast. The problem is the 260lb-ft versus a 4,200lb curb weight. While the base MKS (3.7L V6) is slower at 6.5 seconds, Lincoln’s twin-turbo bruiser gets the job done in 5.1. The 300 hit 60 in 6.3 thanks to its greater mass, but the 300’s 8-speed transmission allowed it to tie the XTS for a 14.9 Second 1/4 mile at 93 MPH.
My week with the XTS started with a journey to sample the 2013 Chevy Malibu turbo. The event made me wish GM’s new 2.0L turbo had been jammed into the XTS. Why? Because the Malibu hit 60 in 6.2 thanks to 260lb-ft plateau from 1,500-5,800RPM and delivered 24.7MPG in mixed driving. Our AWD XTS eeked out 18.9MPG in a highway-heavy cycle and FWD XTS shoppers should only expect one more MPG.
Acceleration quibbles aside, the XTS’s road manners are impeccable. The XTS proved a faithful companion on Northern California mountain highways thanks to the AWD system, GM’s “HiPer Strut” suspension design and Magnaride electronically controlled dampers. The oddly named suspension design moves the steering axis to a more vertical orientation closer to the center of the tire, reduces the scrub radius and helps keep the contact patch more consistent. Whatever the name, the system just works. The benefit is most obvious in the FWD XTS where it quells the torque steer demon but it also pays dividends in the AWD model by keeping the wheel more vertical thereby improving grip. While I wouldn’t call the overall dynamic “sporty,” the XTS is confident and predictable. Of course the 300’s rear-wheel setup makes it more fun and the MKS exhibited less body roll, but the XTS’s well sorted suspension and Magnaride system make it an excellent all-around performer.
I left my week with the XTS more confused than when we met and I’m no closer to understanding who the XTS is for. The Chrysler 300 makes a better performance vehicle with the 5.7L V8 and a better livery vehicle due to the rear seat dimensions. Lincoln’s twin-turbo V6 is insane and addictive in its own way, and Lincoln will (optionally) toss in quantities of real-wood that would make Jaguar blush. BMW, Audi and Mercedes have better brand names, more polished interiors and a complete line of engines that range from normal to 400+ horsepower. The XTS on the other hand is a confident-handling technological four de force dressed in a corduroy leisure suit. With leather elbow patches. And a fedora.
Cadillac provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of fuel for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.48 Seconds
0-60: 6.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.9 Seconds @ 93 MPH