Stress and nervous tension are now serious social problems in all parts of the Galaxy, and it is in order that this situation should not be in any way exacerbated that the following facts will now be revealed in advance.
Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
The Cadillac XTS is a good car.
Those who wish to know why I feel this to be true, or to shout angrily at me in the comments, may feel free to click the “Read More” button now.
It’s no secret to any Friends of Bark (whom shall now be referred to as FOB) that, when it comes to picking rental cars, I dig the Chevy Impala. It’s powerful enough to break the front tires loose in just about any situation, and large enough to legally carry three to four adult colleagues (or illegally transport six adults across the border into Canada, but I don’t recommend doing that).
However, the Impala’s stablemate, the Buick LaCrosse, has always felt just a bit … meh. Perhaps there’s no rationale for me to prefer the Impala over the LaCrosse (other than sticker price), but I just feel like the Impala has more presence; more testosterone. The exhaust note of the Impala alone is reason enough for me to stroll past the Buick parked in the Emerald Aisle on my way to throw my bags into my (rental car agency) homie’s Impala.
But when I saw a National employee returning a brand-new 2016 Cadillac XTS to the lot, still dripping water and soap droplets from the car wash, I viewed is as my opportunity to complete my experience of driving the General’s Epsilon II triumvirate.
The XTS is refreshed for 2016, featuring a new grille, wireless charging, and Surround Vision, which Cadillac describes as “a four-camera system that displays a bird’s eye view of the XTS to assist when maneuvering in and out of tight spots.” I describe it as “a system that makes deafening noises that scare the shit out of you while you’re parking.” I hope there’s a way to turn it off; I didn’t discover one.
The biggest update to the XTS for the new model year is Apple’s marvelous CarPlay. I’ve always enjoyed using CarPlay in the Impala and LaCrosse because it simply works the way that it’s supposed to. Well, at least it does in the Impala and the LaCrosse. With the XTS, however, CarPlay has the misfortune of being paired with CUE, which meant that it caused my phone to freeze up with frustrating regularity, failed to display my Spotify playlists, and often went silent when giving instructions. Oh, CUE. You’re still awful.
My particular XTS rental was of the front-wheel-drive “Luxury” trim variety, which is above “Standard” but below “Premium” and “Platinum,” and stickers for $51,240 in Crystal White Tricoat paint. All XTS models come with front Brembo calipers and Magnetic Ride Control, and it was in the performance of these two components that the XTS began to show why it just might be worth the price premium over its fellow GM triplets.
The XTS is still remarkably quick for a car of its considerable girth, with enough power to spin the front wheels at launch in any weather condition. It was more than enough to gain the attention of Dunwoody’s finest when I combined the power from the GM 3.6-liter V-6 with the XTS’ responsive suspension and strong stopping power. I had a squad car following me for about five turns until he finally gave up and moved along, giving me a surprised glance as he passed by. I don’t think the officer was expecting to see a thirty-something behind the wheel of Caddy’s luxobarge.
But behind the wheel isn’t a bad place to be. In fact, it can be downright nice. The Luxury trim means a standard heating steering wheel, as well as heated and cooled seats. The wheel has electric telescoping and height adjustment, although I didn’t like the tilt of the wheel — felt too much like driving a school bus. The support from the seats is more than adequate, even for spirited driving. My 5-foot-9-inch, 170 pound frame fits well in every car, so I tossed the keys to two different colleagues this week to get their opinions.
First up was Michelle, a 5-foot-nothing, 95-pound former Pac-12 cheerleader in her early 30s, who borrowed the XTS to go shopping at the mall. “I didn’t think I’d really like it,” she told me after taking it for a spin. “But it’s actually a nice car. It’s faster than I need it to be, and the trunk was huge!”
Next was Mo, a 6-foot, 240-pound former Marine who daily drives an Impala. “It’s really nice to drive. I like how it handles, but I don’t think I’d want to drive something that big.” When I told him that it was essentially the same size as his Impala, he was surprised. “It feels and drives bigger than that.”
Both of them were correct. The XTS is a really nice car to drive, but it does feel surprisingly big on the roads. I couldn’t find a mirror position that I liked, and the blind spots were fairly massive on the driver’s side. The lack of a standard sunroof in a $50,000 car is bizarre and it makes the cabin feel dark and much smaller than it is. But the rear seat!
Oh, the rear seat is glorious. It’s big enough to fit three adults comfortably, and will even warm their rumps as standard (one colleague remarked, “Warm asses aren’t just for adults anymore!”). There’s no road trip too long and no linebackers too big for this bench seat. One could happily throw a black hat to a friend and cruise in luxury in the back; only a bottle of Grey Poupon would be needed to make it perfect.
This Cadillac is a car stuck between generations. Intended to be a one-generation, large-car bridge to the CT6, it still seems to be the most Cadillac-ish car that GM offers for sale in 2016. Cadillac might want a younger demographic and a sportier image, but the XTS isn’t a bad car for what Cadillac’s image actually is. When the XTS dies by the 2019 model year, the over 20,000 annual XTS buyers (it outsold the CTS in 2015, as well as competitors from Audi and Lexus) might be stuck without a suitable replacement. Good luck convincing a lifelong Caddy man to buy a Buick. Where are they going to go? Acura? Audi? Hyundai? Lexus? Toyota? As long as there are bluehairs in Florida, there should be a big, front-wheel-drive Cadillac.
The XTS isn’t going to win many comparo tests with the new E-Class, nor is it going to give many journos cause to celebrate it. Doesn’t matter. The XTS fits a niche for GM, and it does it correctly. Sure, the price is steep, but the demographic that’s buying it wouldn’t want it to be any cheaper, lest it lose some of its panache at the club. Could it use a V-8? Sure. Does it need one? No, I don’t believe it does. The naturally-aspirated V6 provides 306 horsepower and 252 lbs-ft of torque, which is more oomph than any of this car’s target audience needs and more than most of its competitors.
As I said to kick this thing off, the XTS is a good car. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. And in this world of “Sucks or Rocks,” that doesn’t make for a much of a Hot Automotive Take that internet readers like so much. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. So before I dropped it off, I took the XTS to the most XTS-ish place I could think of: the original “Dwarf House” Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Atlanta.
Atlanta is all about Low and Slow. Sure, there’s the exotic car scene up in Buckhead, but the city as a whole prefers the days of the Brougham. This XTS has much of that old, great Cadillac DNA. When I drove it up to the Dwarf House, I got more attention than I could have imagined. The patrons nodded their appreciation at the styling cues that differentiate the XTS from the LaCrosse — the fin-shaped taillights, the polished rims — and one or two asked if they could hop in the photo with the car. To them, this, and not the ATS-V or SRX, is a Cadillac.
I think they’re right.