Review: 2013 Cadillac XTS

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
review 2013 cadillac xts

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

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3 of 81 comments
  • NJRonbo NJRonbo on Feb 12, 2013

    I have always wanted to own a Cadillac. I look at the Cadillac brand as the absolute pinnacle of what the General Motors company is able to manufacture. This is my third vehicle I have leased in the last 5 years, and I have continued to stay with the brand because I find their vehicles to provide that signature "ride" and luxury that one would expect. In November of last year, as my 2010 SRX lease was about to expire, I already had my mind set on leasing a 2013 vehicle. I had done my research, and the thing I was more excited about than anything else was this new, revolutionary tech product called CUE. Being a huge gadget freak who needs to be the first to own everything new in tech, I wanted the new SRX solely for that CUE technology. In fact, when I went to the dealership and said I was interested in the 2013 SRX, the dealer talked endlessly about how fantastic the CUE system was. No doubt, dealers had been properly trained to make CUE the main focal point when trying to sell these vehicles. I couldn't believe how fast my level of excitement sank as I plugged in my iPod and found that every time I selected a favorite song, it played another. The way CUE handled playlists was atrocious. Then, I was amazed to discover that upon trying to make a phone call, shortly after entering the vehicle, that I kept getting "the device is still attempting to initialize" response from the CUE system. Of course, now all of us know that the biggest problems the CUE system faces are all caused by some engineer's bright idea that none of the information from your phone or iPod should be permanently stored in its database. Every time you enter and leave the vehicle, the CUE system has to reindex itself and re-upload the same information over and over again. This is why you can't make a phone call in the first 5-10 minutes of your drive. This is why if you have an iPod with thousands upon thousands of songs, it can never upload it all fast enough for you to be able to play the song you want. Who looked at this kind of functionality and thought it was workable? Even worse, how the hell did Cadillac green light these systems to be installed in their vehicles? Before I get to the meat of this story, I have to give credit to the CUE team. Not only have reps participated on this forum, but I have their direct phone number and have been invited to call them anytime that I have concerns. The problem is, as much assurance as we have received that they are looking to fix these issues, I don't think there has been a clear roadmap of what is going to be fixed in the update due this March (which was originally supposed to be due in January). If you look at the latest press release that GM has issued, you may think that a major fix is on the way -- and you would be right. But exactly what is being fixed? I see nothing about iPod incompatibility nor the fact that you can't make a phone call as soon as you get into the vehicle. I talk to a CUE rep on the phone and I am told that perhaps these problems can't be fixed without the addition of a hard drive, and another CUE rep talks about flash storage capability. In other words, the stories change pending on who you approach at CUE. Still, I give the CUE team a huge amount of kudos. At least they are trying. I can't seem to say the same for GM Executives.... I decided to write a letter -- an actual typewritten letter that you put a stamp on -- to Daniel Akerson (Chief Executive Officer) and Robert Ferguson (GM VP of Cadillac). I questioned how the CUE system, with all its bugs, was ever approved for placement in their company's flagship line of vehicles. Not an unfair question to ask, given the fact that people who buy a Cadillac expect the very best from the brand. You just don't throw in some cool-looking dashboard entertainment system without making certain that people who pay good money for a product have to spend their initial months of ownership coming to a forum like this and complaining about how it doesn't work. And you know what? I wasn't expecting that my letter would actually be read by Mr. Akerson or Mr. Ferguson. But I did expect that I would get some sort of professional, concerned response from the team that stands behind the Cadillac brand. Well, the response did come in the form of a phone call. I hate to sit here and insult the people that are hired to deal with consumer complaints at Cadillac, but I felt as if I was dealing with someone who had no right to be in that position. The individual that called me seemed to be the kind of person I would talk to if I were calling the complaint line at my local Target store. I am certain the woman I spoke with was nice, but it was very apparent to me that she was uninformed, and was simply someone who was working in a call center so far beneath the Executive level. After pouring out my heart in a letter about being unhappy with the CUE system and that Cadillac should be ashamed for putting it in their flagship brand, the response I got was, "There is nothing we can do for you." When I asked if my complaint had even reached the Executive level, the response was something like, "Well, your letter did reach the Executive offices." Really? And they had someone like you contact me to say "There is nothing we can do for you?" Actually, after repeatedly voicing my disgust for the response, I was given some sort of compensation on service. It was a nice gesture that I would not have gotten without the objections I raised, but I am afraid the entire experience has left me somewhat "cold." Listen, there may be some of you who think I am making too much of this in light of the fact that the CUE team is trying. My continued frustration is that the answers to exactly what has been fixed and what has not, is still not clear. Now three months into the ownership of my SRX, I still can't make a phone call and I don't even use my iPod, because I can't. Listen.....perhaps some of you can relate to what I am about to say.... One of the places I find the most solitude is in my Cadillac. As I drive to and from work, I immensely enjoy the ride beneath me. It is my time to relax, enjoy the drive, make a phone call or two, and enjoy the large collection of music I own on the vehicle's sound system. The most pleasurable part of my day is often the time I spend in my SRX. But you know what? I can't listen to the music I want because the CUE system can't properly play music from iPods with large libraries. I can't make a business call without having to wait 5-10 minutes for the vehicle to initialize. This is not the kind of problems that customers who pay a premium for a vehicle like this should have to deal with. Furthermore, I would hope for more direct answers from the CUE team as to whether these problems will definitely be fixed. Lastly, the one thing you don't want to hear when you bring the complaint all the way to the top of the GM Executive chain is, "There is nothing we can do for you."

    • Swilliams41 Swilliams41 on Feb 12, 2013

      Where is Bob Lutz????? I am disapointed for you and this reminds me of why GM is so hit or miss. Lot's of miss...

  • Fps_dean Fps_dean on Apr 25, 2013

    I question the accuracy of 6.1s to 60. The CTS with the same engine and a RWD base gets about 5.9 best-case and the AWD CTS is somewhere closer to 6.5s. FWD would be slower than both, and due to how the AWD works it's just extra-weight on dry pavement, so that would be even slower. I'd guess around 7.0-7.5 seconds. Still though, it's not a performance car. A more powerful engine in a FWD platform makes absolutely no sense.

  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
  • ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?