2019 Cadillac XT4 First Drive - The Cadillac of Compact Luxury Crossovers

Michael Accardi
by Michael Accardi
2019 cadillac xt4 first drive the cadillac of compact luxury crossovers

“Dare Greatly,” Cadillac’s slogan du jour, is open to a wide spectrum of interpretation.

Daring greatly could mean being the first to achieve something of note, like when Amelia Earhart became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; it could mean being the first to not do something, like that one kid at school who talked to the new guy instead of making fun of him; it might even be refining or simplifying existing memetics, like Apple did when it changed the way we interact with music through the iTunes ecosystem. Then there’s the case of the late-arriving Cadillac XT4.

Sure, it may be the last of the major-branded luxury-compact crossovers to report for duty in a segment that has been glowing red hot for several years now, but Cadillac’s great dare in this space is a bet that consumers won’t really care which chicken came before the egg, just if there’s a vegan alternative to the omelette. As a late entrant, Cadillac claims it’s been able to study the segment, getting to know the intimate needs of the younger demographic it’s been working to understand and engage for the past five years. And if there’s one thing the thirty-something, upwardly mobile, cosmopolitan, condo-dweller loves more than engineering a career, spinning, and brunch, it’s a puppy.

So it’s not that surprising to find out that internally the XT4 project became affectionately known as the “Escalade puppy.”

Cadillac’s chief exterior designer, Robin Kreig, detailed how his team scaled the tough, overt, masculine bits of the Escalade down into something more digestible and approachable without abandoning Cadillac’s contemporary styling edge. From the ground up the XT4 is easy to look at: its big wheels, stretched wheelbase, squat stance, and widened track give it a set of oversized paws, compared to the spindly wheeled offerings from Lexus and Acura. Chiseled LED lighting elements both front and back strongly ape the Escalade, while the rear end shaping respectfully nods to the bygone and beloved CTS-V Wagon. Machined wheels, tasteful body sculpting, and an attractive hip-to-waist ratio further define the XT4 as distinctly Cadillac.

(Full disclosure: Cadillac flew me to Seattle and fed me, housed me, and offered me booze so that I could drive this new XT4.)

Interestingly enough, the drive for aesthetics actually required a new platform for the XT4 to ride on. While GM’s Epsilon platform already makes hay under products like the Buick Regal and Chevrolet Malibu, this is the first time the sedan platform itself has been used underneath a crossover, with the larger starting point directly enabling the stretched wheelbase and wide track stance. However, pedants will note that the Chi platform which underpins the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia is actually a crossover-specific version of the Epsilon platform itself.

What’s clear almost immediately is that the XT4’s road manners are far closer to the sporty new Regal’s than they are to the cumbersome Acadia’s, while behind-the-scenes commonality between the Epsilon and Chi architectures allowed Cadillac to plug and play bits from the larger XT5. The front half of the chassis uses a solid-mounted front cradle and lateral cross bracing which provide a support structure for the MacPherson strut front suspension, out back there’s a five-link independent suspension borrowed in its entirety from the XT5.

The rear end is mounted to a fully isolated rear cradle system that’s been engineered to silence the boominess of open cargo areas. The additional lateral bracing is definitely noted on the ribbons of asphalt that run through the Cascade mountains outside of Seattle, just a touch of left-foot brake overlap when you chuck the XT4 into a B-road sweeper at two times the posted limit chasing a balding man with the roof of his Abarth 124 retracted will convince you the XT4 is more than sporty enough for the softcore existence it’s likely destined for.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call turn-in on the XT4 sharp or talkative, but you can be sure that anyone who calls it loose or vague is most certainly either lying to you, or not very good at understanding what their hands are telling them. It’s hyperbole of the greatest degree to claim the front wheels get lost through switchbacks. They don’t, they just don’t give you status updates every time a small pebble gets lodged in the tread like a 1996 Miata or something.

More parts from the XT5 filter their way down to the XT4’s option list. Its twin-clutch AWD system is an option across all trim levels, it’s also ostensibly the same GKN system on offer in the Focus RS, and it works to laterally move torque across the rear axle in order to help corner exit or to keep you from getting stuck, whichever comes first. In Tour mode you can completely disconnect the back half of the drive line to reduce parasitic losses. Sport models gain a version of the XT5’s Continuous Damping Control as part of the Active Sport Suspension package. The system isn’t quite as good as GM’s lights-out magnetic damper system, but as the engineers told me, CDC is also vastly more cost efficient and weight friendly, which is fine, as the XT4 is capable of filtering out all but the most vicious of road imperfections.

The whole package rides on a set of custom-developed Continental all-season tires which were designed to optimize the XT4’s performance metrics, along with adding a dash of quietness. Cadillac says more than a year was spent refining the compound and tread design of both the standard 18-inch and optional 20-inch tires, so don’t go skimping on rubber when it comes time to replace them.

In order to address some of the unrefined noise complaints leveled at its use of small, turbocharged four-cylinders, Cadillac went and got itself a new four-cylinder. The XT4’s 237-hp 2.0T is new from the ground up and sees significant changes made in the name of smoothness — namely, ditching the old engine’s square bore and stroke in favor of a longer stroke that made the engine silkier and torque-laden. The twin scroll turbo uses an electronic wastegate and offers a torque curve that is both fat and flat, delivering 97 percent of available twist between 1,500 and 5,000 rpm, which makes driveability and throttle application suitably linear, especially with Sport throttle mapping. The throttle mapping in Sport mode actually feels the most linear, it’s almost as if the engineers started from the Sport setting and simply retarded the response rate in order to achieve the softer feeling maps for the Tour and AWD modes.

At 118.5-hp per liter, it’s actually one of the most power-dense engines GM has ever created. It makes more jam pound for pound than the beefy, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the CTS-V. Go do the math, I’ll wait. Power makes it to the wheels via GM’s new nine-speed automatic transmission, which shifts smartly and crisply, keeping engine speed right in the meaty bit of the torque band. Even up long grades it was intelligent enough to keep itself from hunting around for a sweet spot. Gear shifts can also be actuated by the set of wheel mounted paddles, which are nice for downshifting, if anything, but the ECU is far faster and smoother, especially on the uptake.

XT4 also gains a new tripower valvetrain, which uses a unique sliding camshaft barrel to switch into different valve lift modes to either optimize power, efficiency, or cut the cylinder count in half. From a dig, the 2.0-liter can sound somewhat course until you shoot past 2,500 rpm, and you can definitely find some nasty harmonic vibrations between 1,300 and 2,000 rpm, especially if you go looking for them with the radio off. Moving toward the top half of the rev range there are extremely pleasing high-lift sounds, even if power and thrust decay rapidly near redline.

From a driveability standpoint, my only real issue with the XT4 was the absolutely numb feeling brake pedal. I’m talking stamping on a limp fish kind of numb, with literally no actuation in the first half inch of travel. The reason is because Cadillac has switched from an engine vacuum-driven master cylinder to one that’s driven electronically, in the name of efficiency, of course. But maybe it’s fine and the problem is that racing karts have made my foot too sensitive.

There’s definitely more room in the engine bay to fit something larger, be it in terms of displacement or cylinder count, but as of now there are no future plans to offer additional engine choices. When prompted over extracurricular beers one engineer told me bluntly: “No one who shops this segment cares about a V6.”

It’s true that the XT4 will be bought primarily based on cabin experience. Just about every surface is wrapped in soft leather, including the upper and lower sections of both the dashboard and the door panels. The seats are comfortable enough and are available with heated, cooled, and massage functions, there’s wireless charging, an air ionizer, and driving aids like surround vision, a rear camera mirror, adaptive cruise control, and collision mitigation, if you’re willing to pay. Interested in all of those options listed? Well, you’ll have to select six different option packages which will spike MSRP by some seven grand, and that’s before the $1,500 needed if you want navigation.

All shoppers do get 4G LTE connectivity and the totally revamped Cadillac CUE system, which is offered through an 8-inch diagonal touch screen interface, along with a new redundant rotary controller.

GM continues to offer one of the best infotainment systems in the industry: well laid out, easy to navigate, and fairly slick to look at. Additionally, there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, along with Near Field Connectivity which allows you to connect your phone in seconds by tapping it on the little NFC logo on the dash. The most used buttons are laid out horizontally beneath the touch screen. It looks like a mouthful of teeth, but at the same time it’s preferable to burying functionality within the screen. In fact, the only real part of the interior experience I didn’t like was the feel of the steering wheel, it was just chunky for no reason and very much felt like it came from the parts bin in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Elsewhere in the cabin, Cadillac claims best-in-class rear-seat leg room, which is definitely believable if you spend any time whatsoever in the second row, another benefit of opting to use a larger donor platform. Just don’t expect to get both passengers and cargo in the back of the XT4. The decision to push the wheels to the corners absolutely murders the rear cargo area – you’ll need to fold the seats down to have enough room for two pairs of skis and weekend bags.

Lastly, XT4 also debuts Cadillac’s new Y trim strategy, which splits content off into two distinct streams of luxury and performance as you move up the trim ladder. Starting at $35,790, Cadillac PR is happy to throw around the title of most contented car in class, which is true. There is a ton of class-exclusive content available, available for a rapidly scaling price. The Sport model tested here, for example, stickered at north of $55,000. But then again that’s also really not that expensive in a world where both BMW and Mercedes have unleashed pricey performance models on unsuspecting Whole Foods shoppers and Lamborghini now makes SUVs.

Realistically though, the XT4 should help Cadillac print money, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

[Images © 2018 Michael Accardi/TTAC]

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2 of 130 comments
  • MLS MLS on Sep 21, 2018

    This review is the most positive take on the XT4 I've yet read. Most others have deemed the vehicle middling.

  • Bufguy Bufguy on Sep 21, 2018

    To all those complaining of the price....go to the BMW website and build an X!. An X1 is a transverse engined vehicle that shares its platform with MINI....Front drive based with a transverse 2.0 liter turbo engine that makes 227 hp....Load it up....over $53,000

  • Ltcmgm78 I think cars need an AM/FM radio for emergency notifications. Driving at night, I will scan the AM frequency just to see what comes up and to be amazed at the different cities I can get after dark. My SAAB had a Euro-spec radio and I could get long-wave (lower freq than the AM band) and found lots of interesting listening.
  • Golden2husky You'd be way better off in a base Vette for that money.
  • Gene Sedans and coupes don't sell in the quantity that they used to but they still make up a significant market. Why Ford abandoned this segment still baffles me. Again, just look at Toyota, Dodge, Mercedes, BMW, Hyundai, etc who have not abandoned this segment.
  • JMII Cracker Barrel - there is one off every major interstate interchange east of the Mississippi.I don't drink coffee - and based on the constant debate / worry of others just drinking water or tea has greatly simplified my life.Regardless of your choice in snacks and drinks I recommend the iExit app: https://www.iexitapp.com/ it shows what hotels, restaurants and gas stations are coming up so you can decide if its worth pulling off.
  • Redapple2 My dad s buddy got a tire thru the windshield. DRT -dead right there.