2020 Cadillac XT6 First Drive - Better Than Expected, But Worthy of the Badge?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

Earlier this year, on a cold winter’s evening in the city of Detroit, I snuck into a building in the Midtown area that I think is normally an art gallery, in order to see whatever Cadillac was showing at the North American International Auto Show.

I wasn’t party crashing because we’d been black-listed — I’d simply erroneously been under the impression that the event was open to all show-going media when it wasn’t. But I got in anyway.

What I saw wasn’t pleasant — a slab-sided three-row crossover called XT6 that didn’t exactly scream — or even whisper — “Cadillac.” My concerns for the brand’s present and future got worse.

Fast-forward seven months. I found myself on a plane to Washington, D.C. to drive the damn thing.

I always work to keep an open mind — what looks ugly on a show stand or on paper might actually prove to be well-built, well-priced, and a good vehicle to drive. Heck, even styling can look different in the real world as opposed to under auto-show lights.

Would the XT6 surprise me? Or would the doubt I expressed in the Motor City be borne out?

(Full disclosure: Cadillac flew me to Washington, D.C., put me in a nice hotel and fed me, and left branded cupcakes in the room. They offered a tour of the monuments, which I skipped, having seen them a few times on previous vacations to the capital.)

On second look, the XT6 did look better than what I remembered from Detroit. It had looked a bit sad and underwhelming in Motown, and I think the fact that the brand used a gray XT6 as the stage model didn’t help. Upon arrival at the hotel, I saw that Caddy had parked a red XT6 in the lobby, and that color popped better.

I liked the large, simple grille opening and its black cross-hatching, the narrow upper headlamps, and the vertical lower light bar. I’m less enamored of the slab-sided look — there’s just no pizazz. Out back, the vertical taillamps remind you it’s a Caddy, and the look is simple and clean.

Overall, it’s a boxy, slightly boring look that lacks the edge of recent Caddies. Being one who appreciates clean yet boring designs, I don’t mind as much as most probably will, although, again, the slabbed sides don’t appeal to my eye.

The problem, of course, is the badge on the front. Anonymity may be acceptable from Kia or Hyundai or any other plebeian brand, but the market expects more from Cadillac. Especially right now, as Caddy struggles to compete in a market it once held dominance over.

Even worse is that Kia and Hyundai’s entrants into the three-row game are more stylish, and they aren’t even competing in the luxury class. More on that to come.

Inside, the story is similarly mixed. The gauge cluster is only part digital — the cheaper Hyundai Palisade has gone full digital, by comparison. The infotainment system is nicely centered in the dash, and haptic touch buttons with barely noticeable indents control most of the rest of the HVAC and audio systems. They mostly work — although occasionally they needed to be pressed twice to perform the requested task. A rotary controller located aft of the shifter can also be used to manipulate the menus.

Road and wind noise were nicely shut out while on the road, and the seats were all-day comfortable. I had little trouble getting my tall frame into the third row, and I had adequate knee room when parked back there.

The Premium Luxury trim I drove in the morning had what Cadillac claims is real wood interior trim, but it neither felt nor looked real.

There’s just one engine and transmission combo available across the two trims (Premium Luxury and Sport): A 3.6-liter V6 making 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Premium Luxury models are available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, Sport models are AWD only. I drove one of each, both equipped with AWD.

All-wheel drive models offer four selectable drive modes: Tour, Sport, AWD, and Off-Road (on FWD models, it’s Tour, Snow/Ice, and Sport). Tour mode keeps you in front-wheel drive all the time when piloting a model with all-wheel drive.

As one would expect, switching over to Sport mode tightened up the light-weighted steering a bit, and improved responses a bit in both models. The Sport trim gets a faster steering ratio, standard active damping suspension, an AWD system tuned for sportier driving, and different throttle and shift calibration mapping.

My drive partner claimed to notice a difference between trims, with the Sport trim being more engaging to drive, but the differences seemed subtle to me. Most of my time behind the wheel of the Sport model was on the freeway, though, so it made it hard to compare to the Premium Luxury model I’d earlier driven over the narrow and gently curving country roads of rural Northern Virginia.

Consistent between trims was a transmission that was reluctant to shift down. The V6 also struggled a bit to move the XT6’s mass — acceleration is adequate but no better. There’s some body roll in turns but it’s not too bad. The handling is about on par for a large luxury crossover — not terrible, not particularly fun. Both trims offered a fair amount of steering feedback, and the XT6 is game for gentle cornering.

The most pleasant aspect of the XT6 is the smooth, supple ride. It’s the one thing that reminds you of Cadillacs of yore. In fact, it’s better — no float or wallow. Smooth doesn’t mean too soft.

Too bad that doesn’t apply to the brakes — they could be a bit mushy.

On-road, the XT6 is flawed when pushed but pleasant enough in normal driving that it won’t offend. Drive it like a normal human, as opposed to an auto journalist, and it’s fine. Perfectly pleasant, and not really memorable.

Content-wise, the XT6 offers plenty of it, but some of it will cost ya. The Premium Luxury bases at $52,695 and the Sport at $57,095, with destination fees for both being $995.

Standard features include 20-inch wheels, sunroof, remote fold-down second-row seats, power driver’s seat, power-fold third-row seats, heated steering wheel, heated front seats, tri-zone climate control, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, heated outside mirrors, wireless cell-phone charging, type A and type C USB ports, noise cancellation, Cadillac User Experience (CUE, includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose audio, in-car Wi-Fi, satellite radio, near-field communication, and power liftgate).

There’s more: Forward-collision alert, front pedestrian braking, front and rear park assist, low-speed forward automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change alert, lane-departure warning, and side blind-zone alert.

Available features include 21-inch wheels, night vision, rearview camera mirror, 360-degree camera, cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, second-row captain’s chairs, auto park assist, rear pedestrian alert, head-up display, Bose premium audio, uplevel headlamps, and navigation.

The Premium Luxury I tested rang the register at $70,290 after fees thanks to the Platinum Package ($4,900, included leather seating and trim, suede headliner, performance suspension, and active damping), the Enhanced Visibility and Technology Package ($2,350, includes rear camera mirror, 8-inch color gauge info screen, automatic parking assist, rear pedestrian alert, head-up display), night vision ($2,000), Driver Assist Package ($1,300, includes adaptive cruise control, enhanced automatic emergency braking, reverse automatic braking), Cadillac User Experience aka CUE (navigation, uplevel Bose audio), second-row captain’s chairs ($800), premium headlamps ($800), Comfort and Air Quality Package ($750, includes heated second-row seats, air ionizer, and cooled front seats), $625 for the paint job, and $75 for a cargo shade.

Despite the higher base price tag, the Sport I drove cost a bit less at $64,340 after fees. It was equipped with the Enhanced Visibility and Tech Package, CUE, the captain’s chairs, the Comfort and Air Quality Package, the same dark mocha paint job, the cargo shade, and the Smart Towing option ($650).

Fuel economy is listed at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined for front-drive models and 17/24/20 for all-wheel drive.

I liked the XT6 better from behind the wheel than I thought I would. But the styling is going to be too boring for some (if not many), some of the interior materials were a letdown, and I spotted panel gaps that were too large in our pre-production test vehicles.

End result? The XT6 is a comfortable, pleasant crossover that won’t move the needle. It’s flanked on one side by Korean mainstream crossovers that are close in offered content and material quality, similarly engaging to drive (if not more so), better-looking, and cheaper; and on the other by the stylish Lincoln Aviator. Top-trim Ford Explorers are in the mix, price-wise, as well.

It’s true that luxury buyers may write the Kia, Hyundai, and Ford off right off the bat, because those badges don’t say “premium.” That still leaves the Aviator, Acura MDX, and Infiniti QX60 in the mix.

I’m curious to drive the Aviator, to see how it stacks up — I do think it’s styling is a lot sexier. I haven’t been in the Acura in a long time as a driver and I am not sure I’ve ever driven a QX60. But both of those also have more distinctive duds than the XT6.

I was perfectly content behind the wheel of the XT6, but it won’t turn heads, and if the badge doesn’t matter, you can come close in content for a lot less dough.

My concerns for Caddy aren’t fully assuaged — the XT6 is far too anonymous to make me feel better about the brand’s direction. But it’s not the terrible mess I thought it might be.

Cadillac still needs to take a long, hard look at where it’s been, where it is, and where it’s going. That said, the XT6 may not be memorable, but it’s not a disaster.

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough for a vehicle bearing the Cadillac crest. Pleasant yet forgettable won’t cut it.

Cadillac and its dealers don’t just need crossovers, they need ones that turn heads and feel worth every penny of the sticker price. The XT6 checks neither box.

I’m still concerned.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 86 comments
  • Amca Amca on Aug 09, 2019

    Cadillac screwed up the introduction of this vehicle massively. They released photos of a bland vehicle with a 3.6L V6. Everyone said "Meh" and the XT6's reputation was already mud. Now that the press are seeing the XT6 and driving it, they're discovering it's a nice machine. That it's got great presence when seen live. And that it's well beyond "Meh." But the damage has already been done. They should have introduced it live, with actual vehicles for the press to look at. It would have gotten a much better reputation out of the blocks.

  • Drew Cadillac Drew Cadillac on Aug 20, 2019

    First impression of the XT6 - it's ugly, boring, and already looks dated. The exterior/profile looks more like a schoolbus than a Cadillac. The front/face looks like it's squinting, embarrassed to be seen. The dashboard is a boring mishmash of outdated gauges. In no way does this resemble the brash bold luxury once known as "the Cadillac of cars". No wonder Johan deNysschen was fired. That guy talked a big game and never delivered for Cadillac. Given the way the product pipeline moves, this is all on JdN.

  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
  • FreedMike Hmmm, electric powered vibrations. Is this the long rumored move into the...ahem...adult products market?
  • MrIcky /Checks date on his calendar- nope, not April 1st.I have a transducer in my home theater seat for sub-bass. Not sure if this is patent worthy.