2013 Cadillac XTS AWD

The Cadillac XTS is being hung out to dry.

I’m sorry to have to put it that way, but it’s the truth. It doesn’t look like it in the advertising, but when dealing with auto writers it seems, Cadillac emphasizes whenever possible that the XTS isn’t a flagship for the brand. Why would you do that? Who stood up at the front of the room at that product planning meeting to say, “Here’s the plan, we want to build almost the best car we can. It’s at least gotta be better than the DTS, but not too good…” Way to set the bar high, fellas.

In all seriousness, I know the XTS has multiple missions for Cadillac. It has to give customers who aren’t looking for a CTS or ATS-type sports sedan an option. It also has to fill the gaping void left by the discontinuation of the Lincoln Town Car and Cadillac’s own DTS to provide commercial livery operators with a proper people truck. With such wide ranging goals as being opulently luxurious for retail customers and economically feasible for commercial purchasers, I suppose I can understand their hesitance to take that stance. The good news is: not all the attendees of that product planning meeting were on board with the “not a flagship” plan.

Cadillac provided the XTS-4 Premium for our evaluation. Beyond the $44,995 FWD standard kit that includes such items as Soleil Keisel leather seating, Keyless Access with push-button start, Adaptive Remote Start, CUE Information and Media Control System with an 8″ display, Tire Pressure Monitor System, Intelligent Brake Assist, StabiliTrak, electronic stability control system, traction control and HID Xenon headlights, the $56,730 AWD Premium adds Adaptive Forward Lighting that swivels the headlamps, a 12.3 inch reconfigurable color gauge cluster, 14-speaker Bose Studio Surround sound audio system, a color Head-Up Display and the Driver Awareness Package with Lane Departure Warning, Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Alert and Safety Alert Seat. These and many other features are added above the Luxury package ($51,835 AWD) equipment like a two setting memory for the drivers seat adjustments, Rainsense wipers, illuminated door handles, ventilated and heated driver and front passenger seats with heated seats for outboard rear passengers, ultrasonic front and rear park assist and rearview camera.

That’s a lot of commas indicating a lot of features. There was one option added to the XTS: the $2,395 Driver Assist Package which adds still more commas, Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Front/Rear Braking and Automatic Collision Preparation. With an as tested $59,125 price, the XTS is equipped with all the safety, comfort and convenience features a large flagship sedan should have. There’s a still higher level, $61,305 Platinum trim that packs in everything the factory can install in an XTS including 20 inch rims, Opus leather seating with a microfiber headliner and pillar trim, rear seating area sunshades, the UltraView power sunroof and a different grille design, moving the content bar as close to opulent as any American car has ever gotten.

The XTS shares Cadillac’s “Art & Science” styling without looking cut and paste.

Where looks are concerned, the designers brought their A game, too. The XTS shares Cadillac’s “Art & Science” styling without looking cut and paste. This car garners plenty of glances from passers by with it’s vertical lighting elements setting it apart from the typical horizontal look of it’s competitors and even generating compliments from the owners of a few other makes while I was driving it. In classic American luxury fashion, XTS also wears more brightwork than is normally found in this class on its broad grille, side window surrounds, lower side trim and trunk lid. Even though there is more, it isn’t excessive. On the XTS that trim is the “satin chrome” variety, of which I’m not really a fan. In my eyes, the finish just looks hazy and not much different from normal chrome at a distance. Adding in the door handle lighting and the nice looking 19″ polished aluminum rims makes the XTS a uniquely attractive offering in this market.

2013 Cadillac XTS

 The XTS’ eye-catching and roomy interior is made of quality materials all-around.

The XTS’ eye-catching and roomy interior is made of quality materials all-around. Real wood and aluminum trims the doors, dash, console and heated steering wheel. Leather is applied to everything you might touch including all the seating surfaces. The front seats have a decent amount of bolstering without being overly firm, the rest of the seating is sofa-like: comfy and flat. Anything made of plastic is soft touch with a pleasant feel to it. Cool white ambient lighting shines out from the sweeping dash and door trim, front and rear. The haptic center stack and rear seat HVAC controls are gloss black with chromed strips for highlights and share control actions, but the rear controls don’t share the haptic response.

The top chrome strip on the stack up front is the touch sensitive audio volume control. It takes a little practice to figure out the slide, but I had no issues with it. Tapping the lowest chrome strip opens (and closes) the control panel to reveal a storage space to keep your electronic device from ricocheting around the car. There’s also a data port inside. Other multiple ports are scattered about the interior to make your electronic interfacing convenient. Plus, there’s always the ubiquitous Bluetooth connection which can support up to ten devices. Exploring the interior will uncover numerous storage areas and cup holders on and under the dash, center console, seats and doors.

The Cadillac User Experience with embedded Navigation is part of the XTS Premium package. This was my first chance to use it and I found it to work similarly to Ford’s MyTouch and Sync combination with the exception of the haptic response. They even share the same system prompt voice. Unlike most people that have reviewed these systems, I don’t have a problem with the idea that you have to look at the monitor while you use the various screens. Let’s be real here, there are so many screens available that no one is going to start memorizing all of them. Hell, I still have to stare at the keyboard while I type and I’ve been doing that since I don’t know when. Any screen you have to concentrate on shouldn’t be manipulated while driving anyway.

Almost everything you would adjust in motion, like inputting a new destination, answering or placing a call, or changing the audio source can be accessed through either the steering wheel or voice control systems. The only complaint I have about CUE is that the haptic feedback is a hair slower to react than the visual prompt. I understand that around the time I had the XTS Cadillac was releasing a software update to remedy that situation, so it may be a non-issue by now. The voice activation was as effective as any I’ve sampled, mostly fine with occasional bouts of misunderstanding. The Safety Alert Seat, on the other hand was excellent. It promptly vibrated the seat on the side from which the impending doom was detected without setting off alarms that scared the passengers. I never thought I’d say “Feel my seat” that many times in one week.

The only complaint I have about CUE is that the haptic feedback is a hair slower to react than the visual prompt.” The Safety Alert Seat, on the other hand was excellent.

2013 Cadillac XTS

Sitting sideways under the hood is the same 3.6L V6 with variable valve timing that powers the SRX as well as a myriad of other GM vehicles. In the XTS it puts out 304 hp @ 6800 rpm and 264 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm with a Hydra-matic electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission that includes a sport mode with paddle shifters. EPA fuel economy rings up at 17 city and 26 highway for the AWD model we tested, and 28 highway if you stick with the standard FWD drivetrain. Achieving those numbers isn’t difficult on any journey where you aren’t particularly in a hurry. I was able to maintain a 16.5 mpg average with sedate around town driving and on a trip to Brooklyn I reached 25.4 at traffic speeds higher than posted. If you are in a hurry, you’re going to have to put your foot way into the throttle. At speed, the 304 horsepower moves the car along fine, even in passing situations, but it has to drop a gear or three to get into the rpm range that works best.

The XTS is a modern luxury car closer to the classic American paradigm than the German.

If you put the console shifter in the “M” position and use the paddle shifters that are well hidden behind the steering wheel to keep the revs up, performance is commendable but a bit raucous at that rpm. The 3.6 makes nice sounds as it revs and is a great motor in some applications, but not this one. Here, it barely rises above adequate. The XTS is a modern luxury car closer to the classic American paradigm than the German. Classic American luxury was built on torque and the 3.6L V6 simply lacks the twist to launch this heavyweight properly. This isn’t an issue that falls on GM alone, many modern engines rely on higher revs to produce power. That’s fine in your average economy or sporty family car, or even a sport tuned premium car. To me (and those drivers of other luxury makes who specifically wondered if a diesel was available), a true luxury car should get underway effortlessly without drama, like a locomotive leaving the station. It doesn’t need to go all “Shock and Awe” like a CTS-V, but I think forty or fifty more foot pounds of torque, or relocating the existing torque to a more civilized rpm, would give it that serenity in motion that defines classic American luxury.

Utilizing the latest iteration of the Epsilon platform, the XTS’ suspension team installed Cadillac’s dual mode Magnetic Ride Control with a Hi-per strut front suspension and a load leveling air setup out back. Then they tossed in a set of 4 wheel ABS disc brakes with Brembo grabbers up front to whoa the 4215 lb. sedan. This car was wearing the upgraded polished aluminum rims with the standard size 245/45R19 tires, but 40 series 20 inchers are available. I’m not going to call it a closet sports car, but all that equipment adds up to a nice handling ride that wont embarrass itself when it enters a turn, even if it does tend to understeer. Putting the transmission lever in “M” mode causes the word sport to appear next to the gear indicator, but apparently, it only affected the transmission settings and didn’t talk to the steering or suspension. Some cars encourage you to take the back roads, the XTS asks “Wasn’t that our on ramp?” I had a chance to play with it in a snow covered area and even with AWD, the nose pushed wherever it wanted to go. I couldn’t get the back to come around at all.

On public roads, steering feel was a little light for my taste during more aggressive driving moments. On twisty roads, body control was excellent, but the light steering made the XTS feel numb. It felt like the steering was always falling behind the suspension. A bit more feedback would have made those moments more fun and probably more plentiful. That light, slow steering was more in tune with the XTS’ interstate performance where ride quality is excellent. When the road surface gets rough at highway speeds, the feel stays civilized but on anything other than perfect blacktop you get more aural feedback than I would prefer in this class of car. Front tire noise is louder than I expected while unnecessarily loud thumps emanate from the rear tires when you cross road imperfections like bridge transitions or concrete seams. If the XTS was more of an extroverted sportster those sounds wouldn’t be an issue, but since it doesn’t exactly tickle my enthusiast bone, more silence would be golden.

It felt like the steering was always falling behind the suspension. A bit more feedback would have made those moments more fun and probably more plentiful.

2013 Cadillac XTS

I wish I could say the XTS was an all-around great car, but I can’t. It does have its moments. It has a dramatic presence that draws attention, especially when you approach it at night with all of its lighting elements turned on. The interior is beautiful, roomy and completely comfortable and functional. Like all the classic Cadillacs, the XTS is most at home cruising down the highway or parading through town, but that’s where my praise ends. If refined highway cruising is the purpose, the slightly excessive tire and suspension noise detract from that goal. Confusingly, as much as the MRC suspension wants to be playful in the turns, the old school steering feel and overworked engine sap all the fun from the back road drive. I’m sure most of the people looking at the XTS aren’t as performance-minded as I am, and they will likely be happy with this car. Rumor has it that a more powerful engine is on the way. If it comes with a retuned steering feel and an adjustable MRC suspension, all will be well in my world view of what a luxury car is. As it stands, while there’s a lot to like about the XTS, it is best experienced from the passenger seating.

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