Caddy $58,000 XTS Long on Legroom, Short on Performance

2013 Cadillac XTS
A 2013 Cadillac XTS. Pricing starts at about $46,000 for the base model, up to about $60,000 for the Platinum. Photographer: Alan Vanderkaay/Cadillac via Bloomberg

Are you a retiree living in Florida? Looking for a car with big back seats to haul your community neighbors to the early-bird special? Then Cadillac has a car for you: the new XTS sedan.

To be frank, the release of the XTS is flummoxing. Cadillac has spent years trying to escape its old-fogey-with-a-cigar image. To do so, it focused on cars like the CTS, which was highly stylized and driver focused.

The CTS comes as a coupe, sedan and wagon, and in high-powered “V” versions, appealing to younger, vigorous drivers. It presented us with a new, more interesting version of what a Cadillac should be. I bought into the vision. I believed.

So I had high hopes for the XTS, one of the first new notable releases by Cadillac in some time. Pricing starts at almost $46,000 for the base model and as much as $60,000 for the Platinum. I tested the all-wheel-drive Premium that came to $58,180 with options.

That puts it in the running with a number of excellent sedans. Though longer than the CTS, the XTS isn’t quite as executive-sized as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Lexus LS.

The fact that it comes standard as a front-wheel-drive should have been my first spoiler alert. Even the all-wheel-drive handles with a distinct front-wheel-drive bias.

Know what kind of cars are generally offered as front-wheel-drive? Cheap ones, small ones and those with no emphasis on agility or sportiness.

Sportier ATS

Concurrently, Cadillac is also releasing another new model, the ATS, a smaller, sportier, rear-wheel-drive sedan aimed at buyers of the BMW 3 Series. Price points are about $10,000 less than the XTS.

While I have yet to drive the ATS, I do hope and expect the driving character to be more beguiling than the lackluster XTS.

The XTS isn’t even interesting to look at. The front grill has a bit of flash and dazzle, with a thrust-out snout and lots of shiny chrome. Walk around the car and the silhouette is blocky and drab, the rear an afterthought. The stance is odd, with a short hood, a pushed-forward cockpit and a long trunk.

The good news is that the awkward shape lends a very large rear passenger area, with gobs of leg room. In fact, the back has the best seats in the house. You’ll also notice how leather covers nearly every surface of the Premium model. The stitching is knockout, and the two-tone color palette pleasing.

Right Gear

The engine is decent, too. A 3.6-liter V-6 with 304 horsepower and 264 pound feet of torque, the power feels generous, even on steep hills, provided you’re in the right gear.

Yet the six-speed automatic transmission seems only half interested in getting you to the right gear with any alacrity. And the feel of the steering wheel is so rubbery as to be Flubber-esque. There is no visceral connection to the road whatsoever.

Drive the XTS hard on curves and it resolutely pushes wide, the front tires being asked to both power and steer.

The magnetic suspension, a Cadillac specialty, ably absorbs potholes, but the XTS’s “sport” mode is wishful thinking. Nobody who loves driving will love this car.

It also feels claustrophobic up front. The front pillars and roof meet very close to the heads of the front-seat passengers, as if the sky was falling. Those pillars are thick, so visibility is somewhat impaired.

Navigation Hope

The one hope for the car, seemingly, is its new navigation and infotainment user interface, branded the CUE system, which will inevitably spread across the Cadillac line.

It’s as if somebody in a Cadillac committee meeting suggested, “Why not stick an iPad in there?”

Too many cars have too many buttons (Buick and Porsche are egregious offenders), so doing away with countless controls in favor of an iPad-like touch screen seems a good idea.

The CUE touchscreen has iPad-like apps, which control everything from navigation to climate to audio. There are only a couple of hard buttons on the console, but they’re sunk into a blank fascia, and essentially invisible. We get no knobs at all.

The Cadillac controls in the current CTS are impressive. They fall easily to the hand and are intuitive. Shame to see that ease chucked out for CUE, which resoundingly favors form over function.

The main problem is that you have to take your eyes off the road to choose the app you want, and then continue tapping from there. You can’t just “feel” your way to the right control as you can with physical buttons or knobs.

Old School

It’s analogous to walking down the street and trying to type a message on an old-school BlackBerry with a keyboard, versus using an iPhone.

You can walk and type with a Blackberry. But on the iPhone touch screen, you’ve got a choice: a garbled message or walk into a streetlamp.

At first blush, I found the CUE system irritating, perhaps bordering on dangerous. Even the hard buttons were hard to find and make work. And I’m a fan of gadgets.

Perhaps with time I’d work it out. Cadillac offers a tutorial app, after all. But I don’t care to spend any more time with the car anyhow.

The Cadillac XTS AWD Premium at a Glance

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 with 304 horsepower and 264 pound feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 17 city, 26 highway.

Price as tested: $58,180.

Best feature: Big back seats.

Worst features: Lackluster drive and handling, CUE system is distracting.

Target buyer: The retiree.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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