Those with good memories for bad advertising will remember the tagline, "The Caddy that zigs," which was used to introduce the Cadillac Catera. Even if that were a good tagline, it could not be applied to the new XTS. The XTS stands apart from Cadillac's other sedan offerings, all of which are nimble, rear-wheel-drive, Euro-style, driving machines. Instead of a Caddy that zigs, the XTS is the Caddy that's big.
Upon its debut, Cadillac people were quick to point out that, although the XTS is the division's biggest car, it is not the brand's flagship. (For now, apparently, that's the Escalade, although a true range-topper is said to be in the works.) Nor is the XTS supposed to be a replacement for the DTS, although it does fill that role. The XTS has a front-wheel-drive architecture, transverse V-6 power, and the size and roominess that traditional (read: old) buyers expect -- but it also has plenty of dazzling high technology that's supposed to reel in a less-gray crowd, so maybe this is the Caddy that's confused.
Six and four
The engine is only a V-6, and a normally aspirated one at that, but its 304 hp and 264 pound-feet of torque are enough to motivate this substantial car. Note, however, that the direct-injected six needs to be sufficiently prodded to do so, as its torque output peaks at 5200 rpm. The six-speed automatic is utterly unobtrusive, although there are very discreet shift paddles for those who would rather call the shots themselves. My loaded up test car came with optional all-wheel drive, which is available on three of the four trim levels, and it did a superb job apportioning torque during quick turn-and-go getaways on slick pavement, such that there was never a whiff of torque steer. GM's HiPer Strut front suspension also helps keep torque steer in check. The all-wheel-drive system subtracts 2 mpg on the highway, but none in the city, so that an XTS so equipped returns 18/26 mpg, according to our friends at the EPA.
Traditional Cadillac buyers will appreciate the quiet cruising. The engine is effectively muffled, betraying a muted growl only when you really open it up. Those same buyers may be surprised at the suspension setup -- which is both a good and a bad thing. What's good is that the standard magnetic ride control dampers have effectively snuffed out the float that old-school Cadillacs were famous for. But unfortunately the XTS suffers a brittle ride, likely due to its low-profile, 40-series Bridgestone Potenzas, which on my Platinum-grade test car were wrapped around chromed, 20-inch wheels. The aggressive rubber might be worth it if it helped make the steering super precise, but the XTS helm just feels overly light and disconnected.
Welcome to Times Square
The XTS may be big in the context of current Caddies -- it's nearly 11 inches longer than a CTS, although it rides on a slightly shorter wheelbase -- but it's not nearly as huge as the dearly departed DTS. Even so, the interior is very roomy, with a wide cabin and a spacious back seat that offers 40 inches of legroom. Quite unlike the DTS are the interior design and materials -- the XTS is in a whole new league. The Platinum version benefits most, with standard full leather upholstery, including the dash, door panels, and the center console. Real wood accents the steering wheel and shift lever, and there's no hard plastic anywhere. My test car boasted a two-tone color scheme -- well, three-tone, if you count the purple (!) contrast stitching, which was pretty subtle, actually. The only discordant notes were sounded, literally, by the squeaks and creaks coming from various locations, and by the ill-fitting dash pad.
The XTS was the debut vehicle for Cadillac's CUE interface, which is standard on all trim levels. CUE, for Cadillac User Experience, is the touchscreen interface for navigation, stereo, and phone functions, married with a flat panel for climate controls. All knobs are banished, including for audio volume. The 8-inch touchscreen has some iPhone-style functionality (oh, boy!), including pinch-to-zoom for navigation maps and swipe scrolling for radio stations, and both the touchscreen and the flat panel have vibration feedback so you know when you've successfully activated a touch point button. But as modern and cool as the whole thing seems, and as sleek as it looks (the graphics are very sharp), it requires more eyes-off-the-road time than more conventional solutions, particularly given the small touch points for some of the on-screen functions. Nor are the slider bars an improvement over old-fashioned knobs. One can imagine the steep learning curve for traditional Cadillac buyers, but Cadillac's solution is to give all buyers an iPad with a CUE app preloaded, on which they can learn the system. OnStar has also added CUE experts to help owners through it.
In addition to the CUE touchscreen, there's a second, large (12-inch) LCD screen that displays the virtual gauges, which can be configured in several different arrangements. Both the gauge-cluster screen and the CUE screen light up and go through an animated opening sequence when you start the car, which gives the XTS a "Welcome to Times Square" vibe, particularly at night, when the XTS also shows off its ambient interior lighting, illuminated sill plates, and, coolest of all, light-up exterior door handles.
One bit of new technology that's much more subtle but surprisingly effect is the vibrating seat. It sounds gimmicky but is actually a very intuitive alert mechanism for the lane departure warning and the forward collision warning (the latter combined with a flashing light); it's far better than yet another annoying beep.
A, C, and X
While its ATS and CTS stablemates work hard to establish Cadillac as a worldly purveyor of European-style luxury cars, the XTS is an outlier that stakes its claim to luxury on heaping helpings of tech, space, and sheet metal. The XTS strives to be painfully modern, but the way in which it deviates from the division's flight plan makes it still somewhat like the Caddies of yore.