Cadillac has caught up with luxury competitors in terms of performance, style, and refinement. It’s even taken strides in the critical area of high-performance station wagons. The brand still lags behind the pack, though, when it comes to in-car technology. Cadillac hopes to change that next year when it introduces the Cadillac User Experience, or CUE.
“It’s technology that will allow Cadillac to leapfrog the competition and deliver the industry’s leading in-car experience,” says Cadillac global marketing director Jim Vurpillat.
He might have said, “leading from behind.” CUE, which debuts next spring with the Cadillac XTS and then proliferates to the SRX and the yet-to-be-revealed ATS sedan, looks strikingly similar to MyFord Touch. It consists of an eight-inch color touch screen and a piano black, button-free center console that incorporates touch-sensitive controls. A configurable LCD gauge cluster is optional. As on Fords and Lincolns, there’s not a single dial.
Looks can be deceiving, however, as CUE in fact has several new tricks up its sleeve. First and foremost, Cadillac uses a capacitive touch screen like that on an iPhone or an iPad, versus the resistive touch screens used by Ford and other automakers. This means that Cadillac’s screen will respond to lighter, more delicate touches, not to mention swipes and flicks. It can also sense your hand from as far as eight inches away, which allows the screen and the controls below to light up and display shortcuts before you touch them. And like those popular Apple products, it has a hard glass surface that makes the graphics seem richer and sharper than those on competitors. On the other hand, that glass will easily smudge. More important, it won’t work when you’re wearing thick gloves, meaning you’ll have to become momentarily colder if you want to crank up the heat and dial to your favorite radio station on a chilly morning.
Another novel aspect of the Cadillac system is haptic feedback – icons on the screen and the controls on the panel below send a pulse when you touch them, simulating the texture of physical buttons. When you scroll through radio stations on the touch screen for instance, you can feel “bumps” over each station. It didn’t work perfectly on the example we briefly tried, as the feedback didn’t always correspond with what the screen was displaying. Cadillac blames outdated software on our test model, which was actually a styling buck of an SRX, and a spokesman says the real thing has no such bugs.
That hiccup aside, CUE worked quite well in our short demo. The graphics are excellent and the screen responds with the crispness we’ve learned to expect on smart phones (finally!). At this point we prefer MyFord Touch’s screen layout, particularly the color-coded hotspots at each corner that quickly whisk you to core functions. We also wish CUE took greater advantage of the phone that’s built into every Cadillac thanks to OnStar. Instead, the system relies on your handheld phone for functions such as texting. On the other hand, we love how CUE can aggregate music from multiple paired devices so that you can simply select a song (or request it using voice commands) without first having to select your phone, your iPod, or your thumb drive. Owners who aren’t constantly fumbling with multiple media devices will sooner appreciate the storage bin hidden behind the lower control panel, which flips up like a garage door.
Speaking of the less technically astute, the average buyer for the DTS, which the XTS replaces along with the STS, was seventy years old. Will those buyers be able to cope with losing the buttons and dials they’ve used for some fifty-five years? Vurpillat notes that “tech-averse” buyers can simply ignore CUE’s advanced features. “In fact you don’t have to get that deep into the system; it functions very simply,” he says. Dealers are being prepared to train customers according to their level of tech savvy, he adds.
Still, it’s hard not to interpret the integration of such avant-garde technology as yet another calculated shift away from the demographic set that not long ago carried the brand. That’s a risk. But Cadillac has proven willing and able to take risks in the past decade – on style, on performance, on a 556-hp station wagon. We’ll determine if this risk has paid off when we test CUE in the real world.