We had already named the Cadillac SRX an Automobile Magazine All-Star before we decided to live with one for a year. Then, halfway through our Four Seasons test, we named the SRX an All-Star for a second time. That should give you a clue about what we think of Cadillac's popular crossover.
Based on the highly regarded rear-wheel-drive Sigma platform that also underpins the CTS and STS sedans, the SRX is significant because it is uniquely a Cadillac and signals a more modern approach to the sport-utility-vehicle segment. Cadillac's other SUV, the seemingly ubiquitous truck-based Escalade, has been an undeniable sales success, but underneath its skin, the somewhat overstuffed and deeply decorated rap-mobile is simply a rebadged Chevrolet Tahoe.
From our very first test drives of the SRX, we were smitten by its ride-and-handling profile: here was an American SUV that drove like a car, not a truck. Our Four Seasons SRX prompted similar praise. "This vehicle handles brilliantly. The SRX has plenty of grip and a lovely neutral attitude," penned online editor Mike Dushane. Executive editor Mark Gillies added: "The sport-utility equation is heavily biased toward sport. The vehicle drives really well, with none of the truck ride and head toss you get with a classic SUV."
Still, we never deluded ourselves that the SRX was a sports car. It is, after all, an SUV and, as such, comes with dynamic compromises. "Out on an afternoon cruise, the SRX isn't as entertaining as it is useful at other times. It's built for luxury and comfort more than for speed," said editor-in-chief Jean Jennings. Contributor Ronald Ahrens wrote: "Generally, compliance is very good, and the car rides and handles fine, but the rear suspension is a little soft-of course, it's meant to haul cargo."
And haul cargo it did. During its tenure in our fleet, the SRX was used no fewer than four times to help various staffers and their friends and families move. With a flip of a switch, the electric third-row seat folds into the floor, creating a flat load surface. Second-row seats can be folded easily using only one hand. The "very sensible" handle on the liftgate "deserves to be widely emulated" and is a clever feature. Because the SRX's body is not as boxy as a traditional SUV, the rear opening isn't as tall or as wide, making it difficult to haul bulky items. There is still, however, 69.5 cubic feet of usable storage space behind the front seats, which was enough to allow Jennings to haul "one tall, narrow, five-drawer dresser, two taxidermy deer heads with big racks, rifles, hunting gear, four soft suitcases, two ice chests, and a few Christmas presents." The only thing it lacked was a practical roof rack. Because cross rails would have interfered with the Ultraview sunroof, our roof rack came with side rails only, foiling art director Molly Jean's attempt to affix a week's worth of camping gear to the top of the SRX.
When it wasn't being used as a rolling cargo hold, the interior worked equally well for hauling passengers in comfort. The rear-seat entertainment system was called "the best DVD player ever, crystal clear, and the wireless headphones are awesome" by the nineteen- and twenty-three-year-old offspring of copy chief Wendy Keebler. The optional Bose sound system was "exemplary," and, unlike BMW's much-denigrated iDrive, the SRX's touch-screen navigation system was "as straightforward as Nebraska and dead simple to use."
There were some mild complaints about the seats from those who felt they were too flat and lacked the appropriate amount of lumbar support, but the most vehement gripes about the interior were aimed at the dashboard layout and quality of materials. Said one particularly disgruntled driver: "The hodgepodge of materials and textures is like a visual representation of ADD: wood that looks fake even if it might be real, cheap plastic that covers the dash with its pseudo-gun-grips cross-hatching, leather-textured plastic, and, to me the most objectionable, the giant chunks of black plastic that make up the center stack, especially where the CDs are loaded." Not everyone who commented on the interior was so bitter, but the general consensus was that while Cadillac can successfully compete with upscale manufacturers such as BMW and Lexus in areas such as drivability and utility, interior fit and finish are still not up to their standards. That perception is enhanced by oddly placed switchgear-such as the rear wiper switch located in the overhead console. (More than one driver spent hours searching fruitlessly for said switch. Of course, a quick check inside the owner's manual might have helped.)
Luckily, we didn't need to consult the owner's manual for any more significant assistance, because the SRX remained mostly trouble-free during its year in our possession. At about 10,000 miles, creative director Richard Eccleston noted a significant vibration at highway speeds. Thinking it might be a bad wheel bearing, we brought the vehicle to the dealer, who told us that the wheels and brake area were packed with mud (apparently, some of us actually do take our SRXs off-road). They sagely suggested we clean the undercarriage after driving on the dirt. At 18,908 miles, the key started hanging up in the ignition, so the ignition lock cylinder and tumblers were replaced under warranty. Last but not least, at the 25,000-mile service, the front brakes were found to be worn, so the pads were replaced and the rotors turned-a little sooner than we'd have expected.
Had we been able to change one thing, it would have been our selection of the 255-hp V-6 rather than the available 320-hp Northstar V-8. We ended up regretting that decision, because our effort to keep the price of the vehicle down (a V-6-equipped, all-wheel-drive SRX starts at $40,935) was sabotaged when we decided to order the $13,660 Luxury Performance package, which included items such as eighteen-inch wheels, rear air-conditioning, heated seats, DVD navigation, and a rear-seat entertainment system. That brought our SRX's price up to a grand total of $54,595. Had we been a bit more judicious with the options, we could have had a nicely equipped V-8 model, which comes with the eighteen-inch wheels, rear air-conditioning, and heated seats as standard, for about the same amount of money. In addition, in this era of $2.50-per-gallon gasoline, the V-6 returned only 18 mpg in real-world driving, just 1 or 2 mpg more than we would expect from a V-8.
But hindsight is twenty-twenty, and the logbook comments about the V-6 piled up. Some drivers thought the engine was underpowered for a vehicle that weighs nearly 4500 pounds. According to Eccleston, the SRX "desperately needs two more cylinders. It feels underpowered on the highway." Others, such as senior editor Joe DeMatio, felt the V-6 had plenty of power but was simply too loud when pushed: "The engine always delivers, but it sure is noisy when you push it. Initially, you might think it's a nice metallic performance sort of sound, but then you realize, no, it's just damn loud." Cadillac is aware of the excessive loudness, and an effort to reduce engine noise is under way. We recently tested an SRX with the noise-abatement modifications, but more work is still needed.
The popularity of the SRX can be attested to by the fact that we kept extending its departure date, turning our Four Seasons test into a Four Seasons-plus-one-month test. Had we opted for the V-8 and had the interior materials and layout been of higher quality, this might just have been the perfect crossover SUV. As it stands, the SRX is still a very usable, dependable utility vehicle. The size is right for hauling people and their stuff, the styling is distinctive, the handling is carlike if not exactly sporty, and the entertainment and navigation systems are first-rate. That the SRX is so good is a testament to Cadillac and a signal that the division continues to head in the right direction. With a little more work on the interior trim, the SRX could be a perpetual All-Star.