When the president of Government Motors cracks the change whip, Cadillac executives need only cite the new SRX crossover to acknowledge that the message has been received. Key differences in the 2010 edition include an engine and transmission rotated 90 degrees, primary propulsion reassigned to the front wheels, and nary a V-8 or a third row in sight. Also, the SRX's manufacturing site was shifted south of the border, and the base price drops by more than $5000.
These dramatic changes aren't just to impress the boss. Tired of the SRX's status as a sideshow in the crossover circus, Cadillac is picking a fight with what marketing boss Steve Shannon calls the class's 800-pound gorilla: the Lexus RX350.
The RX is a soft-riding, girlie crossover that's ideal for moms beyond their soccer and Cub Scout years. Fortunately, Cadillac didn't take the bland design and mushy suspension bait. Rather, the SRX is armed with in-your-face styling, an optional 300-hp turbocharged V-6, and chassis tuning more consistent with European than Asian orthodoxy.
Since the top engine won't leave the lab for a few months, Cadillac offered two preproduction SRXs with the base 265-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and optional all-wheel drive for evaluation. GM's direct-injection V-6 hums contentedly and matches the RX350's fuel economy, but it lacks both the spunk and the smoothness of the late Northstar V-8.
The SRX's base FE2 chassis rolls on eighteen-inch wheels and tires. Tick the FE3 option and you get speed-dependent power steering, variable dampers, and twenty-inch Michelin all-season radials. The SRX's optional Haldex four-wheel-drive system powers the front wheels all the time and sends torque to the rear when more than a dozen sensors suggest that's advisable. An electronic limited-slip rear differential helps maintain directional stability during spotty traction conditions.
A late spring snow set the stage for the Haldex system to shine. Following a deep stab on the gas while straddling ice and dry pavement, the SRX needed minimal steering correction. Shifting some of the propulsion load off the front wheels and onto the rears helped curb understeer in slippery bends.
The SRX's electronic dampers and rubber-isolated subframes provided a tightly controlled yet supple ride over Michigan's pockmarked pavement. Our initial conclusion is that the SRX has the ride isolation necessary to woo RX350 fans combined with the athletic handling required to run with the more agile European crossovers.
Inside, the SRX's stand-up navigation screen, climate and audio controls, and switch-laden steering wheel are gifts from the CTS. LEDs provide a pleasant glow behind the black-on-white instruments. An electronic information display is located in the tachometer's hub.
To comply with a future roof-crush standard, the SRX's pillars are broad enough to hide a Chevrolet Suburban. The steeply rising beltline and deeply tinted windows cast a pall over the rear compartment, although a huge sunroof is available to brighten the mood.
The SRX will wave Cadillac's flag both here and in far-flung export markets. Future powertrain possibilities include a two-mode hybrid and a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. We're hoping that Cadillac's change of stripes works so that these ambitious plans can be realized.