In October, Cadillac will introduce its first turbocharged engine, joining the dozen or so boosted four-, six-, and eight-cylinder gas and diesel engines already energizing the crossover category.
With the flamboyant Art & Science themed exterior and stunning 20-inch wheels hogging all the attention, who will notice the 2.8T badge quietly added to the tailgate? Probably no one other than Lexus executives who now have a 300-horsepower competitor to fret over. Like a CTS on growth hormones, the rad-Cad SRX brings in-your-face styling to a segment famous for conservative dress. Cadillac believes that customers are ready for something more creatively contemporary. If so, SRX could elbow a few BMWs and Benzs aside to take a serious shot at the other X-model (Lexus RX) that has dominated this category since its inception more than a decade ago.
The center stack that entertains so well in the CTS also works convincingly here. Wood adornments come from actual trees, not injection molding machines. The top grade leather is neatly trimmed and stitched. The touch-sensitive nav screen rises majestically whenever its services are required. In place of the base 3.0-liter V-6's mpg gauge in the right cluster circle, there's a boost gauge to report how hard the turbo under the hood is working on your behalf. The tach, located to the left of the speedometer, is redlined at 6200 rpm but also ventures a few hundred rpm higher before fuel cutoff. At the center of the analogue speedometer, there's an electroluminescent display that reports velocity digitally and other information such as whether or not the Sport mode is active.
The rear seats split and fold flat to double the cargo room from 29 to 61 cubic feet. In addition, there's a handy well under the load floor in SRXs not equipped with the optional spare wheel.
Thick D-pillars and a small window in the tailgate make the view out the back seem like peering through a telescope but at least the double-paneled UltraView sunroof allows you to brighten the interior mood at the touch of a button.
Bluetooth cell phone connectivity is standard. Those skip the extra cost of a navigation system can instead use OnStar's handy turn-by-turn service to find hidden destinations.
The Bose sound system plays AM, FM, XM satellite radio, MP3, and CD or DVD material through eight or ten speakers. A USB input, a minijack, and 40GB of media storage are also available as standard or optional equipment.
A rear seat entertainment system is optional.
The turbocharged and intercooled 2.8-liter V-6 is both the baby of GM's 'high-feature' V-6 engine family and a hand-me-down from the Saab 9-3 and Opel Insignia. Notable features are an aluminum block with a shorter stroke than the SRX's 3.0-liter normally aspirated engine, cast-iron cylinder liners, jets that spray oil on the bottom side of the cast pistons, a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, and cross-bolted main bearings. Up top, there's a large air-to-air intercooler; intake and exhaust cams are both equipped with variable valve timing. The twin-scroll Mitsubishi turbo delivers a maximum 10.5 psi of boost which is present and accounted for by 2000 rpm after a jab of the throttle. The dead-flat 295 lb-ft torque plateau holds steadily to 5000 rpm and this engine continues revving enthusiastically to its 6200 rpm redline. Premium fuel is required. Since this Australian-assembled V-6 has been in service for four years, it doesn't benefit from the latest direct fuel injection technology.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is the reason why the torque is never allowed to rise about 295 lb-ft. Supplied by Aisin (in contrast to the 6-speed HydraMatic teamed with the 3.0-liter V-6), this box provides four modes-regular automatic shifting, an eco mode with early gear change programming, a Sport mode calibrated for aggressive drivers, and full manual operation with shifts controlled by the console lever. Ordering up the last two modes also tightens the dampers and firms the steering.
A Haldex coupling routes torque to the rear wheels on demand and when commanded to do so by a powertrain control computer. That device also regulates the operation of the electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. In the event one rear wheel spins on low-traction surfaces, the wheel on the opposite side quickly picks up the slack to maintain momentum.
SMART CHASSIS SYSTEMS
The ZF Servotronic speed-sensitive hydraulic power steering, Sachs continuously variable dampers, reasonably sized floating-caliper disc brakes, and a transmission that responds to the driver's preferences are all top-shelf technologies. The new turbocharged engine clips a second off the 3.0-liter V-6's zero-to-sixty acceleration time but that run still requires 7.5 seconds according to Cadillac. What keeps the SRX from demonstrating seriously sporting speed is its 4500-pound curb weight and the fact that the front wheels carry more than 56-percent of that load.
So the ride is well controlled and able to take bumps in stride but there's too little body control for hard driving. The Michelin Latitude Tour HP radials, size 235/55HR-20, give up the ghost when pressed resulting in ponderous understeer. The Haldex system needs to be recalibrated to shift more of the propulsion responsibility to the rear wheels during dry-road sprints.
Another issue is the bucket seats' design. There's too little lateral support in both the backrest and the bottom cushions to restrain the driver during hard cornering.
Cadillac is wise not to overplay the virtues of this new turbo engine. It does pick up the pace while sacrificing only one mpg in city driving (16/23 city/hwy turbo versus 17/23 city/highway with the 3.0-liter normally aspirated engine). Unfortunately, there's still not enough gusto to keep up with the Lexus RX350, which is nearly as heavy but has a large (3.5-liter) V-6 doing its bidding.
That said, the women who are generally those most enthusiastic about crossovers should be quite happy with the SRX 2.8T. It's roomy, high-riding for a commanding view, and handy for toting life's necessities. While a green leaf on the tailgate might be more prestigious than the SRX's T badge, this Cadillac easily trumps the Lexus and the European contenders on style points.
2010 CADILLAC SRX 2.8T
Base price: $49,000 (estimated)
As-Tested: $53,000 (estimated)
Engine:turbocharged and intercooled 2.8-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic