First Drive: 2012 Cadillac SRX

Courtesy of Manufacturer

Here are two ways of looking at the 2012 Cadillac SRX: 1) The sleekly designed second-generation model was underdeveloped when introduced in 2010, or 2) the dogged and hard-working people involved with this crossover are pursuing Japanese-style continuous improvement, which explains the significant upgrades after only two years.

If number one were true, it didn't matter. While it had its merits, the first generation SRX, introduced in 2004, looked like an old boot, and it sold poorly. The second-generation one, with its cut-and-thrust styling, has moved the SRX into runner-up position in the mid-luxury crossover segment, and you have to figure that it's only the customarily mediocre (but reportedly improving) Cadillac dealership experience that hasn't accelerated demand even more and made the Lexus RX350 and RX450h want to get off their ballet points and put on some boxing gloves.

But Cadillac's people -- like development engineer Steve Kline, a large man with blond eyebrows and a cell phone that rings at 3 a.m. -- show the mettle that everyone knew could be found in Detroit.

"We're going to make this car better and better," Kline says, and you feel he means it.

So let's call the 2012 Cadillac SRX a combination of both of the above factors, desperation and persistence. GM was indeed in a desperate situation, and maybe it hurried the second generation to market. The 3.0-liter V-6 it came with was hardly stellar. But now, with the addition of the direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 that adopts numerous refinements after its debut in the CTS sedan or coupe, the SRX represents a better value than ever, one that's highly appealing and surprisingly entertaining to drive, with performance only being held back by the crossover's useful bulk. In the marketplace, just the limited production capability of suppliers to the assembly plant in Ramos Arizpe, Coahuila, Mexico, and the aforementioned, soon-to-congeal dealer body can hold back the SRX.

The compact, 60-degree 3.6-liter V-6 that's fitted in all models, or "collections," of the 2012 Cadillac SRX busts out 308 hp, bettering the old 3.0-liter by 43 hp, and 265 lb-ft of torque at a low 2400 rpm, which is a big improvement from 223 lb-ft at 5100 rpm. This V-6, a wonder of aluminum-alloy castings and steel forgings, is tuned so that it brims with a flat torque curve, putting the power on tap as fast and sure as a midnight earmark on a Congressional bill, and this urge and surge keep on churning and boiling at that peak until very near the redline of 7200 rpm. In our test, the SRX galloped over Santa Barbara County backroads, displaying the exuberance of a two-year-old filly even while evidencing the bulk of a twelve-year-old Clydesdale. And no matter what drolleries are dispensed through the carefully tuned exhaust, the lovely cabin remains tranquil, thanks to acoustic deadeners that pull the tophat down on the engine's cleverly chattering Charlie McCarthy.

This engine -- made at plants in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Australia -- is improved with strategically fortified ribs and curved surfaces that radiate mechanical clatter and the high-pressure (2100-psi) D.I. system's hissing and ticking away from the block. The fuel pump and supply rail are scrupulously isolated, further suppressing the ruckus. During steady cruising, the cabin stayed so quiet that the loudest sound came from the backseat: the creaking of chief engineer Liz Pilibosian's BlackBerry trackball.

Furthermore, even with an 11.5:1 compression ratio, the V-6 runs on regular unleaded and has flex-fuel capability.

The six-speed automatic transmission offers a pushbutton "eco" mode for use at speeds below 50 mph, and this helps front-wheel-drive versions of the 2012 SRX to realize 17 city/24 highway mpg. (All-wheel-drive versions make 16 city/23 highway mpg.) Another selection is the tranny's sport mode that reads the driver's toes, fingers, and filthy intentions, downshifting and upshifting with remarkable lucidity. But we still prefer the manual mode, which matched revs when we geared down for tight turns on the narrow roads that wind through cow pastures and fields of berries, cabbages, and seed marigolds. Santa Barbara County in late July is unexcelled for agricultural variation.

Chassis and suspension refinement also deserve mention. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, but even with the optional twenty-inch wheels the SRX kept its composure on surfaces that sometimes were pretty rough. Front-drive is standard, but Cadillac will emphasize the availability of the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. Response from the hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion steering, which firms up nicely in turns, is praiseworthy, but pedal feel when activating the twin-piston front and single-piston rear disc brakes provoked some muttering.

Combining all of the above attributes with a well-crafted interior -- featuring such amenities as a heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated front seats in the Luxury, Performance, and Premium models -- along with the striking exterior styling makes for a winning combination.

"We feel we've built a little momentum at Cadillac," says spokesman David Caldwell. It'll be no surprise if, in two or three more years, the SRX pulls even with the Lexus RX in sales, while escalating ahead of it on the roads. That's the renewed Detroit dedication for you.


2012 Cadillac SRX

Base Price: $36,060
On Sale: August 2011

Powertrain
Engine:
3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 308hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 265 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front- and all-wheel

Measurements
L x W x H:
190.3 x 75.2 x 65.7 in
Legroom F/R: 41.2/ 36.3 in
Headroom F/R: 39.7/ 38.4 in
Cargo capacity: 61.1/29.2 cu. ft
Curb Weight: 4277-4442lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 17/24 mpg (FWD) and 16/23 mpg (AWD)

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