One day a few years back, an SUV engineer somewhere was sitting in his office daydreaming, when suddenly a Suburban rear-ended a Porsche 911 outside his window, and he caught a glimpse of the unified mess of metal. It hit him. "Hey, guys," he proclaimed, "why don't we take one of these stupid trucks and make it really fast?" Thus was spawned the too-tall-to-be-a-wagon but too-fast-to-be-an-SUV segment of the market that is now home to the Infiniti FX45, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the BMW X5 4.8, and the Cadillac SRX. Things apparently move a bit slower in England; in an attempt to go where everyone else is leaving, Land Rover's new LR3 offers a traditional formula: lots of weight, lots of utility, and little gas mileage or agility. The completely new Discovery replacement promises the off-road prowess that Land Rover has come to represent, but can it escape the tractor like ride and poor reliability of the outgoing Disco and compete with modern offerings? On the other hand, is Cadillac falling short on utility for the sake of handling and speed? Or has one of these companies mixed the ingredients just right to serve up a delicious vehicle?
In a Cadillac TV commercial, a man is driving his SRX in complete silence until he stops and allows the sound to catch up to him. While this may be a bit of a stretch, the SRX V-8 is scorching fast for an SUV-and, indeed, it can hold its own in almost any company. Our test car was mysteriously free of the heavy "Ultraview" sunroof that provides five square feet of open-air scenery, despite the fact that this sunroof is allegedly standard. Did GM send us a ringer? We considered strapping an intern to the roof to compensate for the missing weight, but liability issues quashed that idea.
Much of the SRX's athleticism can be traced to its Sigma architecture, also used in the Cadillac CTS and STS. Complementing the exceptional chassis is a four-wheel independent suspension with load-leveling rear shocks. And if the standard SRX isn't agile enough, Cadillac offers Magnetic Ride Control, which uses a magnetized fluid to provide exceptionally responsive damping. Good body control and a smooth ride really do coexist with this suspension, but it is available only as part of the $6920 Luxury Performance package, which also includes a third-row seat, a trailer hitch, navigation, XM satellite radio, a rear-seat entertainment system, and HID headlamps. Combined with all-wheel-drive, the package pushes the SRX to a heart-stopping $59,650 (a base V-6 costs just under $40,000). That's a lot of cash. But, when mated to Cadillac's outstanding Northstar V-8 (in its first all-wheel drive application), the SRX does offer a driving experience unmatched by any other seven-passenger sport-ute and on par with some sport sedans. Combine the prodigious performance with a commodious interior, and the price looks almost reasonable.
With big wheels, thin tires, and a suspension focused toward on-road performance, the SRX is, needless to say, a poor performer on gravel. Where the LR3 is smooth, quiet, and sure-footed, the SRX is loud and jittery. With the exception of a lakehouse driveway or an emergency orange-peel delivery to the soccer field, though, we feel most SRX buyers will be unaffected by this small issue.
In this otherwise superb vehicle, the SRX's interior is its one fatal flaw. In comparison with the beautifully chiseled exterior and amazing dynamics, design and material quality inside the cabin are disappointing. Cadillac's interior vehicle designer, Michael Burton, claims the interior has "rich, inviting materials, a precise, easy-to-use layout and fine workmanship." While the layout is indeed lovely, materials-especially switches and plastics in the doors and dash-are poor, and the burled walnut trim molded into improbable shapes left us wondering if it is actually wood. The touch-screen navigation system and stereo were enjoyable, and despite the extra weight, the massive sunroof we've experienced in other SRXs is a desirable feature. But in a class as competitive as this, it takes more than a giant hole in the roof to make an interior memorable.