Driven: The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Something of a Revelation

But can its impressive details deliver success?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—We're going to lead off this review of Cadillac's new three-row XT6 crossover SUV with an item we normally wouldn't bother to mention, but with most such vehicles essentially following the same template, we suppose one must take pizazz where they can find it. So, here goes: A premium, hot-foil stamping process is used to create the XT6's bright grille finish, both to ensure durability and to make it easier to clean. Cadillac prominently promotes the XT6's grille as the first such piece inspired by its Escala concept to find its way onto a production SUV, and it is a standout piece on an otherwise bland exterior design. This is pretty much the most you can hope for with virtually any crossover, given their ubiquity.

Indeed, behind that distinctive nose, the Cadillac XT6 falls into an SUV layout trap, with its front-wheel-drive mechanicals resulting in the shortest possible dash-to-axle proportions and a long, blocky front overhang. From the front axle back, the Cadillac appears tall, square and upright, which pays off inside in terms of second- and third-row legroom and headroom. The third row is probably the most comfortable in the midsize premium SUV segment for grown adults, while the fore-and-aft-adjustable captain's chairs in the second row get a separate set of climate controls. The Cadillac XT6 feels nearly as roomy as the Buick Enclave with which it shares a platform, but it's actually nearly half a foot shorter overall and has a wheelbase 6.2 inches shorter.

From behind the wheel, the fully loaded, $69,000 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport Platinum we drove from Georgetown to the far, horsey country reaches of Northern Virginia was a bit of a revelation. In addition to its capacious second and third rows—the middle row also had heated outboard positions—the SUV was elegantly and tastefully finished in supple semi aniline Opus leather on the seating surfaces, dash, doors, and console. Its fit and finish was excellent, and the Platinum trim also included a microsuede headliner and a thin horizontal microsuede accent strip along the dashboard.

A new 14-speaker Bose Performance audio system sits between the standard Bose audio system and the Bose Panaray system as seen in the CT6. There's a new Cadillac User Experience (CUE) interface, with a freshly adopted rotary controller nicely finished in chrome. Wireless charging for compatible smartphones is standard, as is near-field communication sharing for Android-powered devices. There are six total type A and type C USB outlets.

Buttons in the rear of the cargo area fold and unfold both the second and third rows. Cadillac's latest new model, which will slot below the all-new next-generation Escalade arriving next year, has a better-finished interior than its flagship sedan, the endangered CT6. The only downside of our example is that the mostly black interior with carbon-fiber accents looks too dark, even as it feels warm, rich, and coddling.

Once underway on the road, the XT6 Sport feels the way the interior looks. First and foremost, it's extremely and incredibly quiet, especially for a big, lunky SUV. The 310-hp V-6 motivates it nicely, and with no noticeable torque steer even in its normal front-wheel-drive mode. Click to the Sport setting and it's always in all-wheel-drive, with the twin-clutch rear differential able to apply torque to a wheel independently via applying the brakes. This is yaw control, not torque vectoring, Cadillac says, and combined with the Sport setting's rear-torque bias, mitigates understeer while providing a liveliness that makes the XT6 feel smaller than it is, all without the sort of rock-hard suspension of SUVs pretending to be sport sedans. The two-row, midsize Cadillac XT5 also uses this platform, but the XT6's front and rear tracks are two inches wider.

The steering is about right, too. It's quick and responsive, but not overly so for a tall SUV, while also being precise and light. The XT6 Sport's steering, at a 15:1 ratio, is just a bit quicker than the XT6 Premium Luxury's 16:1. Among the standard and optional automated driver-assistance features are night-vision cameras, front-pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, and front and rear short-range radar. There's a new higher-definition rearview camera mirror, its lens hidden along with the rear wiper in the spoiler atop the rear window. A high-definition video recorder can be run on five-minute increments and saved to an SD card.

The Cadillac XT6 will soon be available with Cadillac's SuperCruise automated driving system, though not at launch. It will be offered with two headlight systems, too, bifurcated LEDs with cornering lights standard, while optional lamps with 32 adaptive LEDs will not be available at launch, at least not here. Cadillac (and some of its competitors, including Audi), have applied to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for U.S. approval of such advanced lighting setups. So the 2020 Cadillac XT6 has the tech to go with the smooth, quiet ride of a proper luxury SUV, making it a credible competitor for the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE-class, Infiniti QX60, Acura MDX, and most important, the all-new Lincoln Aviator.

Cadillac, which for the last couple of decades has been rebuilding an attractive lineup of rear-wheel-drive-based sedans, should have it all over crosstown rival Lincoln. But now Lincoln has thrown a curveball with the rear-drive-based Aviator, which has the kind of sporty and aggressive proportions that, if applied by Cadillac, would make the XT6 a more visually appealing SUV. We'd like to say that because of its luxury features, silky dynamics, and sublime premium interior, the Cadillac XT6's drive configuration won't matter, but that's not true. Okay, it's drive configuration probably won't matter to most buyers, but the proportions it dictates will—and in this segment, intangibles like elegant aesthetics can make or break a new model.

2020 Cadillac XT6 Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE Premium Luxury, $53,690; Sport, $58,090
ENGINE 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6; 310 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 271 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 6- or 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 17-18/24-25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 198.8 x 77.3 x 68.9 in
WHEELBASE 112.7 in
WEIGHT 4,500-4,700 lb (est)
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