The XT5 has been a home run for Cadillac -- and we got to try it twice

Cadillac used to have a bit of a crossover problem. While other luxury brands had been selling these versatile vehicles left and right, Caddy was playing catch up, marketing its portfolio of brash, high-performance sport coupes and sedans under the “V” designation, alongside the regular versions of these cars.

But Johan de Nysschen, the executive who runs the marque, wanted crossovers, to compete with BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, Lincoln, Volvo — heck, pretty much everybody in the luxury space.

True, Cadillac has the mighty Escalade, but that’s a large-and-in-charge mega-SUV. It’s not really designed for most suburban families. It also had the SRX, a crossover that evolved from a wagon, but it was getting long-in-the-tooth and wasn’t an effective modern combatant in battles against the premium crossovers from the Germans and Japanese.

De Nysschen’s goal is to shift the portfolio away from aggressive, near-exotic designs and platforms and bring Caddy into alignment with the rest of the luxury market. That means more crossovers, starting with the XT5, the SRX’s replacement and the most important Cadillac in years.

So far, the vehicle has ben huge hit. Almost 25,000 have been sold through the first five months of 2017 — monthly sales are pushing 6,000. And the XT5 was just introduced last June.

A while back, we sampled the SUV when we received not one but two versions of the XT5, one in Florida and one in the New York-New Jersey area. Transportation Reporter Ben Zhang tried the black XT5, which came with a slightly higher-level trim package and tipped the price scales at about $A86,2015, while Senior Correspondent Matt DeBord investigated a $A78,033 “crystal white” XT5.

Here’s what we thought:

The new XT5 is undeniably sharp, but it's proves that Caddy is shifting away from its at-time divisive 'art and science,' Stealth-fighter design vocabulary toward a more globally appealing approach.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Cadillac altered its identity about two decades ago, shifting from creating large, floaty American luxury sedans to building snappy, aggressive vehicles defined by edgy angles and slablike surfaces.

It worked -- the courtly era of old-school Caddys came to and end -- but overnight Cadillac went from being a recognisable luxury brand to being an exotic brand, closer to Corvette in the GM hierarchy than Buick.

Cadillac intensified the Art and Science idea for over ten years, but as the brand has become more globally important for the leaner, meaner, post-bankruptcy GM, it's been dialed back. The XT5 isn't wimpy in appearance, but it's lost some that proudly arrogant Caddy swagger.

There's a smooth sweep of lines from front to back, with an integrated spoiler completing the roof line, and a bold -- but not too bold -- chrome-trimmed angle on the rear windows picked up and extended by the large rear tail lights. A pair of chromed exhaust ports delivers a sporty vibe.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It's all fairly low-key and should attract a lot of buyers who've been waiting for Cadillac to offer a solid crossover to tempt them away from BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and Audi.

Notice that the XT5 isn't a chrome-a-palooza. Also notice that the Cadillac badge is tastefully scaled. By far the most hulking thing about the vehicle -- from a marque that still sells that very hulking Escalade SUV -- is the tail-light design.

Everything else is calculated for broad popularity.

Ben tested a slightly higher trim level than Matt -- and Ben got to enjoy the vehicle in sunny Florida. Matt made do with New Jersey.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The interior of the car is, in a word, fantastic. It's roomy. It's luxurious without being too much. It isn't an orgy of topstitching and bright chrome. The materials are all excellent, premium, supple. The leather feels really good.

You could argue that interiors are really where the action is these days with upscale crossovers. On the outside, it's questionable whether there's much to be gained by going with a crazy design idea -- everybody who wants to buy one of these vehicles seems to be seeking the same thing.

The XT5 has a sunroof that's truly panoramic.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Case in point. Massive sunroofs are becoming standard equipment on luxury crossovers. This isn't an exterior design feature, not really.

We like 'em because they prevent the back seat from having a cave-like quality. They also give kids the chance to stargaze at night and cloudwatch during the day. On jaunts to big cities, they can also look up at skyscrapers.

Matt adores Cadillac and GM's current infotainment system.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This is debatable, but Matt thinks the Cadillac Cue system, after being complained about initially, is the best in the business right now, surpassing even Audi's infotainment setup, which we have frequently praised in the past.

What makes Cue so effective is that the touchscreen interface is simple and intuitive; both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available; voice commands work well; the navigation is excellent and well-integrated with OnStar; and wireless 4GLTE connectivity means that an entire car full of people can use their devices on the road. That's an amazing package.

But about that shifter ...

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It's annoying. We prefer vehicles that have a nice, old-fashioned P-R-N-D shifter, not one of the newfangled joystick-y deals that can confuse you about which gear you're actually in. Caddy isn't alone in using this tech, which saves space. But they don't have it in their new CT6 flagship sedan, a car we recently tested. We very much liked the familiar shifter in that vehicle.

There's also a very useful integrated smartphone holder.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This is one of those small details that we really appreciated. Having a dedicated place to stow your phone where it can both be seen and charged is helpful.

From this position, you can connect the the infotainment system via the USB port, and if you use Apple CarPlay, bring Siri online to experience the premier voice system in the auto industry. That's right -- Apple CarPlay in a Cadillac brings out the best in Siri.

Beats interfering with your cupholding pleasure!

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Why would you want to put your phone anywhere else? In the cupholders, it just rattles around and prevents you from enjoying a refreshing beverage.

Note the clean nature of this center console's design, by the way. There's brushed metal, a simple arrangement of buttons to control driving features, and a pair of cupholders that can handle just about any standard beverage container, be it cup, can, or bottle.

OnStar is indeed in the house.

Matthew DeBord/BI

OnStar has been around for decades -- it was one of the first connectivity features to show up in automobiles. For a while, it was derisively considered by some critics of the tech as a way to unlock your doors remotely, if you locked your keys in the car. Or as a way to call for help if you drove into a ditch.

But as connectivity had become much important with the advent of the internet, OnStar has been able to unlock some unforeseen value. It's helped GM get out ahead of the competition. And of course if you want hands-free directions, you push the blue button and talk to an actual person -- it's the fastest and safest way to obtain navigation.

In white, the XT5 looks just a bit sleeker.

Matthew DeBord/BI

White has become Caddy's signature colour, thanks for the 'Dare Greatly' ad campaign, with TV commercials that show white cars floating through a grey downtown New York landscape.

This colour allows some of the details in the bodywork to stand out, such as those slight ridges in the hood.

Cargo capacity is in line with the segment.

Matthew DeBord/BI

There's more than enough space back there to use the XT5 for as an upscale weekend utility vehicle, to send it to the mall to load up on threads and flatscreen TVs, or to take it on a weeklong road trip with a family of five.

And here's the only thing we had to complain about. But it's kind of a big thing.

Matthew DeBord/BI

For the most part, we enjoyed looking at the XT5, sitting in the XT5, listing to Sirius satellite radio in the XT5, using CarPlay in the XT5, driving kids around in the XT5, and going to the grocery store in the XT5.

But we didn't enjoy the combination of a 310-horsepower, 3.6-litre V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission, even when we put it into manual mode and used the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and pepped up the driving mode.

This bugged us. A premium crossover with a decent-size V6 should have been oomphier.

We asked Cadillac to explain. A spokesperson told us that Cadillac's 'engineering's team was aiming to get the best real-world fuel economy and day-to-day usability for buyers in the market segment,' adding that fuel economy ranks really high in owner surveys.'

This confirmed our theory. We didn't think there was anything wrong with the engine, but we figured that Caddy had gone for MPGs -- 18 city/26 highway/21 combined -- over performance. But we also thought that the issue could be solved by dropping in a turbocharged four- or six-cylinder powerplant. Cadillac told us that there's no plan to do this in the US, sadly.

The performance isn't THAT big a deal.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The XT5 hauls you from 0-60 mph in a Caddy-claimed 6.6 seconds, and it had a reasonably competent all-wheel-drive system that should be able to handle the worst the suburbs throw at it.

Nothing to complain about with the superb Bose audio system -- it does everything supremely well.

Matthew DeBord/BI

We've sampled all the premium audio systems on the auto market, and while some are more dynamically interesting than Bose, and some really make you feel as if you're in a rolling concert hall, Bose Surround Sound will please almost any driver or passenger and can handle any type of music, from heavy metal to New Age, pumping it all blissfully through 14 speakers.

It hits a sweet spot. You just can't find anything to complain about.

The XT5 checks off just about every box except the one marked 'fun to drive' -- and by fun, we mean fun as it the pleasure you derive from one of Caddy's 'V' sport performance-oriented cars.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Sure, Ben and Matt were slightly disappointed by a few aspects of this new crossover, but for the most part the XT5 is a solid offering in its segment. Compared with the competition from Acura, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, its interior truly sets it apart.

This is absolutely, positively the vehicle that Cadillac needs now. And from we hear, it's off to a good start.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

And it's about time Caddy got its act together with this genre of vehicle, easily the fastest-growing in the luxury marketplace. Nice work, but with some room for improvement.

The good news is that it's currently the most popular vehicle Cadillac is selling, besting everything else in the portfolio. Introduced last June, sales were up massively in May 2017, with nearly 6,000 units moving. In total, GM has sold almost 25,000 so far this year.

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