Cadillac's Art and Science design ethos is easily one of the most ambitious in the industry. But Cadillac hasn't kept pace with its competition in a number of areas, including the realm of infotainment. That's set to change when the XTS arrives next year and Cadillac introduces CUE – the Cadillac User Experience.

The all-new navigation, information and multimedia system is making its world debut at the CTIA Wireless show this week, but we've been given a sneak peak ahead of its coming out party in San Diego, CA. From what we've seen, Cadillac hasn't just made a competitive system to battle the likes of BMW's iDrive, Audi's MMI and the (aging) COMAND setup from Mercedes-Benz – CUE portends another shift in how we interact with our cars, how we access information on the go and how we can adapt vehicles to suit our individual needs and tastes. But is it the right direction? Let's take a look.

Serious Hardware

CUE's first application will be inside the 2012 Cadillac XTS, followed shortly thereafter by the ATS and SRX, with every model in the Caddy line-up getting the system by 2015. With that level of adoption, Cadillac has to back it up with some serious hardware, and the bits behind the dash don't disappoint. A three-core, ARM 11 processor that's nearly four-times more powerful than other systems on the market is sure to make tech geeks happy, particularly when it runs a modified version of Linux. The trio of cores – each offering up some 400 MIPS – are tasked with handling both the eight-inch capacitive touchscreen mounted in the center console and the 12.3-inch customizable display behind the steering wheel, with two of the cores adapting to handle voice instructions on the fly. Cadillac is already talking about bringing third-party developers into the mix, and by basing much of the system on Java and HTML5, creating custom-tailored apps or adapting existing programs for CUE should be easy and quick.




Capacitive Screens Finally Come to Cars

Although resistive touchscreens are the norm for most vehicles, in part to their durability, availability and low cost, Cadillac is finally bringing a fully capacitive touchscreen (think iPhone screen) to market. The engineers we spoke with admitted that the barrier to entry was much higher, requiring more time and expertise to get the screen up to automotive grade, but the results – both graphically and interactively – are a clear indication that what's succeeded in the consumer electronics space is on its way to vehicles.

But where Cadillac has upped the game is with its industry-first, proximity-sensing, haptic feedback and multi-touch interface. When the central screen is not being used, elements fade into the background and only appear when the system senses the driver's hand is within eight inches of the screen. That both eliminates a level of distraction and provides the user with the information they need exactly when they need it. The same goes for the haptic feedback setup, which integrates with the capacitive screen to give the user a subtle pulse when selecting a function or what engineers described as a "sandpaper" sensation when scrubbing through a list. And anyone familiar with iOS, Android, WebOS or Windows Phone 7 interfaces will be instantly familiar with the multi-touch capabilities that allow you to swipe, pinch and flick through menus, lists and 3D maps.





Simplified Buttons... We Hope

By utilizing the new screen and its endless configuration options, Caddy has reduced the number of buttons on the steering wheel from around 20 down to four, although that's a bit of a misnomer. Two buttons each control menu selection and volume adjustment, while a directional pad allows users to move up, down, left and right, along with pressing down to make a selection. All those controls are handled on the right spoke of the steering wheel, condensing everything you need into one area.

Additionally, the capacitive technology extends down the center stack to provide controls for volume, power and HVAC settings, and stands to be both less cluttered and more intuitive than systems like MyFord Touch. When the vehicle is off, all the lights fade into the piano black panel, making the stack look like an African mask from the 23rd century. And in a nod to Lord LaHood, the center stack opens electronically to store your mobile phone or MP3 player in a soft touch, custom-molded tray with a blue-lit USB input.





UI First, Engineering Second

Work on CUE started a little over three years ago, with Cadillac designers riding with 32 consumers over a six-month period to study driving habits. Only after key decisions were made on the user interface were engineers allowed to join the party. That's a major shift in how these systems are normally developed and it's a defining factor in how CUE operates and how users interact with the system.

While we wouldn't call the UI achingly attractive, the functionality is there in spades, starting with the applications. The eight-inch screen is customizable, allowing users to change the layout of the core integrated apps (audio, nav, phone, climate, text, OnStar, help and settings) just as you would the home screen of your phone. Further, the most regularly used functions line the bottom of the screen, allowing the driver to swipe through various functions, ranging from a favorite radio station or playlist to live traffic and weather data (including 3D doppler), navigation to a regularly used destination or even movie times. All this negates the need to scroll through endless menus to access what you use most often, allowing the system to serve up the information or feature sets both quickly and easily.

But while the center screen is impressive and the prediction capabilities are long overdue, it's the 12.3-inch screen mounted ahead of the driver we're geeked on the most.




World-First Truly Customizable Instrument Panel

Unlike the digital dash of yesteryear or the attractive, but marginally useful display used on the Jaguar XJ, the CUE's LCD instrument panel is the first truly user-customizable setup.

Drivers can select one of four different displays to suit their needs and driving habits, each with custom-selected elements that spans the spectrum from minimalist to info-overload.



The first layout is a familiar three-gauge display, with a tachometer and speedo, along with engine temperature and fuel level flanking basic music playback information.



The next design is slightly more high-tech, with a numerical speed indicator front and center, cheesy gas pump illustration, tire pressure monitoring display and map, with integrated turn-by-turn navigation instructions.



A third option – more geared towards enthusiasts – includes an enlarged speedometer and tach, fuel gauge, temp readings, TPMS and a 3D animated rendering of the vehicle that highlights performance information.



Finally, there's the grandma setting, which simply consists of speed, fuel level, tire pressure and phone or audio information.



Another element that's currently in development and should make it to production is the ability for a user to swipe a navigation destination or radio element from the center screen to the instrument panel (see it toward the end of the video). Cadillac believes this could be another interesting way to access information beyond voice control, capacitive selection and physical buttons.


Natural Language Speech Recognition

Anyone that's endured most voice command systems knows you've got to memorize exact wording to access certain functionality. Saying "Play artist Kid Cudi" or "Navigate" and then going through each individual dialog to enter an address is both tedious and unintuitive. Cadillac wants to rectify that with a new speech recognition engine.

Instead of speaking contrived strings of words for the computer to recognize, CUE will interpret more natural commands like "I want to listen to 88.5" or "play rock." Navigation entry is just as easy, allowing drivers to simply say the address in one shot without having to break it down into city, state, street and house number. This functionality extends throughout CUE's different elements, and should be even more helpful with app selection and usage.




Apps and Apps

At launch, Cadillac will offer Pandora and Stitcher radio integration, and plans to have another 30 apps available within the first year. In addition to the standard functions and the third-party apps, CUE will also allow users to receive text messages and have them read aloud, although responses will be limited to pre-canned messages.

Of course, CUE will come equipped with all the standard modern infotainment bits, including AM/FM/HD and XM radio, a pair of USB ports, an SD card slot, Bluetooth 3.0 telephony, contact importation and audio streaming, iPod integration and an available BluRay rear seat entertainment system.

While this all looks excellent on paper, we've got at least another few months to see if Cadillac can deliver. Pricing hasn't been set and it hasn't been determined if CUE will be standard on all models, but the team at Cadillac has finally developed a system inside that matches their forward-looking exteriors. That's a massive step in the right direction. Now they just have to execute it.


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  • 94 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      nvedamuthu
      • 3 Years Ago
      Autoblog, Caddys aren't for old people anymore SO GET OVER IT. I'm tired of hearing the BS you say when reviewing American luxury. "we wouldn't call the UI achingly attractive" WTF? The UI looks even better than the XJ'S AND it has more features. Get over the fact that Cadillac is the new standard and the Germans are going to be sitting on their asses and staring.
      OptimusPrimeRib
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm loving the interior. Caddy is really coming up. I'm loving the design. Very sleek looking. If the ATS looks like this on the inside Iknow what my next car will be.
      Autoblogist
      • 3 Years Ago
      The XTS has a beautiful interior. I was a little bummed when they first interior spy shots showed a traditional console shifter as opposed to the electronic shifter in the concept, but it does look good here. It's gonna be interesting to see how the XTS compares to a S-Class or 7-Series. I'm guessing it will get pricing similiar to the Equus which is awesome.
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      Looks nice and all, but I think it is a mistake to move away from the sliding screen that the CTS uses. Love the fact that when you don't need it, it (mostly) disappears, but when you want the screen (for navigation and other things), it pops up out of the dash. The XTS might not be the game-changer that Cadillac really needs at the top of their lineup, but these images make me think that its not going to be a bad choice either.
      sckid213
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have a current-gen CTS with the pop-up touchscreen NAV system. CUE (clever name) blows away the current system, but I like how they've retained the balance between the touch screen and the redundant hard buttons on the console. On the current system, you can quickly adjust the climate control temp using the buttons without having to dig thru menus on the touch screen (in fact, you can't do it via touch screen). In fact, you can control most functions currently using buttons on the console and steering wheel and don't HAVE to use the touch screen in most instances. It looks like that's retained here, which is nice. The UI of the current system is underrated, so I have hope that this will be a well-done system. That said, my dad doesn't particularly like the touch-screen stuff, and it simply terrifies my mom. I think it would be wise to offer an XTS with a handsome traditional gauge cluster, and a minimalist touch screen interface. This would a) keep entry prices down b) not scare off older "traditional" Caddy buyers and c) still allow Caddy to use the CUE system as a core marketing message. I think they'd be safe making it standard on the ATS -- now THAT would be awesome!
      timwinsall
      • 3 Years Ago
      greatest car ever
      dohc73
      • 3 Years Ago
      In the photo gallery, the 19th photo; below "vehicle info": the new ATS?
        AlphaGnome
        • 3 Years Ago
        @dohc73
        I was wondering that myself.. I've been trying to compare that picture to this spy photograph and I'm not sure... http://www.autoblog.com/photos/spy-shots-2013-cadillac-ats/full/#photo-4436383/
      Greg
      • 3 Years Ago
      A big waste of money, IMO. Conventional buttons & knobs cost less, are more reliable, and perform better than any touch screen. (Why do you think phones with touch screens open up to expose a *real* keyboard? While the screens look cool and are fun for playing Angry Birds, they are impractical for actually controlling things.) New & more expensive tech to recreate & simulate buttons? Just go back to real buttons. Also, capacitive technology is useless with gloves; real buttons always work. Icons that aren't there unless you reach for them don't reduce any clutter--they just make it harder to press since you have to look at the screen while you stretch your hand toward it. Oh, and let's not forget how ugly the screen looks with all those nasty, greasy fingerprints all over it. The MyFord Touch system has proven that computers in cars have the same problem as computers at home/work--they take time to boot up, they crash, they reboot while you're trying to use them, they get confused, and there's too much garbage in/garbage out. My car system has no computer, has never failed, never had to reboot, has never gotten 'confused,' is always ready to go, is faster than any of these systems, and does everything I want it to do, and it costs a fraction of these systems. These infotainment systems are a lot like automatic seat belts. Hopefully the NHTSA bans them.
        Autoblogist
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Greg
        At what point is in-car automotive technology supposed to stop evolving? Maybe they should've never put a radio inside a car? Maybe we should still be looking a down at maps? You say buttons are the way to go, but I seem to remember only a few years ago when having too many buttons was a distraction. You might not be happy with the current state Iof touchscreen technology in cars, but if has to start somewhere and then evolve. That's generally how technology works.
        Rotation
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Greg
        Touch sensors are a lot cheaper than conventional buttons and knobs. The screen portion of the touch screen does cost a bit of money, but a car in the Cadillac price range would have a screen in the center console anyway, for NAV, so this ends up being quite cost effective. Most phones with touch screens do not open up to expose a real keyboard. You are perhaps thinking of something like the Motorola Droid. But note that the latest version of the Motorola Droid, the Droid 3, isn't much of a seller, it is vastly outsold by other Droids in the range like the Droid X, all of which do not have real keyboards. But I agree with you about having to look at the screen, even the boot up stuff. I doubt this system will boot up though, there are techniques to avoid having to boot up when the car turns on. In the end, these systems are here to stay because you can put far more functionality behind them. Cars do more and more and having buttons for each function would make the center stack too complicated with many small buttons.
        Fat Stig
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Greg
        buttons more reliable? obviously youve never owned a 15 year old car. My last 2 cars would object to that statement if their object buttons still worked.
        Typesbad
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Greg
        There is no question luxury cars are going to move in this direction. As we all get more experienced with our smart phones and tablets, buttons and knobs on high-end car will increasingly appear inadequate and antiquated. Still, I have my reservations. Phone hardware isn't expected to last more than a few years, how durable will these things be after the first buyers trade them in? Because than they will have to be trusted by people like me. And if we aren't confident they will be glitch-free for us, what will that do to the resale vales for the initial buyers?
      SYJ
      • 3 Years Ago
      This inteior is HOT and AB really needs to tone down the snarky skepticism everytime they review something american. Who the hell said the gas gauge icon was "cheesy"? WTF does that even mean? Use adult language and when you critique something offer some context or justification. That 12.3" display is one of the most high tech interior components in any car. Its far more advanced than the LCD display in the new BMWs and credit should be give. Over on IL they are dismissing the system by saying they've seen some of this tech in a Ferrari. Well guess what folks, this car will cost a fraction of what any Ferrari costs. And it will be available in the ATS and SRX which will be even cheaper than the XTS.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SYJ
        [blocked]
        Mazdaspeed6
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SYJ
        Your right. And I didn't even think twice about it until you brought it up. Sad part is though that your past doesn't go away and the Big 3 will continue to pay for the mistakes they made over the past decades in one way or another. I come from a family that doesn't believe in buying a Chrysler, Ford or GM product. Do I agree? No. Do I understand? Yes.
      reattadudes
      • 3 Years Ago
      I traded in my Lincoln MKZ (2008) in a Cadillac CTS because I couldn't get a new MKZ without all of this electronic crap. Lincoln is having fits with not only electronic glitches, and customers dislike the system and it's complexity. now it looks like I've bought my last Cadillac (I bought my first new Cadillac when I was 37, twenty years ago) if all of them are going to have all of this complex garbage. and to all those who would care to disagree, I have one question: after all of your tekkie oohs and aahs are done, which one of you plans on ponying up $60K for a new XTS? I didn't think so.
        Hazdaz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @reattadudes
        The problem is that the marketplace - mostly fueled by the automotive media - wants all that technogadgetry.... or at least they THINK they do. Any carmaker that introduces a high-end vehicle that doesn't have stupid screens all over the place will get slammed by the press for being low-tech, behind the times or the like. We've seen this time and again, where consumers are sold vehicles that are laden with stuff that we really don't need, but unless car companies check all the boxes, they will get slammed in the next vehicle comparo. Look at the ridiculousness of 3rd row seating. No one ever uses them, and it adds considerably to cost, weight and sometimes the overall size of the vehicle, and yet try to sell an SUV or crossover today without it. Navigation is another similar feature. I use my $200 phone for any navigation, and its easier and probably more accurate than any $2000 built-in system, but if the next GM or Toyota vehicle doesn't have it, then those companies are painted as being cheapskates. I don't want a stupid nav screen and neither do most people I talk with, so stop telling these companies that consumers demand them! "Journalists" think we want them because they look at dozens of cars each month so they want to look at new and different innovations or else they get bored and have nothing to write about. Most consumers aren't like that. We don't tend to get into hundreds of cars each year and thus we aren't looking at the next-big-thing. 3 simple dials for AC/vents/heating and a couple of other buttons/knobs for everything else is all we want. I am the biggest techno-geek around, but I don't need USELESS technology that can be just as easily done with a simple mechanical button.
        Bavarian818
        • 3 Years Ago
        @reattadudes
        Grandma Mode is also synonomous for Grampa Mode!!!!! They got you covered pops....
      GoFaster58
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm sorry but I just don't need all of that crap! I want to concentrate on my driving. I don't need satellite radio because I have my own CD's. I don't even need GPS because I know where I'm going.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @GoFaster58
        [blocked]
        SYJ
        • 3 Years Ago
        @GoFaster58
        Dont by a luxury car. Have you seen any BMWs and Audis lately? Apparently not.
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