Not Quite The Cadillac Of Cadillacs

2013 Cadillac XTS

There was a time when the name of the second oldest American automotive nameplate meant something more. The term "Cadillac" was widely used to express the best of the best. In fact, it was common for people to use the term when referring to other items (e.g., "It's the Cadillac of stereo receivers" or the "Cadillac of washing machines") to drive home the point that something was nothing short of top-of-the-line.

It was good to be Cadillac, and the automaker supported the conviction with vehicles such as the 1928 Series 341, 1936 V12 Series 85 and 1947 Series 62.

By the 1970s, though, much of the luster had begun to fade. Then vehicles like the Cimarron and Catera happened.

But Cadillac has been on track to redeem itself. Vehicles like the SRX crossover and CTS range (especially the high-performance CTS-V models) have helped the 110-year-old luxury automaker alter the public's opinion and reinvigorate the brand. Retiring the full-size DTS is another milestone, as fresh new products began to fill the pipeline.

Enter the all-new 2013 Cadillac XTS. For the next couple years, the full-size luxury sedan is tasked with holding the flagship role in Cadillac's passenger car lineup. Meaning, in so many words, that the range-topping model loaded with nearly every bell-and-whistle known to man and a base price of $60,000 should be... well... the Cadillac of Cadillacs.


2013 Cadillac XTS side view2013 Cadillac XTS front view2013 Cadillac XTS rear view

Where the Lacrosse wears leisure suit sheetmetal, the XTS arrives with much crisper and more attractive attire.

Perusing Autoblog's archives, first word of the Cadillac XTS arrived nearly three years ago at a General Motors press conference. But it wasn't until January of 2010, at the Detroit Auto Show, when we first took pictures of the XTS Platinum concept on stage. At the time, we said "...this is one of, if not the most production ready 'concepts' we've ever seen." More than two years later, we found ourselves behind the wheel of a production XTS (appearing strikingly familiar to the concept) running through the hills above Malibu, California.

The XTS is built on GM's Epsilon II platform, shared with the Buick Lacrosse. It is a solid chassis, and its use allows Cadillac to also borrow the engine, transmission and front suspension from its near-cousin.

But to make a Cadillac a Cadillac, the automaker had to do more than just a simple tailor. Where the Lacrosse wears leisure suit sheetmetal, the XTS arrives with much crisper and more attractive attire. It is modern, sophisticated and classy. From the automaker's signature grille and HID headlights, to the low center-mounted LED reverse lamps, the overall styling has presence. In fact, it's a bonafide head turner..

2013 Cadillac XTS headlight2013 Cadillac XTS grille2013 Cadillac XTS wheel detail2013 Cadillac XTS taillight

The interior is even more distinctive. Leather upholstery contrasted by real wood and aluminum trim is standard across the board, and it makes the cabin especially warm and inviting. Nearly every imaginable surface a human is likely to touch has been addressed either with soft materials or premium-grade components. Higher grades feature a full leather-wrapped instrument panel and dashboard with ambient cabin lighting throughout.

All models arrive with the automakers new CUE (Cadillac User Interface) system as standard equipment.

Raising the bar even further, Cadillac has seriously committed the XTS to the digital age. The main instrument cluster is an advanced user-configurable color flat screen to display everything from a virtual analog speedometer to Pandora album art (premium models not only receive an even larger display, but they are configured with a color head up display as standard equipment) and all models arrive with the automakers new CUE (Cadillac User Interface) system as standard equipment.

Under the hood of the XTS is GM's 3.6-liter "LFX" V6 engine. The direct-injected powerplant, mounted transversely in the engine bay, is rated at 304 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 264 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. It is bolted to a Hydra-Matic 6T70 six-speed wet automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels. A Haldex all-wheel-drive system with electronically controlled limited-slip differential is optional on all but the base model. Burning regular unleaded fuel, the EPA rates the front-wheel drive XTS at 17 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.

2013 Cadillac XTS engine

A coil-over strut suspension is used in the front, while the rear features a linked H-arm suspension architecture. GM's Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) damping is standard on all four corners with an air system used to keep the body level in the rear. The four-piston fixed-caliper front brakes, and single-piston sliding-caliper rear brakes, are sourced from Brembo. Standard models are fitted with 19-inch wheels (wearing 245/45R19 all-season tires), but the range-topping model is equipped with 20-inch alloys (245/40R20 tires) from the factory.

The loaded XTS we were driving was priced at about $59,100 including destination.

Cadillac will offer the XTS in four different trim levels. The standard model, which is impressively well-equipped in our book, is just called the XTS (base price $44,995). Moving up is the Luxury Collection ($49,610) followed by the Premium Collection ($54,505). At the top of the podium is the Platinum Collection ($59,080), while a mandatory destination fee will add $920 to all prices. Major options include all-wheel drive ($2,225), the UltraView sunroof ($1,450), Driver Awareness Package ($890) and an upgraded audio package for lower trim levels with navigation ($795). Our test vehicle, priced at about $59,100 (including destination), was a Premium trim fitted with all-wheel drive and the expansive panoramic glass roof.

We spent several hours with the all-new full-size sedan in the greater Los Angeles Basin following a drive route that Cadillac had mapped out for journalists. It included stop-and-go city traffic in Santa Monica, highway travel up Pacific Coast Highway and touring some of the area's famed mountain roads including Mulholland, Encinal and Old Topanga Canyon.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2012 Cadillac XTS

Seated comfortably in the driver's seat, we found ourselves surrounded by a cockpit emitting an undeniable aura of luxury. It both looks and feels spacious. The soft 10-way adjustable seats were supportive (plenty of lumbar), but the side bolstering felt minimal against our six-foot two-inch 190-pound frame. A quick glance around the cabin revealed average outward visibility with the only major obstructions being thick C-pillars and bloated rear head restraints from the second row. Of particular note, we liked the padding on each side of the center console that provides a cushion for your right leg and the thick padding for your left elbow on the door.

CUE's entire facade shows fingerprints as if recently dusted by a criminologist.

Taking center stage is Cadillac's highly touted CUE system. In practice, the CUE is intuitive, seemingly all-encompassing and wildly fascinating to use. Unlike the more common joystick-type controllers (e.g., iDrive, COMAND and MMI), Cadillac's system requires the operator to physically manipulate an eight-inch capacitive-touch control screen as its human interface. Working it much like they would an iPad (one of Apple's popular tablet devices come free with every XTS), users simply touch the buttons or screen to activate various features. Proximity sensing (it sees your hand moving towards the screen and comes "alive") and haptic feedback (the buttons vibrate when touched) ease use in the automotive environment. As an added surprise, resting a hand on the silver bar at the bottom of the CUE opens the panel to reveal a storage compartment complete with a USB input for a phone or other input device.

After experimenting with the system in a parked vehicle, as a passenger and lastly from the driver's seat, we found its reaction time slower than expected. Plus, the often-used "Home" button is small and off to the right (away from the driver). We wanted it smack in the middle at the bottom of the screen, as found on so many tablets. And CUE's entire facade – from the capacitive-touch display to the glossy black panel – shows fingerprints as if recently dusted by a criminologist. Cadillac thoughtfully provides a small microfiber towel in the glove box of each XTS to wipe away the accumulated grease, but isn't that an obvious admission of the flaw?

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With the six-cylinder engine idling (the exhaust note is non-existent) we spent a few more minutes playing around with the instrument cluster. The primary digital instrument display, projecting the tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, is much more legible and with better contrast than the one currently used by Jaguar/Land Rover. It is configurable to an extent, but none of the preset arrangements met our needs (so we just kept it in standard mode).

The ride is unmistakably tuned for luxury, but also never feels floaty, unsettled or unstable.

On the road, there was no mistaking this Cadillac's mission. Unlike the Audi A6, which masks its front-wheel-drive architecture convincingly well, the XTS couldn't keep a straight face for two minutes – it is nose heavy and front-biased. The 5 Series and E-Class feel much better balanced, as those rear-wheel sedans should.

Yet the Cadillac does ride very well. The Epsilon II chassis deserves some of the kudos, as it provides an excellent foundation for GM's very competent MRC damping. The magneto-rheological system won't work impossible miracles, meaning passengers will still feel bumps and dips, but it did do an amazing job removing the harshness and unnecessary body roll. Overall, the ride was comfortable on even the most broken pavement. The ride was unmistakably tuned for luxury, but it also never felt floaty, unsettled or unstable.

2013 Cadillac XTS CUE

We were less impressed with the powerplant. Even though the XTS sprints to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, the engine felt overwhelmed when tasked with moving this 4,215-pound sedan and its cargo smartly off the line (in its defense, we did have three adult males on board – a hefty extra 600 pounds). Further frustrating us, the six-speed transmission seemed challenged to shift smoothly and with confidence. The automatic gearbox hunted for gears often, and its shifts (both up and down) were not up to today's competitive standards. Cadillac puts steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in each XTS, but their reaction to our finger's inputs felt numb and delayed.

Cruising is what this full-size Cadillac is all about.

The XTS was more at home on the highway. A quiet and well-isolated cabin kept noise levels low, and the ride was smooth and comfortable. Straight-line stability is good and the brakes were reassuringly strong when traffic slowed unexpectedly. Cruising is what this full-size Cadillac is all about.

Yet mid-way through our drive, about two miles on Old Topanga Canyon road, the Cadillac was struggling to uphold its composure. In a well-sorted car, the brakes, suspension, engine, transmission and steering all work as a team. In the XTS, the brakes and suspension were working magnificently (we really like the MRC), but the engine, transmission and steering appeared confused with the challenging drive route. Four squealing Goodyear tires weren't helping the argument, either. While the XTS was actually fairly competent overall (we never felt out of control), it really didn't want to be on that road.

2013 Cadillac XTS rear 3/4 view

After grabbing a bite to eat at the Inn of the Seventh Ray, we headed down Topanga Canyon until it intersected Pacific Coast Highway again. With the nose of the sedan pointed east, we headed back to our hotel. The 40-minute drive gave us plenty of time to relax and ponder the big picture when it came to Cadillac's newest sedan.

In its current state the XTS won't do much to raise the image of the brand.

We spent a lot of time talking with Cadillac executives about the new car, as we tried to figure out exactly what it is competing with. By the tape, it is as large as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. However, it's priced to undercut the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. But size and price alone do not define competitors.

Cadillac displayed a graphic to further help us out. With vehicles represented as tiny diamonds on a chart, the upcoming ATS was aligned with the A4, 3 Series and C-Class. The slightly larger CTS models were aligned with the A6, 5 Series and E-Class. Curiously though, the infographic presented the new XTS aligned with the A8, 7 Series and S-Class – isn't that where the rumored upcoming rear-wheel drive Omega-based luxury sedan is supposed to go?

The all-new Cadillac left us bewildered and mildly frustrated. The sedan offers a strong platform, impressive interior, innovative electronics and a superb ride, yet the engine and transmission are serious shortcomings. The XTS may be an interesting alternative for those accustomed to the Lexus ES350, Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse, but in its current state the new luxury sedan won't do much to raise the image of the brand – and that is what the automaker really needed. Sadly, the all-new 2013 Cadillac XTS falls short of being the highly anticipated, and much-needed, "Cadillac of Cadillacs."