2012 Cadillac SRX Expert Review:Autoblog
Cadillac's Best-Seller Goes RX Hunting With New Ammunition
While standing in front of the newly updated 2012 Cadillac SRX, a fellow journalist asked Cadillac Communications Manager David Caldwell why the crossover wasn't based on a rear-wheel-drive chassis. The answer? "We already tried that," said Caldwell.
Those who pray to the gods of rear-wheel drive can go ahead and throw your hands in the air. Smack your forehead, toss down your napkin in disgust and walk away from the dinner table. The truth is simple: The masses like their upscale 'utes to be behave like their midsize luxury sedans. They want comfort and predictability when traipsing from the mall to school, on road trips and everything in between, albeit with a higher seating position, room for cargo out back and an air of stylish sophistication. But is that really a bad thing?
The proof is in the pudding, and today's pudding is flavored by sales figures. The previous-generation Cadillac SRX seemingly ticked all the boxes that set enthusiast's hearts aflutter – a well-engineered rear-wheel-drive chassis (GM's Sigma platform) with optional all-wheel drive, a standard high-output 3.6-liter V6 engine or an optional 320-horsepower Northstar V8, and your choice of a five- or six-speed automatic gearbox wedged between.
The automotive pressed loved the first-gen SRX. It took home Car and Driver's Best Luxury SUV award in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and was a finalist for the North American Truck of the Year award in '04. And yet it never even came close to matching its major competitors where it truly counts – the sales floor.
And then came a new Cadillac SRX in 2010, and through the bespeckled eyes of auto journalists, everything seems backwards. A transversely mounted V6 engine displacing 3.0 liters sent 265 horses to the front wheels in its base configuration, and while all-wheel drive was still optional, the Theta Premium chassis was never intended for tail-wagging antics. There was an available 2.8-liter turbocharged V6, but it didn't make up for the missing V8, and it was canceled due to slow sales after a single year on the market.
Great wails were heard from Detroit to Los Angeles, but it wasn't the sound of exasperation some expected. Instead, we heard the unmistakable beat of high-fives at GM's Renaissance Center headquarters; the cymbals of cash registers ringing in Cadillac dealerships all over the country. In one fell swoop, the Cadillac of Crossovers vaulted itself from a languishing ninth spot in the luxury crossover segment all the way up to second. And as much as Cadillac would love to wrangle the gold medal from the Lexus RX, a solid silver signals a job well done.
It comes as little surprise, then, that Cadillac chose not to alter the formula much when it refreshed the SRX for the 2012 model year. To the casual observer, a 2012 model parked next to its predecessor doesn't impart any of the major changes found under the highly creased sheetmetal. So let's dig deeper.
First and foremost, there's a new standard 3.6-liter V6 engine that uses all the latest technology at GM's disposal to pump out a solid 308 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque on either regular-grade gasoline or E85. While that output is still well shy of the old Northstar V8, it's up 35 hp and 37 lb-ft over the old 3.0, and it leads its class in standard horsepower. Better yet, there's a wide and flat torque curve right in the meat of the powerband between 2,400 and 5,300 rpm, which is exactly what you want for a vehicle bound to move its passengers through the cut-and-thrust of daily traffic.
Although anyone familiar with GM's current lineup of vehicles knows the direct injected 3.6-liter engine sees duty in a slew of other cars and crossovers, the so-called LFX nestled behind the angular grille of the 2012 SRX has been reworked for this application. Cadillac's goal was to ditch 20 pounds off the basic 3.6 engine in order to match the weight of the discontinued 3.0, and the automaker took some unique approaches to achieve its goals.
Besides the composite (read: plastic) intake manifold – a switch that's becoming increasingly common these days – a higher grade alloy was used for the connecting rods. But the most interesting bit of engineering is the complete lack of exhaust manifolds. The engineers at Cadillac were able to route spent gases directly through the aluminum heads to a single collector feeding redesigned exhaust plumbing that eventually ends in dual chrome tips at the rear of the vehicle. General Motors tells us that it now holds a patent on this clever design.
Fuel mileage shouldn't suffer much for the 2012 SRX, despite the bump in engine displacement and power. The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive 2012 SRX model at 17 city and 24 highway, down one mile per gallon all the way around from 2011. Notably, though, the new SRX features an Eco Mode for the six-speed transmission that alters throttle response and shifts to a higher gear ratio whenever possible, and GM claims that Eco Mode will reclaim that missing mile per gallon. GM also asserts that its internal testing yielded generally higher fuel mileage figures from the 2012 SRX over its predecessor, mostly due to an engine that isn't as stressed moving the SRX's 4,277 pounds (4,442 with AWD).
Looking past the headline-grabbing new powerplant, we're happy to report that Cadillac's engineers have reworked the SRX's suspension. Up front are new bonded bushings, redesigned upper shock mounts and revalved struts. Holding up the rear is the same independent H-arm as before, but with new twin tube shocks that are upgraded with variable damping on models equipped with the Performance or Premium collection. Bundled with the active rear damping is a speed-sensitive steering system and 20-inch wheels.
Cadillac continues to offer the same Haldex-developed all-wheel-drive system and electronic limited slip differential as before, which is fine by us – the advanced computer-controlled tech can send as much torque to the front or rear wheels as it deems necessary and can also vary its delivery from side to side, depending on which wheels have the most traction.
After sampling models equipped in all possible configurations, our favorite setup was to pair the base FE2 suspension with all-wheel drive. The hydraulic power steering felt perfect to our hands in this application, even without the variable-effort, speed-sensitive technology that comes with the FE3 suspension group. We also preferred the ride and handling of models wearing 18-inch wheels over the 20-inch versions, and found little difference between the normal twin-tube rear shocks and the higher-spec units with variable damping.
In order to get the configuration we wanted with all-wheel drive and not miss out on the most opulent cabin possible, we'd opt for the Luxury Collection over the Base model. Buyers will be rewarded with an assortment of goodies, including a power liftgate, rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless entry, an ambient lighting package and auto-dimming mirror, adjustable pedals, rear-view monitor, heated front seats and steering wheel, UltraView sunroof (which covers 70 percent of the roof with glass) and a cool cargo management system you can see in our Short Cut video below.
Also optional on the Luxury Collection (and standard on Performance and Premium) is a 10-speaker Bose 5.1 sound system with an internal 40-gigabyte hard drive. That package also includes navigation and an improved voice recognition system, and all models sport satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and OnStar. GM left well enough alone with its Driver Information Center, which puts a high-resolution LCD front and center that can scroll through all manner of useful data including current and average fuel mileage, distance to empty and speed. The driver can also feed the turn-by-turn navigation commands to this cluster, something we found extremely helpful.
Pricing for the 2012 Cadillac SRX starts at $36,060 (including $875 for destination), but we doubt many buyers will opt for that Base configuration. Expect well-equipped models with the Luxury Collection plus navigation and all-wheel drive to empty the buyer's bank account of $45,480. A completely loaded SRX with the Premium Collection and rear-seat DVD entertainment package will retail for $53,540. Those prices, both on the low and high end, compare very favorably with the SRX's main competition, namely the Lexus RX350, Acura MDX, Audi Q5 and BMW X3. And it's not far off the smaller Acura RDX.
The 2012 Cadillac SRX has a lot going for it, from its price to its powertrain and its crisp, clean style. It may have lost some of the edginess of the first-gen model, but it's gained what matters most to car companies interested in making money: buyers willing to sign on the dotted line. The 2012 SRX delivers everything shoppers were so enamored with before, along with an extra dose of power and an improved ride, better handling and greater overall sophistication. Is it enough to unseat the Lexus RX? Probably not, but we have no doubt that the SRX will continue to be Cadillac's global bestseller for the foreseeable future.
New Car Test Drive
New engine gives this crossover a much-needed boost.
Forget the fast sedans and the behemoth SUVs. The Cadillac SRX is the number-one selling model in the Cadillac lineup. In just two years, the midsize crossover SUV has ascended from the number nine to the number two midsize luxury crossover on the market. But Cadillac is not content to rest on its laurels, and with good reason. Although the SRX has always boasted unique styling, luxurious cabin appointments and the cachet of the Cadillac moniker, the biggest complaint about the previous generation was its lackluster power. Fortunately, that's been fixed.
With a new 3.6-liter V6 direct injected engine and weight-saving modifications, the 2012 Cadillac SRX is more capable than ever. New for 2012, the 3.6-liter V6 is the only engine available and replaces the 2011 model's 3.0-liter and 2.8-liter engines. We found the new 3.6-liter V6 smooth, quiet, and responsive.
The 3.6-liter engine, based on the one found in the Cadillac CTS, cranks out 308 horsepower (16 percent more than the old version) and 265 pound-feet of torque. It's also 20 pounds lighter, thanks to several weight-saving innovations including a plastic intake manifold, lighter connecting rods and exhaust manifolds which are integrated into the heads. To combat the ticking noise characteristic of direct-injection systems, Cadillac engineers packed on added sound-proofing material in strategic places, which helps to keep the cabin quiet.
The 2012 SRX also features a new Eco mode for the 6-speed automatic transmission. With the Eco button on, drivers can get up to 1 mpg fuel savings while driving at speeds up to 50 mph.
Fuel economy for the 2012 Cadillac SRX is an EPA-rated 17 mpg City/24 mpg Highway for front-wheel-drive models, and 16/23 mpg for all-wheel-drive models, although it's not clear whether those numbers were achieved using Eco mode.
All-wheel drive is available for all but the base model. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Upgrades on the 2012 Cadillac SRX include standard Bluetooth hands-free connectivity on all models and a heated steering wheel on all trims except the base. Interior door lock switches have been added to the door panels on 2012 SRX models, although they also remain in the center console. The 20-inch wheels on upper trims have a new finish for 2012.
Inside, the SRX continues to impress with upscale materials and thoughtful design. Smart cargo solutions appeal to practical senses. An optional Pet Guard Cargo Net behind the front seats can help keep your dog in back and may help prevent cargo from flying up front in hard braking. A rear U-well rail system uses adjustable sliding bars to keep gear in place, rather than using nets or boxes that rattle.
Midsize crossovers such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 give the more powerful SRX a run for its money, but we'd take the Cadillac any day over the best-selling Lexus RX. As an added bonus, the 2012 Cadillac SRX runs on regular unleaded gasoline, which saves shelling out for premium at the pump. It's also Flex Fuel capable, allowing it to run on E85 ethanol.
The 2012 Cadillac SRX ($35,185) comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, OnStar, an eight-speaker Bose stereo with CD player, auxiliary jack and satellite radio capability, automatic headlights, roof rails, and 18-inch wheels.
The SRX Luxury Collection ($39,715) and upgrades with leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, power-folding mirrors with auto dimming on the driver's side, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic wipers, keyless entry, remote start, a power tailgate with adjustable height, heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals, driver memory functions, power heated front seats, U-rail cargo management system, interior accent lighting, wood trim and a rearview camera. Front-wheel drive is standard but all-wheel drive ($42,210) is available.
The SRX Performance Collection ($43,530) upgrades the wheel size to 20 inches and adds adaptive xenon headlights, fog lamps, an adaptive suspension system, navigation system with real-time traffic, and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system with digital music storage as well as iPod and USB ports. It's available with AWD ($46,340).
The SRX Premium Collection ($45,975) and AWD ($48,785) have ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, three-zone climate control and rear seat audio controls. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.) Destination charge on all 2012 SRX models is $875.
Options for the SRX include a Navigation system with upgraded Bose 5.1 audio system ($2,395), a DVD rear entertainment system ($1,395), an optional Trailering Package ($445) that gives the SRX a tow rating of 3500 pounds, and the Pet Guard Cargo Net ($90).
Safety features on all SRX models include OnStar, six airbags (front, side and curtain), antilock disc brakes (ABS), traction control and stability control. The 2012 Cadillac SRX scored a crash rating of Good in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests. In government crash tests, it scored five stars for both driver and side protection, and four stars for front impact passenger protection. Optional all-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions.
The styling of the Cadillac SRX is polarizing, with sharp angles and bold lines. It shares its art and science design philosophy with the rest of the current Cadillac portfolio, an approach that evokes a love-it-or-hate-it response from critics and consumers. The SRX exterior has been called everything from futuristic to risky to fat. Some have likened its shape to a mal-formed potato. Like it or not, there isn't anything else out there that looks quite like it. Built on the same platform as the Saab 9-4X, the SRX is distinctly Cadillac.
The cabin of the Cadillac SRX shines. Materials are high-quality and luxurious. The leather-clad seats are cushy yet supportive, and we especially welcomed the ventilated seat feature while driving in the afternoon summer sun. The steering wheel and pedals are adjustable for maximum safety and comfort. Deep door cubbies will fit a variety of gadgets and water bottles. On the down side, drivers who travel with a purse or messenger bag will bemoan the lack of a storage hook.
The number of buttons on the center stack seem overwhelming at first, but they're logically laid out and it doesn't take much time to figure out what's what. The driver information center is comprehensive, and the navigation screen is easy to use and features real-time traffic and other useful information.
The rear seats are split 66/33 and recline through a fairly wide range of adjustment. Legroom is generous. We liked the opaque covering over the panoramic sunroof (unlike earlier versions which used translucent coverings that always let light in), but it limits rear headroom for taller passengers. With the rear DVD entertainment system, flip-up screens are mounted in front seat backs instead of in the headrest, which make them easier to adjust.
The cargo area offers 29.2 cubic feet of space with the rear seats in place, and more than 61 cubic feet with the seats folded down. A clever U-shaped rail system uses adjustable sliding bars to keep gear in place, rather than using nets or boxes that rattle. When not in use, the cargo bar stows away in under-floor storage area beneath cargo area. The under-floor area can also be used to store an optional spare tire. A Pet Guard Cargo Net is available that can help keep dogs in the back where they belong and may help reduce the chance of stuff flying forward when braking hard, a rare and useful option.
New for 2012 is a larger, more powerful 3.6-liter V6, which pulls the weight of the Cadillac SRX around with ease. There is very little noise at all inside the cabin of the SRX, be it from the road or under the hood. Thanks to a plethora of sound-deadening material, noise from the direct injection system is mitigated.
The 6-speed automatic transmission offers several driver-selectable modes: Eco, Sport, Manual, and Normal. In Normal mode, the SRX offers ample power. In Sport mode, the transmission holds gears longer than it would in Normal model for improved acceleration performance and to reduce upshifting when slowing momentarily for a corner. The system senses braking, throttle input and lateral acceleration (turns). There is also a manual mode for those who enjoy rowing through gears. In this mode, shifts are barely perceptible, although there is more delay when changing gears by hand, since the electronic sport mode anticipates gears for faster changes. The 6-speed automatic transmission includes a driver-selectable Eco feature that alters shift points for greater fuel economy. With the Eco mode switched on, the SRX shifts at lower revs, which Cadillac said will save about 1 mpg at speeds of 50 mph or slower. We pressed it and noticed it lost some oomph, but we weren't rendered powerless.
The Cadillac SRX handles remarkably well, despite being quite a bit heavier than most of its rivals. Depending on equipment, the SRX weighs more than 4,400 pounds. Its responsive steering is a refreshing change from the numb feel of the Lexus RX. We found the available Sport Suspension was able to manage the SRX's considerable weight with relative grace, and we noticed little body roll (lean) in corners. Combined with the 20-inch wheels, which have short sidewalls, the SRX was smoother than expected over bumps.
But the SRX isn't sporty in all respects. The brakes feel like they're better suited to gradually cruise to a stop and lack the bite of the sportier CTS.
The 2012 Cadillac SRX is one of the best vehicles in its class thanks to its more powerful engine for 2012, luxuriously appointed interior and engaging driving dynamics.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein reported from northern California.
Cadillac SRX ($35,185); Luxury Collection FWD ($39,715), AWD ($42,210); Performance Collection FWD ($43,530), AWD ($46,340); Premium Collection FWD ($45,975), AWD ($48,785).
Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
Options As Tested
DVD rear-seat entertainment system ($1395).
Cadillac SRX Premium Collection AWD ($48,785).
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