In the Autoblog Garage: 2007 Cadillac SRX

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The Cadillac SRX sold a little over 22,000 units in 2006. Based on our time spent behind the wheel, we're guessing that a lot of the angular crossover's buyers are satisfied customers. Marketed as an SUV upon release, Cadillac later relented and has (correctly) positioned the SRX as a CUV. After all, the SUV moniker summons mental images of a vehicle that might not offer a forgiving ride for its occupants. The SRX is the opposite of all that.

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For 2007, the SRX received attention from Cadillac that has managed to remain a bit under the radar. It concerns the vehicle's passenger cabin, and it's where we'll start. This year, the SRX was bestowed with the new Cut & Sew interior. This means more than just additional leather, mind you. While the basic interior configuration remained the same, the trim and materials were completely overhauled. Granted, the '06 was certainly not a bad place to sit, but the '07 truly elevates the standard for the Cadillac brand (something we saw advance even higher in Detroit with the introduction of the stunning 2008 CTS).

For starters, the center stack has been revamped, now capped and bordered by an aluminum trim piece that adds much needed detail and acts as the frame for reshaped, classier-looking heating vents. The entire dashboard, the door panels, and even the transmission tunnel are now trimmed in leather. The stitching on the hides adds richness to the overall ambiance and really completes the look. It's remarkable how something so simple can help transform a decent interior into a great one.

The instrumentation is similar to what's offered in the Escalade, except the SRX gets red needles as opposed to the blue ones in it's big-truck sibling. The aforementioned center stack contains the head unit for the Bose 5.1 audio system, which includes a single-disc CD player, MP3 compatibility, DVD, navigation and XM radio. The climate controls are uncluttered and use dials for the main functions. In a smart move, Cadillac locates the controls for the seat heaters on the door-mounted armrests. This places them in an accessible spot for both driver and passenger, helps maintain the dash/stack's clean, uncluttered look, and eliminates one of the negatives we experienced with the Escalade, which was a very crammed climate control panel.

The center console features ample storage, and the woodgrain trim that ornaments both it and the dashboard is particularly pleasing to the eye. Another nifty feature in the SRX's cabin is the double glove box. The traditional one is where you'd expect it to be. Directly above it, you notice that the wood trim has an indentation in it which, when pressed, opens a "secret" compartment that's fully lined. It's perfect for items you may not want rattling around in the deep center console bin. More than one guest riding shotgun noted that it'd be the perfect place to stash the types of items that we'll simply say wouldn't make it through an airport security checkpoint. And no, we're not talking about shampoo, either.

Our SRX was also fitted with the premium seating package, which comfortably ensconced us in smart-looking, well-bolstered and all-around wonderful leather cocoons that felt like they'd be more than up to the task of keeping us comfy on extended-length drives. Backseat passengers also commented on the car's overall comfort, and in our case there was no optional third row. Instead, the rear cargo area was equipped with three below-the-floor storage bins that seemed a lot more practical to us than what would have undoubtedly been a pretty cramped third row. All occupants are bathed in outdoor light, courtesy of the crowd-pleasing Ultraview sunroof that came as part of our car's $7,150 Premium Luxury Package. The massive glass panel, when opened, exposed the front seats in their entirety and part of the second row as well. Opening it is a slow, precise operation (we're guessing that's due to the weight of the glass) that gives the whole affair a theatrical quality. It's like opening the roof of Toronto's Skydome.

Outside, the SRX is mostly unchanged for '07. We're fans of the general look, which is unmistakably modern Caddy. As such, the creases are where you'd expect them to be, and the headlight and grille shapes are instantly recognizable. Those who opt for the available Sport Package (which are car wasn't equipped with) get a better-looking grille with more open elements and mesh backing. It's more in keeping with Escalade, the Chinese-market SLS, and the '08 CTS. The Sport also gets a lip spoiler and 20" wheels. The 18" alloys on our car looked substantial and had full-color Cadillac shields decorating the wheel centers.

Popping the hood on the SRX reveals the increasingly familiar 3.6-liter V6, which produces 260 horsepower and continues to impress us with its smooth operation and responsiveness. In the SRX, it's joined to GM's Hydra-Matic 5L40 five-speed auto, which includes a manual shift mode that frankly, we never used. If you want a six-speed, you need to upgrade to the more costly Northstar. Note to Cadillac: make a six the standard transmission for both engines.

If you think the absence of the V8 turns the SRX into a dog, you're completely off the mark. The fact is, we seriously wondered if the upgrade would even be worth it. Paper jockeys will no doubt exclaim that 260 horsepower is nothing, but you'd be hard pressed to say that after a stint behind the wheel. The 3.6L is very good -- quiet but stout enough to move the SRX briskly. We never once felt like we didn't have enough power on tap, and the Caddy accelerated well and cruised at proper highway speeds with ease.

In terms of overall ride and handling, it's nothing short of excellent. Our SRX was equipped with all-wheel-drive ($1,900) and magnetic ride control ($1,650), which when combined with a wonderfully-sorted chassis made for one of the better driving experiences we've had in a while. The SRX feels lighter and more nimble than you'd expect for a tall wagon/ute, and it eagerly tackled curvy local roads and our favorite sweeping highway connector without the slightest hint of misbehavior. This is a crossover whose sportiness makes it a hauler you want to jump into and drive somewhere. If you want an example of the clichéd term, "car-like ride," this is a very good one. We were caught totally by surprise, as we'd have never pegged this to be such a rewarding vehicle to drive. And we must add that it's as happy and comfortable patrolling Manhattan's urban canyons as it is tree-lined suburban thoroughfares. We observed fuel economy in the 17 - 18 mpg range while it was with us. Our driving was a pretty fair split of city and highway, but save for one day where the traffic gods cooperated, said highway miles were generally (and frustratingly) of the stop-and-go variety. The EPA rates it at 16/23 city/highway.

We'll have to assume that the sure-footedness the SRX's AWD system likely offers in sloppier weather only adds to the list of positives, since we were blessed with excellent weather while it lived in our garage. That was fine by us, as we had the roof glass open at every opportunity, even if it was a bit chilly at times.

Cadillac's Alpha Male is without question the charismatic Escalade, but if we were writing checks to our local Caddy retailer, the big, blinged-out SUV would remain on the lot while we drove off in the SRX. It's got a superlative interior, an excellent ride, and a unique look that isn't shared with any other GM-family vehicle. Put simply: it's the superior car. At an as-tested price of $48,180, including destination charge, it's certainly not inexpensive, but we'd hazard a guess that it's as good or better an everyday machine than several competitors priced at or above its level. At Cadillac, the Escalade is the headliner, but the SRX is one of those opening acts that makes you think, "Gee, maybe that other guy should warm up for him instead."

All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.

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