Review: 2010 Cadillac SRX charts a new course for thick part of the market

2010 Cadillac SRX – Click above for high-res image gallery

The first generation Cadillac SRX brought General Motors' premium brand into the crossover segment, providing better fuel economy compared to similarly sized SUVs while also delivering significantly improved driving dynamics. We bought into that first-generation, rear-wheel-drive SRX when we reviewed it way back in 2007, but the luxury car-buying public apparently wasn't all that interested. Sales of the sharp handling SRX never took off, largely keeping Cadillac off of the luxury crossover gravy train long dominated by the Lexus RX 350.

Cadillac hopes to change its crossover fortunes with the introduction of the all-new 2010 SRX. This time out, the SRX is very different from the one it replaces, with a fundamental shift from a rear-wheel drive platform (with available all-wheel drive) to a front-drive setup (also with available AWD). Along with that shift in powered wheels, the 2010 model goes with smaller, more efficient powertrains. Cadillac doesn't try to hide the fact that the new SRX is gunning for the RX, but GM's designers and engineers didn't want to simply copy the strong-selling Lexus. Cadillac wanted its crossover to be more expressive inside and out, with state-of-the-art tech and superior driving dynamics. Does the new SRX have what it takes?

Follow the jump to find out.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Cadillac has already won a big battle with the Lexus in undercutting its entry price by some $3,500. The SRX starts at $34,115 while the base RX comes in at a more sobering $37,675 with delivery. Optioned out, though, the two vehicles come closer in price. Our Radiant Silver 2010 SRX tester came equipped with Cadillac's mid-level Performance Collection, which carries an MSRP of $45,820 including destination charges.

Among the option boxes ticked for our tester were all-wheel drive, 20-inch alloys, a navigation system and a moonroof. Our tester also came equipped with the standard 265 horsepower, direct-injected 3.0-liter V6 engine mated to a six speed automatic transmission. An uplevel, turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 capable of 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque will be available this Fall.

One common complaint about the outgoing SRX is that its styling was both startling and stale. The wreath-and-crest brand applied its "Art and Science" design aesthetic to the crossover body style, which resulted in acres of flat sheetmetal and creases sharp enough to cut cheese. While we didn't mind that car's styling, some accused it of looking more like a tall wagon than a conventional crossover, and prevailing thought has it that lower-to-the-ground aesthetic harmed sales. Thus, Cadillac designers have changed all that in a big way, giving the model more traditional upright proportions with dimensions very similar to that of the benchmark Lexus.

With less interior volume than its predecessor, the SRX has lost its third row of seats, but since those were only suitable for small children, we're guessing the empty nesters and young professionals that Cadillac is targeting won't miss them.

To bring the design of the SRX closer to the rest of the Cadillac family, designers have incorporated the next generation of the aformentioned Art & Science design cues. An in-your-face grille punctuated by a big badge resting between two huge, uniquely-shaped HID headlights give the front end a look that is unmistakably Cadillac. An elegant, sweeping roofline and a wide stance with a muscular looking beltline lend the SRX a suitably sporting appearance. Team Cadillac punctuated the SRX with long, vertical taillights that have long been a trademark design element for the brand.

Cadillac is hoping that luxury crossover buyers looking for brash, no-excuses exterior styling will find the SRX well suited to their wants, and it passes the Autoblog eye exam. But to seal the deal, the SRX needs to flat-out nail the interior test. Once inside the SRX, all eyes are drawn to the cabin's impressive center stack. With a jewel-like analog clock, high-end materials and the massive (and we mean truly huge) retractable nav screen in our tester, it's hard not to stare.

The seats are supportive and generous in size, the dual stitched dash is soft and pliable to the touch, and the thick, leather-stitched steering wheel is a joy to hold. We also found that the wheel's control buttons were easy to use, which is important considering all the tech and features at the driver's finger tips. Cadillac has also taken great pains to keep noise out of the cabin, and we were able to hold a conversation with passengers in the rear seats without raising our voices. And if you must have a moonroof, the SRX has got a good one. The large expanse of overhead glass was a topic of conversation for all who entered the SRX, as its absolutely huge dimensions gives occupants an unencumbered view of the world above them.

When we first began driving the new SRX, we weren't sure if we liked the fact that the navigation screen was of the pop-up variety (like that of the CTS), but after some time with the system, we were sold. When not in use, the nav screen stays tucked away, and when it was time to find something, the system came alive with the touch of a button. And using the system is a piece of cake, although some among us still prefer the ease of use of On-Star's turn-by-turn directions. Why punch in coordinates while the car is in Park when you can have someone else do it for you while you're already on the road? Luckily for Cadillac owners, with the SRX, you can do both. We also liked the fact that the stowed nav system would pop up whenever we shifted into Reverse so that we could make use of the backup camera, and when we put the shifter in Drive, it tucked itself back inside the dash.

Our favorite feature inside the new SRX was easily the customizable display built into the instrument panel. Not only does it look great as the centerpiece gauge, it's also packed with info. The nifty little readout shows everything from instant miles-per-gallon to trip mileage, just like most other systems on the market – but Cadillac's system can assist with turn-by-turn navigation directions and tell you how many of your kids in the back seat have their seatbelts on.

Our lone complaint about the SRX's interior is that we've sat in more comfortable seats with better bolstering in other vehicles that occupy the same price range, and this CUV's leather seating surfaces were merely adequate in quality. The competition from Audi, BMW and Lexus are a bit ahead of Cadillac in this regard. We would have also liked cooled seats, but that option is available for buyers willing to opt up for the Luxury package.

To give the new SRX improved fuel economy while also providing class competitive power, GM opted for a new direct-inject 3.0-liter V6 engine that produces 265 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque on regular fuel. Cadillac engineers tell us that direct injection has improved fuel economy by 3 percent while also boosting power by up to 8 percent. The front-wheel-drive SRX carries an EPA estimate of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, while the all-wheel-drive model is rated at 17/23. We averaged 20.1 mpg in combined driving during our time with the all-wheel drive SRX.

Three liters is a smaller displacement than most engines in the same class as the SRX, yet the GM motor still looks good on paper. Our fully equipped AWD tester, however, weighs in around 4,400 lbs, which is an awful lot of mass to motivate. Delicate gearing finessed for the best possible fuel economy combined with a slow initial throttle response makes the SRX feel more sluggish off the line than its spec sheet would suggest, so buyers interested in higher performance may want to wait for the more powerful engine that will be available in the Fall. The six-speed automatic transmission is very smooth, and in manual mode, it will hold gears all the way to redline. This at least allows you to wring as much power out of the motor as your fingers please.

The SRX uses a unique platform that combines bits and pieces from the Theta platform that also underpins the Chevrolet Equinox and the Epsilon II platform that sits beneath the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. Company officials insists that it mainly uses components found on no other GM vehicle. The FE3 suspension package on our Performance Collection tester was more than willing to tussle with twists and turns, and when diving into a corner, the SRX exhibited very little body roll, even when pushed hard. To give drivers better communication with the road, Cadillac engineers have ditched the electronic steering and instead opted for a hydraulic unit that could be better tuned to suit the new crossover's needs. The result is steering that's nicely weighted and well balanced for both leisurely driving and the occasional switchback.

On dry pavement, the new torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system will help hold the road under forces that would otherwise bring tire squeals and massive understeer to a FWD-only vehicle. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, the system provides drivers with a capable safety net. About three hours after we picked up the SRX for a long weekend, the skies opened up and it rained hard for several hours. The AWD system in the new SRX cut through the wet pavement without a hint of wheel slip, which is not surprising considering the system is capable of shifting 100 percent of available torque to the front or rear wheels at any time. That's pretty common with most AWD systems, but the SRX's Haldex-sourced unit can also shift up to 85 percent of its thrust from side to side. The fruit of the system's labor is peace of mind for the driver, even though it is so seamless that you'll likely never know when it's working.

Cadillac needed to make a real statement with the new SRX in order to steal attention from the perennial best-selling Lexus RX, and the division's designers and engineers have responded with a beautiful cabin and styling that commands attention. The SRX sold us with a driving experience that makes you forget you're behind the wheel of a crossover, and it also delivers excellent utility and top-notch creature comforts that customers in this segment demand. After a few days behind the wheel of the SRX, we're convinced that Cadillac may finally have the goods to go toe-to-toe against Lexus' all-powerful RX. While a more powerful engine and aggressive throttle tuning is required to reach the front of the pack, the 2010 Cadillac SRX still comes highly recommended.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

2010 Cadillac SRX
Performance Brakes/Tires/Wheels
Engine 3.0-liter V6 Front Brakes 13.6-inch, two-piston caliper (ABS)
Configuration/Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder Rear Brakes 12.4-inches, single-piston caliper
Max Horsepower @ RPM 265 hp @ 6,950 RPM Wheels (front) 20-inches
Max Torque @ RPM 223 lb-ft @ 5,100 RPM Wheels (rear) 20-inches
Drive Type All-wheel drive Tires (front) 235/55 R20
Transmission Six-speed Automatic Tires (rear) 235/55 R20
Fuel Injection Direct Injection
Compression Ratio 11.7:1 Exterior Dimensions
Recommended Fuel 87 octane Length 190.3 inches
Fuel Capacity 21 gallons Width 75.2 inches
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy) 17 / 23 mpg Height 65.7 inches
0-60 mph time (MFR est.) Not Available Wheelbase 110.5 inches
Top Speed Not Available Curb Weight 4,307 pounds
Suspension/Steering Interior Dimensions
Front Independent, strut-type, anti-roll bar Maximum Seating 5
Rear Linked H-arm, anti-roll bar Luggage Capacity 29.2 cu-ft
Steering Hydraulic-power-assist rack-and-pinion Head Room (Front/Rear) 39.7 / 38.4 inches
Turns Lock-to-Lock 2.84 Shoulder Room (Front/Rear) 58.3 / 56.2 inches
Turning Circle (feet) 40.3 Leg Room (Front/Rear) 41.2 / 36.3 inches

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