In 2012, you could buy a CTS in the form of a station wagon or a pickup version of Cadillac's popular Escalade SUV, but not a single yacht-like Caddy sedan was to be found. Perhaps by design, as the iconic brand sought to redefine its full-size offering in a luxury era dominated by sleek and sporty cars packed with technology from German manufacturers like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
After a year respite, Cadillac launched the all-new XTS sedan for 2013, which they boast is "the most technologically advanced production car in the brand's history."
The centerpiece of Cadillac's technological overhaul is their CUE infotainment system. TRANSLOGIC first tested a CUE prototype in 2011 and a full production version in Cadillac's ATS. We give Cadillac credit for boldly replacing all dashboard buttons with a high-gloss, touch-sensitive surface. That said, we found the system wanting.
It may be tempting to compare CUE's large capacitive touchscreen to an Apple iPad, but the system falls short of achieving the iPad's lightning-fast responsiveness, which is precisely what undermines some of its coolest features.
For instance, CUE's touch-sensitive surface employs haptic feedback--essentially a small vibration at your fingertip--to let you know when an input has been received. It's a novel feature, but the slight lag is just enough to degrade an otherwise elegant solution. Similarly, swiping your finger across the touchscreen allows the user to toggle through various screens, much like browsing through a photo album on an iPad; however, the delayed response is the difference between feeling like you're actually moving the screen with your finger, as opposed to just providing an input.
Cadillac has already improved the response time since launching the system, and plans to continually upgrade the technology.
The button-free system can also present some way-finding issues for the driver. Without the familiar feel of a button or dial, it's hard to always know what you're pressing without taking your eyes off of the road. Running your hand over the dashboard as you search for the right command will inevitably lead to a few inadvertent inputs.
Still, we feel that touch and gesture controls are the wave of the future and commend Cadillac for being out front. Once the execution catches up with the idea, CUE will go some way to changing perceptions of Cadillac.
Safety Alert Seat
Another example of haptic feedback in the XTS is Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat. If you start to drift out of your lane or come dangerously close to another car or object, the seat provides what Cadillac rep Shad Balch aptly describes as a "butt buzz." The first time we experienced the Safety Alert Seat (in a Cadillac ATS), we actually mistook the sensation for a cellphone set to vibrate. It's hard to get used to, but that's precisely the point.
In our experience, however, we found the Safety Alert Seat to be more distracting than helpful. The last thing you need when trying to parallel park a large sedan on a busy street is for your seat to start buzzing all of a sudden. But, if the system had helped us avoid an accident--as it is certainly could--we might be singing a different tune.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Although not unique to Cadillac (or the XTS), we couldn't get enough of the adaptive cruise control system on the Cadillacs we've recently tested. This feature removes the biggest frustration associated with cruise control: constantly resetting your speed due to varying traffic conditions. 3 driver-selectable following distances allow you to truly "set it and forget it." The feature wasn't something we thought we needed, but once you start using it, it becomes indispensable--especially on longer trips. And isn't that exactly what a luxury feature is all about?
For 2014, Cadillac introduces a Vsport package to the XTS lineup, which mates a twin-turbocharger to the XTS's 3.6 liter V6, raising engine output from 305 horsepower to 410. The 2014 version also adds automatic park assist.
We look forward to seeing how Cadillac continues to evolve, especially with the opportunity to improve on a groundbreaking system like CUE and hi-tech forthcoming models like the Volt-based Cadillac ELR extended-range electric, due in early 2014.