An all-new Cadillac people-hauler came to market last fall, called the SRX, and it enters its second full year as a 2005 model.
For 2005, the handful of changes include a new instrument cluster with chrome accents; a trailering package available on V-6 models, as well as an optional package that increases trailer-towing capacity to 4,250 pounds; darker privacy glass; and the availability of the Magnetic Ride Control system on rear-wheel-drive models, where it was only offered on all-wheel-drive models.
Although General Motors bills it as a sport utility vehicle, the SRX is among the new breed of car-based crossover vehicles that are more station wagon than SUV. Its biggest competitors are vehicles such as the Chrysler Pacifica, Infiniti FX35/45 and even the Dodge Magnum and Nissan Murano. Lincoln will add a similar vehicle to its lineup next year, replacing the truck-based Aviator.
The SRX is the second SUV entry in the Cadillac lineup. But unlike the other one, the Escalade, this vehicle is more carlike and refined, designed primarily for women and families who need a vehicle for people-hauling, but don't necessarily need the ruggedness and utility of a truck-based product.
Like the Pacifica, the SRX seems to be a sporty resurrection of the big station wagons of the '60s and '70s that many of us grew up with. But just as with the Pacifica and others of this ilk, you won't find the manufacturer calling the SRX a station wagon. Cadillac refers to the SRX as a "luxury utility" vehicle.
But no matter what they call these vehicles, they are wagons, with carlike ride and handling plus sport utility roominess.
The design draws heavily from other recent new Cadillac models, including the second-general Escalade and the CTS midsize sedan, which have bold grilles that are similarly styled. It's yet another example of the "art and science" design theme that Cadillac says will be a mainstay of its fleet over the next few years.
Two engines are offered in the SRX: the 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 and the 3.6-liter V-6 also used in the CTS, both of which come with variable valve timing.
With the V-8, you get 315 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque, along with a lot of high-technology, which includes electronic throttle control and phasers on all four camshafts to control valve timing throughout the entire operating range.
This is the first time Cadillac has offered all-wheel drive with the Northstar engine, and the second vehicle to offer rear drive with the Northstar powerplant. (The other is the XLR luxury roadster.)
Those who need less power and better fuel economy, as well as a lower price, can choose the V-6 engine. It cranks out a respectable 260 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque, using a 60-degree dual-overhead-cam arrangement with 24 valves, electronic throttle control, multiport fuel injection, two-stage roller chain cam drive, aluminum block and cylinder heads, and a forged steel crankshaft.
Each engine is connected to a five-speed automatic transmission, although the transmissions are different for each engine. The transmissions will have manual shift capability (without a clutch, of course), plus electronically controlled engine braking, and downgrade detection with brake assist.
Other features include the latest four-channel StabiliTrak active suspension control system, as well as Magnetic Ride Control. This system features electronically controlled magnetic-fluid real time damping to create the world's fastest-reacting suspension control system, the company said.
Also included are speed-sensitive variable power steering, four-channel antilock brakes with panic brake assist, and traction control.
The SRX comes with all-aluminum suspension components.
Inside, there is room for up to seven passengers (with the optional third row of seating in place). For cargo-hauling versatility, the second-row seat, with the most legroom in its class, folds nearly flat, and the third seat power-folds into the floor at the push of a button. Cadillac says that models without the third seat can have a cargo management system integrated into the rear floor.
On top, consumers can get the largest sunroof system available in the segment, Cadillac says.
Styling is one of its strongest points. The SRX is one good-looking Cadillac, and way ahead of anything the General Motors luxury brand has produced in the past, even those big pink Eldorados that Elvis liked to drive.
The SRX could very well be called a CTS wagon, since it is that sedan upon which the SRX is based. Cadillac says it competes in the "medium luxury utility segment," and was designed for upscale customers who need lots of people space, but don't want to drive a truck-based SUV because of its rougher ride and trucklike handling.
And if you can forget the squared-off rear end that turns the SRX into a wagon, its styling and performance are more like what you would expect to find in a sport sedan - such as the CTS.
This wagon also is among the new lineup of rear-wheel-drive Cadillacs coming to market, which began with the 2002 introduction of the CTS. The SRX is also offered with all-wheel drive, however - such as we found on our test vehicle.
Inside, there is room for up to seven passengers (with the optional third row) - two in the front buckets, three in the center, and two in the rear. The seats are leather, of course. For cargo-hauling versatility, the second-row seat, with the most legroom in its class, folds nearly flat, and the third seat power-folds into the floor at the push of a button. Cadillac says that models without the third seat can have a cargo management system integrated into the rear floor.
The V-6 models begin at about $38,000, while the V-8 model's base price is $47,000 (including freight).
A $7,145 luxury-performance package adds all-wheel drive, magnetic ride control, DVD satellite-based navigation system, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, high-intensity-discharge headlights and a electrochromatic rearview mirror.
A unique feature, Ultraview ($1,800), is a 5.6-square-foot sunroof that is the largest in the segment; other options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,200) and the third-row power seat ($1,000).
Those extras can run the price of an SRX to nearly $60,000, which is about double the price of a popularly equipped Pacifica or Magnum, so you can see that the Caddy can quickly outclass those DaimlerChrysler products.
The DVD entertainment system is a great feature to have if you're hauling kids around. In the SRX with the panoramic sunroof, the entertainment system's LCD screen flips up from the rear of the center console because there is no place to put it in the ceiling. That limits its viewability by third-row passengers, however.
Among its peers, the SRX has the longest wheelbase, which Cadillac says helps provide superior ride quality and dynamic stability. The car has a nearly 50-50 weight distribution and a low center of gravity to help give it much better stability than the average truck-based SUV.
Other standard features include speed-sensitive variable power steering, four-channel antilock brakes with panic brake assist, traction control, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, tire-pressure monitoring system, automatic headlights, ultrasonic rear-parking assist, OnStar navigation/communications system, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air conditioning, power adjustable pedals, burled walnut interior trim, power heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, universal garage/gate opener, and an AM/FM stereo with built-in six-disc CD changer.
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the V-8 model are 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway; for the V-6, the ratings are 18 city/23 highway.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.