The 2012 Cadillac SRX handles well and looks good, but I don't think it's good enough overall to command its price in the competitive luxury-SUV market.
To my eyes, styling is the SRX's strongest card. This SUV has always been the vehicle that best exemplified Cadillac's commitment to edgy, angular designs. Not even the CTS, which was the first to adopt this look, does it better than the SRX.
Highlights include the grille, which is just large enough to be commanding — not oversized. The profile view has a nice drop to the roofline, plus short overhangs between the wheels and the bumpers.
The rear is aggressive, with large exhaust pipes, tall taillamps and a decent-sized hatch. It's angular, chiseled and well-proportioned. In a field of lumpy, rounded blob-wagons, the SRX cuts its own course, and it's a good one.
The SRX's interior has the same commitment to angular surfaces as the exterior, and it looks cohesive throughout the cabin. Our test model came with an optional moonroof that covered two rows of seats, and that really brightened things up inside.
The gauges also have a nice look to them. There's a "Christmas light" edging to the speedometer that blinks in unison with the turn signals. Other editors were completely turned off by this, but I thought it looked OK at night, at least. From there, things go downhill.
The center control panel is the lowest low for me. For starters, it looks like it was grafted over from any one of the Chevrolets I've driven lately, and that's bad for two reasons: First, if I'm spending more than $50,000 for a car (the as-tested price), I'd like something that, if not unique, at least looks upscale.
Second, of all the layouts out there, this is not the one Cadillac wanted to clone. It's extremely busy and counterintuitive, and there's no way to distinguish among all the buttons by feel, meaning you always have to look for which button to push. And why the rotary knobs are laid out the way they are is beyond me; one of the tuning knobs is close to the button that allows you to change between radio bands (FM, AM, XM), but it feels like it should be in the spot taken by the volume knob. Other elements, including the exposed cupholders, the center storage bin and the pedals, don't really say "luxury" either. Another Cars.com editor said everything below elbow-level isn't great, and I can't disagree.
Going & Stopping
The SRX has its performance ups and downs. For 2012, a 3.6-liter V-6 replaces the previous model year's 3.0-liter V-6. With 308 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque, the engine made plenty of power moving away from stops and on the highway. (Compare the 2012 engine with the 2011 here).
The engine was let down a bit by the six-speed automatic transmission, which took too long to kick down a gear or two when I needed to pass. In low-speed maneuvers — such as parking lots — whether I was engaging Drive or Reverse, the SRX did not want to move until I gave it more gas than I have to give other cars. That's not what you want when you're trying to make delicate maneuvers in tight spaces. I kept feeling like the SRX might suddenly leap forward and into my neighbor's car. The transmission also moves into Reverse with a thud.
I also noticed harsh upshifts, particularly on the highway. It wasn't the harshest vehicle on the market, but I do think it's substandard for the luxury class and noticeable enough to call out.
New for 2012, the SRX has an Eco mode. According to Cadillac, the mode alters shift points for up to 1 mpg improved fuel economy in normal driving conditions. Eco works as advertised, delaying shifts to eke out more mileage. I used it only on the most vacant highways, though, because it made the transmission lag even worse.
The SRX's brakes do stop the car, but the pedal feel isn't great. There's a pronounced dead part of travel before the brakes start clamping down on anything, and when they do, they're numb. It's hard to feel when the brakes are grabbing and by how much. Panic stops also require a lot of leg extension, which is disconcerting.
Ride & Handling
Cadillac did a good job with the SRX's ride. It's firm enough that it doesn't wallow or give you a weird floating sensation when moving down the road. It also absorbs bumps and potholes well, especially considering our SRX came with optional 20-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are standard.)
Also, while the SRX isn't designed to be a sports car, it held the road well and was composed when charging up and down highway on-ramps, and while making quick direction changes in traffic.
The SRX's steering also helps out in this regard. It responds quickly and without a lot of play when you turn the wheel, and the system isn't over-boosted so there's no feedback. It's not a chore to steer around parking lots, either. The steering is well-executed and really matches up to the suspension.
As I drove this car, I kept thinking that if Cadillac would just sort out the transmission quirks and spend some time on the brakes, with the SRX's impressive power and suspension, it would have something that really holds its own with the best in the class.
Not only is the SRX a nice, manageable size, it feels manageable, too. Sometimes a car can feel like it's bigger than it really is, or it can feel cumbersome. The SRX, on the other hand, feels small and easy to park right from the get-go.
Seating & Visibility
The SRX seats five people and follows the common practice of having a large cargo area at the expense of backseat room. I didn't have enough legroom to sit behind a driver of my height (6-foot-1), and headroom felt cramped. Also, the rear seats don't slide forward and back, which might have solved the cargo-versus-passenger tradeoff.
Up front, there's a manually extending seat bottom that offers more support for your thighs. It works better than a lot of powered ones, and it's a nice touch for us longer-legged sorts. More cars should offer this feature.
Visibility to the sides and behind is poor because, as the roof slopes downward, the bottom sills of the rear windows slope up, making the rearmost window vestigial. This is more common these days among passenger cars, but it's a bit more of a hazard in the higher-riding SRX: Low-slung cars can creep in "below" you. You have to really make sure you have your mirrors set properly — more so than in other vehicles I've driven. It's a true blind spot.
Safety, Reliability & Mileage
The Cadillac SRX is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, meaning it received the top rating, Good, in front, side and rear crash tests, as well as a roof-strength test. For the roof-strength test, the roof must withstand the force of four times the vehicle's weight in a rollover.
The SRX also has antilock brakes and an electronic stability system, which is a required safety feature on all vehicles, beginning with the 2012 model year. For a list of all the SRX's safety features, click here.
The Cadillac SRX is predicted to have average reliability. Mileage varies between two- and four-wheel-drive versions. With two-wheel drive, the SRX is rated 17/24 mpg city/highway. Four-wheel-drive models get 16/23 mpg. The flex-fuel SRX can also run on E85 ethanol, on which the two drivelines earn 12/18 mpg and 12/17 mpg, respectively.
The ratings don't sound great in the era of 40-mpg compact cars, but the SRX compares respectably with competitors such as the Acura MDX, the Lexus RX 350 and the Lincoln MKX, as you can see here.
SRX in the Market
Your enthusiasm for the SRX will likely come down to how much you like its looks. Our test car cost just over $51,000, and at that price there are other models out there that offer more luxury, more performance, or both, so the SRX's styling is its strongest attribute.
The SRX's problem is that, even after a prolonged test, there was nothing that made me love it to the point that I'd spend the money for it over, say, the related Chevrolet Equinox, let alone a non-GM competitor. The SRX needs to step up and stand out from the crowd more. Refining the brakes and transmission would be a great place to start.
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