For many, the holidays can be stressful. Gift buying, fractious family reunions and hectic travel schedules can cause heartburn long before the last bites of turkey or Aunt Rita's fruitcake are finished. Our family's extra source of stress each winter? What to do with our daughter's guinea pig when we depart for the relatives' home.
These are the usual options for our small Peruvian pet — aka Brownhead because she has a brown head. Do we ask the neighbors to look after her? (Please, don't let your kids dress her up.) Do we take her on an airplane? (It's tough to get a guinea pig through security.) Or do we pack her up and take her with us in the car (cage and all)?
This year, we decided to take Brownhead with us on our drive from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Ariz., for Thanksgiving. Our vehicle for the trip? The all-new 2010 Cadillac SRX.
The latest SRX is a radical rethink of the so-called "Cadillac of Crossovers." The previous SRX was more of a tall wagon rather than a unibody utility vehicle, but the outside was a bit too slabby. The new SRX is svelte and smaller. While the old SRX could accommodate up to seven passengers seated in three rows, the new SRX seats up to five passengers max in its two-row-only configuration. Cargo space behind the second row has shrunk too by more than 10 percent, from 32.4 cubic feet to 29.2 cubic feet.
But would our guinea pig and cage fit in it? Or were we going to have to switch to Plan B, which was to scramble to find a pet sitter?
I was a bit shocked after remotely opening the SRX's liftgate for the first time. The cargo area's 29.2 cubic feet has never looked smaller, especially considering the 30-by-18-by-14-inch dimensions of our pet's home. We also needed to fit a family-sized suitcase for my wife and two kids, my garment bag, two computer bags, camera gear, human snacks and guinea pig supplies, including fresh hay, bedding and food.
With some high-efficiency packing maneuvers — thanks, Tetris! — I was able to fit our entire manifest in the SRX with just enough room left over for a few DVDs and bottles of water. Brownhead's cage was squeezed into a corner of the SRX's cargo space, which, to her, must have become a more luxurious version of her plastic igloo.
Of course, it's also good to roll up to the relatives looking like you've made something of yourself. In that area, the SRX succeeds to a much greater degree than it can fit a family of four, their Peruvian pet and gear.
The SRX drew the gaze of drivers along Interstate 10, and folks at rest stops gave unsolicited praise, as well.
Our kids liked it, too. They each had a video screen mounted to the back of the front seat headrests. It only took them about 90 seconds to figure out where the wireless headphones were stored and to fire up the DVD player through two terribly slow stretches of holiday traffic.
The SRX's seats were above average for comfort, and the instrument panel provided lots of information with the twist of a dial attached to the turn signal stalk. Each quick turn returned: a digital speed readout, the local speed limits, navigation directions, fuel economy, tire pressure and more. All of the gauges were sharp-looking. The vehicle's audio system quickly interfaced with my iPod, which I was able to control through the steering-wheel controls or touch-screen in the center stack. The SRX's panoramic sunroof was fantastic and helped give the packed crossover an airier feel. Basically, the SRX delivered everything you'd want on a road trip.
However, it wasn't all perfect. Interior dislikes included the lack of a power telescoping steering wheel, which should be included with the Premium trim, lack of a overhead console cubby for my sunglasses and a wonky Bluetooth pairing process that thought I was saying "goodbye" when I tried to verbally name my phone, "Blackberry." Our SRX was equipped with GM's new 3.0-liter V-6 direct injection gas engine, rated at 265 horsepower and 223 pounds-feet of torque paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. It's rated at 18/25 mpg city/highway. We averaged 20.7 mpg.
I've heard gripes about the SRX's acceleration; that it's not fast enough. I disagree. I found that the SRX could scoot up to speed reasonably quick. Handling and ride were nice, too. Not sporty, but still poised and with just the right amount of steering feedback. However, the SRX's engine note didn't sound like a Cadillac should. The V-6 was raspy when exerted hard. The intake note fell to the four-cylinder part of the spectrum instead of a well-tuned six. Occasionally, shifts were a bit harsher than expected.
Of course, Cadillac isn't pitching the SRX as the roomiest, most powerful people-mover in its lineup. That's still the job of the Escalade SUV. But if you're willing to compromise a bit for a nicely detailed, upscale midsize crossover that prioritizes looks and packaging over interior volume, the SRX is certainly worth cross-shopping with the Lexus RX and Audi Q5. And it will fit a guinea pig, too. Barely.