Our view: 2013 Cadillac XTS

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

The Cadillac renaissance of the past decade has focused on turning the brand’s cars into rear-drive, performance-oriented coupes, sedans and even a station wagon. But what about the Cadillacs that earlier generations grew up with — those elegant, large sedans, even front-wheel-drive ones, that drove comfortably and had lots of room?

My parents and grandparents had a few of those types of Cadillacs and loved them because they drove like tanks — in a good way. Not every buyer wants to tackle the Autobahn; some people just want to get to work or the mall feeling safe and comfortable.

For those buyers, Cadillac couldn’t have built a better tank for today than the all-new XTS.

Though it isn’t incredibly fast, the 2013 Cadillac XTS rides well, handles better than a sedan of its girth should and has a state-of-the-art multimedia system.

If you’re looking to peel out from stoplights or tollbooths in your luxury sedan, the XTS is not for you. In fact, the 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 under the hood produces just enough power to keep the very large and heavy sedan moving at acceptable speeds in most situations. This lackluster power was a negative for most of our editors, but no one thought it necessarily made the XTS uncompetitive. Plus, it’s really hard to peel out from a stop with front-wheel drive. (That said, don’t try it in the available all-wheel-drive XTS, either. You’ll be disappointed and look downright foolish as the car next to you whizzes past.)

Mileage is EPA-rated at 17/28 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive, which is comparable to or better than other V-6 luxury cars in the class.

There wasn’t much magic carpet in the XTS’ ride despite the sophisticated standard magnetic suspension system. It was smooth over bumpy surfaces but not as isolated over unblemished stretches as a Mercedes S-Class, or even the more comparably priced Lexus LS or Hyundai Equus. Like the car’s power, its ride is one most shoppers will deem “good enough.”

The XTS’ one standout performance aspect is its remarkable handling … for a 202-inch-long vehicle. Other sedans I’ve tested, like Jaguar’s XJL flagship, take corners sharply, but you feel the large mass of vehicle that stretches behind your seat in every turn. The XTS feels almost nimble in comparison, which should add some driving confidence to make up for the lack of power.

Let’s not get confused about what the XTS is supposed to be: It’s meant to deliver a luxury experience, not a thrill ride. Inside, Cadillac has delivered one of its richest interiors. My test car was a Premium trim level with all-wheel drive, which starts at $56,730, with a tan interior. I also spent time in a Platinum  — $59,080 with front-wheel drive — with a black interior that I found even more elegant, with contrasting purple stitching and a suede-like headliner. Both prices include a $920 destination charge. You can compare features and prices across all trim levels here.

Simply put, shoppers won’t be compromising on materials if they choose this Cadillac over similarly priced cars from Lexus and Infiniti.

The seats are wide and supportive with plush leather. Take the XTS for a long drive, and it will treat you well.

The XTS’ legroom, headroom and hip room meet or beat the rest of the class, which includes the current LS, Equus and Lincoln’s MKS. And while the XTS is long, the Equus and MKS are longer and all three competitors are wider, which is surprising considering the XTS’ favorable interior dimensions. You can compare the four here.

Other sedans, including the LS and Jaguar XJ, offer extended-wheelbase versions for more rear legroom, but I can’t imagine anyone, even those who are above-average height, finding fault with the XTS’ rear confines.

With an 18-cubic-foot trunk, the XTS equals the Lexus and is larger than the Equus, but it’s just short of Lincoln’s MKS, which has 18.7 cubic feet. However, it’s so large it’s likely to accommodate four golf bags and luggage for a weekend trip with relative ease.

CUE Multimedia System
Every XTS comes with CUE (Cadillac User Experience), the brand’s new multimedia system, which is housed in the dashboard’s center control panel. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, not part of the CUE package, is available only on higher trim levels.

CUE is impressive whether it’s teamed with the digital gauge cluster or not.

It features two main components. The first are touch-sensitive capacitive buttons at the bottom of the panel for stereo and environmental controls. We’ve seen similar setups from Ford, Lincoln and other brands, but the XTS sends a pulse of feedback through the panel whenever a control is selected. This tells drivers the function they were aiming for has actually been activated, helping at least slightly to keep attention on the road. (Also, the sliding volume bar worked with more accuracy and in a more natural fashion than a similar attempt by Lincoln.)

Second, atop the stack is an 8-inch touch-screen. It, too, has capacitive touch that sends that vibration back through the finger. That’s rare in the marketplace, and it provides a feedback pulse as well. It features so many functions you’ll likely need both in-depth instructions from a Cadillac dealer and the free iPad that comes with every XTS equipped with an app to help explain things.

The system houses standard multimedia capabilities like USB compatibility, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth wireless music streaming, Bluetooth phone connectivity and even apps, including Pandora internet radio.

CUE stands out for two main reasons.

The screen’s clarity is remarkable. Cadillac says it’s twice as bright as an iPad, and I believe it. When listening to music via an iPod, the car’s screen displays crisp album artwork, and the artist and song information is easy to read. Navigation maps, too, are among the best-looking ones I’ve seen.

There isn’t much clutter on the display … until you reach toward it. When your hand gets close enough, two sensors tell the system to display more buttons on the screen. It might seem like a gimmick, but it worked flawlessly throughout my test and made me appreciate the good-looking graphics all the more.

General Motors has been ahead of its time for years by allowing stereo presets to be a combination of FM, AM or satellite stations all in one presentation. I love this function, as I jump between AM talk radio and satellite quite a lot. CUE takes this premise many steps further.

You can program 60 favorites, including not just radio stations but also your favorite artists, albums or songs on your iPod, as well as any of your phone contacts or favorite GPS destinations. You can also program a favorite navigation search — to find the closest Starbucks, for example, wherever you happen to be. I joked that I could call my wife, listen to my favorite Pearl Jam bootleg and find the nearest Starbucks by using just three buttons. And what else do you really need to do on a commute?

A voice recognition system replicates many of these same functions. I’m normally not a fan of these because I can generally get what I want faster with buttons — especially with CUE’s presets. But Cadillac’s version does an exceptional job of recognizing commands, and it allows a single press of the voice-activation button to accept a single command instead of requiring multiple steps. (Some systems require a conversation with the computer.) With CUE you can use simple language, too, like “Play Pearl Jam” instead of “USB,” “Play Artist Pearl Jam.”

The digital gauge cluster can be configured with four different designs, from classic gauges to more space-age options. I had a few favorites, but this wasn’t as big a selling point for me as the CUE system itself. If you get an XTS without the digital gauge cluster, there’s a separate LCD information screen between the more traditional analog gauges.

An all-new model, the XTS hadn’t been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of this writing.

The Cadillac XTS comes with 10 standard airbags, including side impact and side curtain airbags for front and rear outboard seats. Knee airbags for the driver and front passenger are also standard.

Advanced safety features like front collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are available but not standard on the base model.

You can see a full list of safety features here.

Cadillac XTS in the Market
The XTS’ price crosses a number of segments, from smaller, sportier sedans like the Infiniti M37 and Audi A6, which are more fun to drive, to larger, more serene rides like the Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class, which are more expensive.

This thoroughly modern tank stands out because of its price in the middle of the luxury battlefield. All that cross-shopping could bring more eyeballs to the XTS and CUE, so it’s a good thing for Cadillac that it executed both well enough to win shoppers over.

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