In almost no vehicle segment does one entrant dominate sales quite the way the Lexus RX 350 rules the luxury crossover class.
We're talking about more than double the next highest-selling entrant. Lexus invented the upscale non-minivan/non-SUV and has come to define the class, so when the time came for Cadillac to remix its SRX tall-wagon/crossover thing, it followed the RX's successful formula. The 2010 Cadillac SRX, which we've just driven for a full day, is of nearly identical dimensions, front-wheel-drive layout and, according to Cadillac marketing types, price.
Such is the dominance of Lexus in this market that Cadillac doesn't even blush when it uses the L-word.
Lexus? Really? When we first heard Cadillac officials mention the RX, we were worried. There's nothing wrong with the Lexus RX 350 if you like soft, ultra-isolated mom-carriers (and obviously a lot of people do). But what about a V8? What about rear-wheel drive? What about the momentum that the second-generation CTS and spectacular CTS-V have created in the sport sedan market?
We needn't have worried. One, Cadillac will produce a CTS station wagon, which is what we actually wanted the original SRX to be in the first place. And when you talk to the Cadillac engineering guys about the 2010 Cadillac SRX, they don't seem eager to invoke the RX. Or rather, they only want to use it as a point of contrast.
"The SRX has a different balance than the Lexus," says Lyndon Schneider, SRX chief engineer. "We consider Lexus more Buick-esque in terms of isolation. The Cadillac is more fun to drive and crisper. It's more isolated than a BMW X3, but with equivalent handling."
OK, we're becoming more interested.
The Drive We drove two early examples of the 2010 Cadillac SRX on this test opportunity. Both were all-wheel drive and both were powered by the standard direct-injection 265-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine, which is bolted to a six-speed Hydra-matic automatic transaxle. At this stage in the 2010 model's development, Cadillac was unable or unwilling to give us a run in the turbocharged, 300-hp 2.8-liter V6 with its standard Aisin six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.
Our two test vehicles differed from each other only in wheel size and dampers. Our first run came in a base-model SRX, which featured conventional dampers and wore 18-inch wheels. This arrangement makes for a very pleasant setup for all-around driving. We had some time on lumpy Michigan back roads, concrete expressways and a short autocross-style course covered in spots by ice and snow (welcome to April in Michigan).
On the lumps and curves around GM's Milford Proving Grounds in southeastern Michigan, the SRX is well composed and quiet. Predictably it's not an overtly sporty thing, but the tuning of its strut-type front and multilink rear suspensions gives it an effective compromise between the marshmallowlike Lexus and sometimes flinty BMW. We're fond enough of this base-model SRX that we're already wondering why we would bother advocating for the bigger wheels and tires and the additional cost of the automatically adjusting dampers. This crossover feels composed and rock-solid — a competent hauler of goods and merchandise.
It's only in the afternoon when we take a few runs around the tight little autocross course that the base-suspension SRX starts feeling floppy, a little in over its head. (Here's an idea: Don't autocross your base-level SRX.)
Variable Orifice? Shut Your Mouth! The fact that the 2010 Cadillac SRX would not be available with Delphi's excellent magnetorheological dampers (an American-bred technology introduced by the first-generation Cadillac SRX) was another demerit in our mind when we first were introduced to the second-generation SRX.
This effective yet expensive damping system has been replaced by more conventional, electronically controlled variable-orifice dampers (a phrase that engineers can say without even the hint of a smirk). The optional system also comes with the 20-inch wheels that are so important to designers and marketers these days. For the regular day-to-day suburban use that most of these crossover things will face, we would probably choose the standard 18s.
The 20s add a bit more impact jolt and noise, and while it's far from the calibration with which BMW saddled owners of early X3s or X5s, its liabilities are certainly noticeable. These dampers do a good job of dealing with quickly changing road surfaces and significantly reduce the SRX's body roll, whether in regular mode or Sport mode (a transition that occurs when you slide the transmission into Sport mode). And the SRX is still far from stiff or unpleasant. Even so, the optional suspenders and wheels make more sense for the 300-hp turbo model.
Saab-Wheel-Drive Both examples of the 2010 Cadillac SRX that we drove had been outfitted with the optional Haldex all-wheel-drive system. This is the same basic system recently introduced over at Saab — a former GM protectorate, as it were. The Haldex technology impressed us when we drove the Saab 9-3 Turbo X on the ice and snow, and we were impressed with it when we drove the version in the SRX on the pavement.
Using some 20 sensors scattered around the vehicle, the Haldex system can preemptively transfer torque from front to rear in anticipation of acceleration; it does not require wheelspin to activate its engagement. Theoretically, the system can transfer 100 percent of engine torque rearward, but that would take some extraordinary circumstances, like front tires on ice and the rears on dry pavement. With a launch on dry pavement, the system sends about 50 percent of the torque rearward. Under steady-state conditions, about 10-12 percent of torque will be applied to the rear. Once back there, the torque can be sent either to the left or right wheel through the electric limited-slip differential (eLSD).
It's a sophisticated system, but we'll be able to better tell you about the way the all-wheel-drive system changes overall vehicle feel once we get behind the wheel of a front-drive model.
Fuelie The base V6 is smaller by a half-liter than the V6 it replaces, which seems worrying at first. It's less of a concern after you've driven the vehicle. The 3.0-liter V6 that's tucked deep in the 2010 SRX's engine bay is a smaller version of the familiar 3.6-liter V6 from the CTS. It carries direct-injection (which the base V6 in the old SRX did not). At 265 hp, the new 3.0-liter produces 10 more horses than the old 3.6. And running through a six-speed automatic transmission instead of a five-speed, the 2010 Cadillac SRX AWD should deliver better fuel economy, too. GM estimates that the new vehicle should do 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway, which compares to 14 mpg city/22 mpg highway for the old V6-powered SRX. More power and better fuel economy is a nice combination.
The only place the new engine suffers is in torque output. With 223 pound-feet of torque generated at 5,100 rpm, the 3.0-liter isn't weak and it has six gears to help keep it in its relatively high power band. But it requires a couple of downshifts to make decent time in passing maneuvers. Maybe we're spoiled, but we want more kick.
There are two other items of interest about the new motor. One, it uses regular unleaded gas instead of premium, which is nice. And, in concert with the soft, relatively slow upshifts of the six-speed, the engine doesn't seem eager to either pick up or drop off revs.
The Cadillac of Crossovers Cadillac would like very much if we didn't go into too much detail on the interior of the SRXs we drove, since these early cars carried a few crummy pieces of plastic and the kind of fit that comes with a pre-production vehicle.
What we can say is that if you like the interior of the new second-generation CTS, there's a good chance you'll be happy with the innards of the SRX. Predictably, visibility is much, much better. The center-stack controls, including a pop-up touchscreen for the navigation system, look like a direct lift from the CTS even if they're not. The white-face gauges are attractive and easy to read. The center-mounted speedometer carries a round driver-information screen in its center, with particularly sharp graphics. The seats, which we understand were optional upgrade seats in the vehicle we tested, were comfortable and supportive, and featured a manually extending thigh-support section. Very nice.
The rear seat is roomy enough for adults without any cause for bitching. Subjectively, cargo space seems a little tight for the class, but, of course the rear seats fold down to greatly expand space.
Until we get a longer test with full production vehicles in a few months, that's about all we're prepared to say about the 2010 Cadillac SRX. The company has not announced pricing, but we figure it'll come in right around — you guessed it — Lexus RX 350 pricing. This would put it around $36,000 to start. But Cadillac is convinced that its optioning strategy will result in significantly better value than the Lexus.
Nobody yet expects Cadillac or the raft of other new European crossover competitors to take down the RX, though.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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