Cadillac's Big Boy Is Back. Sort of
Make no mistake, the 2013 Cadillac XTS is a big car. It's nearly 17 feet long, more than 6 feet wide and nearly 5 feet tall. But indulge this big boy's abilities on a twisty road and you'll be amazed by his moves.
And big guys who can really dance are always fun.
Still, it's the XTS's capacity to shrink itself around its driver that makes it feel so capable. Largely, this competence is a product of the sedan's magnetic-ride dampers, honest steering and precise throttle control, which yield road manners far closer to its V-based brethren than to the DTS and STS cars that it replaces.
We'll admit that part of us is intrigued by a Cadillac that floats down the road while pillowing through potholes and wallowing over frost heaves, but mercifully, the XTS is no Fleetwood Brougham.
For this you can thank Bill Peterson, the lead development engineer on the 2013 Cadillac XTS. His team tuned the sedan's magnetorheological dampers to yield a controlled ride with enough compliance to satisfy all but the most highly sensitive backsides. Ride quality in "Tour" — the softer of the dampers' two base settings — is compliant but controlled. Big impacts are adequately isolated, while body roll is well managed, which means some busyness still penetrates the cabin on a truly rough road.
You won't find a large menu of chassis adjustments on this Cadillac, either. And their absence reaffirms our belief that the right hardware coupled with confident tuning produces a luxury sedan that doesn't need to be adjusted.
There are compromises, of course. The XTS lacks the extremes of soft and stiff settings offered by its German competition. The upshot is that you won't spend time trying to dial in the perfect combination.
Old-school hydraulic-assist steering provides good on-center feel and off-center effort suited to a modern luxury sedan. Steering response strikes a just-right balance between sport-sedan quick and Fleetwood flaccid. And we were pleasantly surprised by a throttle with ample precision and linear response — especially at low speed. It's almost as if Cadillac looked at the qualities of old-school analog control hardware, realized the value in its authentic responses and tuned the electronic hardware accordingly.
Only one engine and transmission combination is available in the 2013 Cadillac XTS. It's the same 3.6-liter direct-injected V6 used in the smaller CTS, but here it's mounted transversely to drive the front wheels (all-wheel drive is optional). It's tuned to produce 304 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque and coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.
According to Peterson, the front-drive, 4,006-pound XTS is good for zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds and will hit a top speed of 136 mph. Front-drivers are also estimated to achieve 17 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
All-wheel drive is offered on all but the entry-level XTS. It's designed to improve all-weather capability rather than increase the car's handling limits. We drove the XTS aggressively enough to expose any handling advantages the system might offer, and its presence went undetected. At the limit, as you might imagine, this big boy relies on the safety of understeer.
Paddle shifters are present on the backside of the steering wheel but are only activated by dropping the shifter into Manual mode. Doing so also switches the dampers to Sport mode and reduces steering assist. Downshifts are rev-matched while the braking is taken care of by Brembo four-piston calipers and 13.6-inch ventilated rotors up front.
CUE the Tech
Cadillac is aiming squarely at its German competition with the addition of a touchscreen infotainment system called CUE, which stands for Cadillac User Experience. The system — which integrates audio, phone, navigation (optional) and OnStar functionality into an 8-inch touchscreen interface — eliminates knobs and offers no traditional buttons. It's a new way to interface with these systems and — in our brief experience, at least — it seems to be a good one.
If you've become accustomed to iPhone and iPad interfaces, you'll be comfortable with CUE. Navigating through CUE menus and functions is done by touching, swiping, pinching and expanding. It works well largely because the touchscreen and HVAC controls below it respond with a positive pulse through your finger every time you give them a touch command. This "haptic" feedback is similar to what you feel in a handheld video game controller that vibrates — except in the XTS it doesn't feel cheap. The result is that you can look at the road while you repeatedly activate a control.
CUE is highly configurable, allowing users to store favorite destinations, phone numbers, radio stations and more in the menu bar at the bottom of the screen. After a preset time of non-use, all menu items disappear from the screen. A proximity sensor returns the menu items with a pass of your hand — no touching the screen required.
The system's layout is also logical and intuitive — at least to us. We were able to pair our phone to the car in about a minute with no prior instruction. And for those who might find this level of technology challenging, Cadillac supplies an iPad with every XTS. OnStar operators are also trained to support CUE functionality.
Optionally available is a 12-inch configurable gauge cluster that offers four instrument arrangements with varying levels of information. Configurable displays in each preset callow further user customization at a level unavailable in any other vehicle sold today.
Two safety packages will offer an array of driver aids ranging from simple warnings to autonomous braking. The Driver Awareness package includes familiar technologies like lane departure warning, blind-spot warning and forward collision alerts. Unique to the XTS is Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat, which warns its driver by vibrating on the side of the seat corresponding to the threat. Wander over the white line and the seat vibrates on the right side. Begin a lane change into an occupied lane to the left and it vibrates on the left. Close too quickly on the car in front and it vibrates on both sides.
We've experienced these features before in many cars and find Cadillac's safety seat solution preferable to systems that utilize flashing lights, alarms or both. More importantly, we found the system calibrated to tolerate the heavy traffic we experience in L.A. Its subtle blips in the backside serve as an effective — but not terrifying — notice to wake up. Also, turning the system off is as easy as pushing a single button.
The Driver Assist package (not available until this fall) will include adaptive cruise control as well as front and rear automatic braking, which will bring the car to a stop from speeds up to 20 mph. This feature will prevent you from bumping the car (or fire hydrant) in front or behind while parking. It also includes a "collision preparation" feature that scrubs speed before an unavoidable collision.
Pretty, Functional Inside
Cadillac spent considerable energy styling the XTS interior — a fact that isn't fully appreciated until one experiences the top-level materials. Details like the microfiber suede headliner, tasteful wood trim and leather seat inserts give the XTS the feel of a much more expensive car. Base models forego the abundance of high-end materials, but still exhibit material quality aligned with their price. Six interior color combinations are available, including one with purple stitching. Sounds weird, but it's actually quite stunning.
The button-free, touch-sensitive center stack is an undeniably clean design, and a hidden compartment with a handy USB port resides under the HVAC control panel. Another two USB ports are available in the center console along with an SD card slot, so connectivity is never a problem. Dual-zone climate control is standard, and a third zone for the rear seats is optionally available.
Sized Right, Priced Right
One of the biggest questions facing the 2013 Cadillac XTS is its size relative to the models it's replacing. Cadillac insists DTS buyers will find the XTS amply large, and after driving it we can't argue. With an overall length of 202 inches, it lacks the DTS's sheer expanse (207.6 inches), but space is used more efficiently here — and it's still more than 5 inches longer than the STS.
At 111.7 inches the XTS's wheelbase isn't as long as the standard-wheelbase versions of the Audi A8 (117.8 inches) or BMW 7 Series (120.9 inches), but it exceeds those cars' front and rear legroom and its 18-cubic-foot trunk makes their cargo areas look laughably small by comparison. We adjusted the driver seat for our driving position, then planted our 5-foot, 9-inch frame in the backseat and found nearly a full foot between our knees and the seatback. Only the mutants will need more room.
Four trim levels — Standard, Luxury, Premium and Platinum — provide a broad range of luxury features and functionality. Standard models start at $44,995 including destination. Figure about $5 grand for each additional package, with the Platinum topping the range at $59,080. Cars will hit dealer lots by early June.
The 2013 Cadillac XTS's extensive tech puts it at the leading edge of automotive features, functionality and interface design. And from behind the wheel it's as competent, capable and comfortable as it needs to be. But it's still not the massive, rear-drive sedan offered by some of Cadillac's competition.
How much this matters will depend on just how big you need your big boy to be. We think this one is plenty big enough.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.