2020 Cadillac XT6 Drive and Review: On the Road in Cadillac's First Three-Row Crossover

Is "Better" Enough for Cadillac?


What is it?

While Cadillac has turned the massive and pricey truck-based Escalade into a household name, it's never sold a car-like, three-row crossover SUV ... until now. With the 2020 Cadillac XT6, the American luxury brand finally jumps on the bandwagon.

The six- or seven-passenger XT6 is powered by a 310-horsepower V6 engine and is available with either front-wheel drive or with one of two all-wheel-drive systems. It's based on the two-row XT5, but it has gained 9 inches in overall length, along with minor gains in height and width to accommodate the extra seating.

The XT6 starts with a very well-equipped Luxury base model that includes a lot of safety features, which were absent from the brand's base offerings in the past. From there, you can choose two flavors of XT6. The Sport trim comes with an adaptive suspension, quicker steering ratios, more aggressive throttle tuning, and blacked-out exterior trim to visually differentiate it. You also get a standard twin-clutch AWD system capable of actively shifting power from front to back and between the rear wheels, improving cornering ability.

The Premium Luxury trim is the alternative to the Sport. It lacks the adaptive suspension and comes with more relaxed steering and throttle tuning. It remains front-wheel drive but has an optional single-clutch AWD system to shift power between the front and rear axles. Combined with good traction control software and brake-based torque vectoring, the system still does its job and provides traction in adverse conditions.

Either car can then be equipped with the Platinum package, which loads it with luxury features and upgraded upholstery.

The XT6 features all sorts of tech as well. LED headlights are standard, along with an infotainment system that supports phone integration. Occupants can stay connected with a Wi-Fi hotspot, and their devices are kept topped up via USB Type A and C charge points in all three rows. Beyond the safety features, a full suite of driver aids is available, including a parking assistant and surround-view camera system. There's even a night-vision camera to help reduce the chances of unfortunate night-time incidents. It projects in the gauge cluster an infrared view of the road ahead, highlighting pedestrians and large animals.

In general, the XT6 makes a solid case for itself. It delivers power, space, and technology and convenience features at competitive price points when compared to other luxury vehicles.

2020 Cadillac XT6

Why does it matter?

Three-row SUVs are very popular with consumers, but more than a few shoppers are put off by massive body-on-frame SUVs such as the Escalade. That means Cadillac hasn't had a product to offer buyers in a growing market segment. The 2020 Cadillac XT6 fills that hole and gives shoppers a new option as well as giving Cadillac an entry into the three-row luxury class.

2020 Cadillac XT6

What does it compete with?

The XT6 has a whole range of three-row SUVs to deal with. The Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 are obvious choices to consider from Europe. There's also the Acura MDX, which is smaller all around but can be had as a sporty hybrid. Lincoln is updating its own three-row SUV offering with the launch of the Aviator, which is based on the new Ford Explorer.

Perhaps the closest competitors are the Lexus RX 350L and RX 450hL. Like the XT6, they are lengthened versions of a two-row SUV. The Lexus is saddled with a frustrating technology interface. But more than that, Cadillac has simply done a better job integrating a third row of seating into the XT6 than Lexus did with its long-wheelbase RX.

The biggest wild card in the mix right now has to be the Kia Telluride (and its corporate sibling, the Hyundai Palisade). The Telluride is quite comfortable to spend time in, offers good cargo space behind its third row, boasts a handful of features not available on the Cadillac (such as ventilated second-row seats), and is significantly less expensive. While the XT6 uses more premium materials throughout and provides a smoother ride, the Telluride, in its highest trims, does an exceptional job giving the overall impression of being a premium product.

2020 Cadillac XT6

How does it drive?

Cadillac's marketing team has decided to run with the catchphrase "isolated precision" to describe the XT6's dynamics. It's not wrong, but the result is a bit of a mixed bag. Even with the XT6 Sport's 21-inch wheels and adaptive suspension, the XT6 felt comfortable on most road surfaces, exhibiting only a bit of choppiness over broken pavement. The Premium Luxury model with 20-inch wheels and fixed suspension rides fantastically well over every surface, including unpaved gravel roads.

The tradeoff for that ride quality is a lack of feeling. "Isolated" indeed. There's noticeable body roll at speed when going around turns, and there's no feedback from the road through the steering wheel. The Sport model has a quicker steering ratio. But beyond the quicker response, there's nothing really more sporty about the way it drives. We were never in a situation where the difference between the Sport's twin-clutch AWD and the Luxury model's single-clutch AWD had a noticeable impact on vehicle dynamics. And that's going to mirror the experience most drivers have. Even on gravel roads, the Luxury model felt just as stable and capable as the Sport.

Ultimately, the difference between them still seems more aesthetic than functional. Cadillac has taken steps to differentiate the driving experience of the two. But based on our early impressions, the designers could stand to take the differences even further.

Still, like many modern vehicles, the steering and brakes are precise enough that the feeling of isolation doesn't impact normal driving. The quiet and separation that the XT6 provides will, for most buyers, be a strength. But a driver's vehicle this is not.

2020 Cadillac XT6

What's the interior like?

When Cadillac launched the XT6, it said the SUV was going to make every seat "the best seat in the house." Alas, that's not really the case. The interior is usably roomy, and 6-foot-tall adults will fit in all three rows. The third row has a slightly higher floor and a slightly lower roof, so the seating position is a bit more awkward for tall passengers. The seats themselves are also firm and flat, offering less support than the buckets in the first and second rows.

Firmness is an issue in all three rows, making it seem like Cadillac was trying to make them sporty bucket seats. But at the same time, there's not enough lateral bolstering for passengers' torsos to keep them in place during aggressive cornering. We also have complaints about the lack of two fore/aft or tilt adjustability for the headrests and the relative shortness of the front-seat cushions. Our taller drivers feel like they lack sufficient thigh support.

In general, we think most people will be comfortable, even after hours in the vehicle. But these seats fall into a bit of an awkward middle ground. They don't really fade into the background like some luxury seats or hug you like sport seats.

Cadillac's technology features are easy to use, with a very simple 8-inch touchscreen interface. The newest iteration features an improved rotary knob infotainment selector. It has a jog function, allowing you to tap the controller in a cardinal direction to switch between menus and screens. It's not the best knob-based system we've used — the screen is still optimized for touch — but it's getting better. In its current form, it makes for a functional secondary input option.

The screen is sharp, with good-looking graphics and navigation maps. It's small for the luxury segment, so the available surround-view camera display is squeezed down into relatively little real estate. We can't help but think that Cadillac would benefit from using a 10-inch screen.

The interior is also quiet and solidly built. Cadillac has gotten better at using premium materials. Most everything you touch in the 2020 XT6 feels sturdy and upscale. But in terms of design and execution, it still lags behind competitors in creating a holistic impression of high-end luxury. Cadillac is edging ever closer to being competitive with other luxury brands, and many of the components are in place. But the brand still hasn't quite cracked the code in terms of translating its vision into a final product.

2020 Cadillac XT6

How practical is it?

Practicality is an issue for the XT6, depending on how you need to use it. There's an excellent pass-through that provides a large shelf for pretty sizable items. There are also plenty of cupholders for all three rows, and the door pockets will hold water bottles.

But the awkward leather-lined cubby under the climate control panel isn't quite big enough to hold much more than small items. It certainly won't hold a phone. Thankfully, the new wireless charging pocket is much more accommodating than past GM versions. And it's easy to slip a modern phone in its case in and out of the charging pocket.

Trunk space could be an issue if you also need to use the third row. With the third row in place, so much of the trunk is occupied that there's basically only room for some grocery bags. You're not taking three rows of people to the airport, that's for sure. The third row folds down at the touch of a button, at least. And once it's folded, you get a very large cargo area. The Volkswagen Atlas and Kia Telluride both prove you can have a usable trunk behind the third row in a unibody SUV. But the XT6 still requires trading off between passenger space and cargo space.

2020 Cadillac XT6

What else should I know?

Cadillac seems to be moving in the right direction, focusing on its strengths rather than reaching to compete directly with the big European brands. As much as enthusiasts have been disappointed by the dilution of the V performance sub-brand, high-horsepower performance machines aren't what Cadillac needs.

In fact, the biggest worry to us has been the slow movement from the brand on electrification. Other luxury makes have been pushing into hybrids, 48-volt electrical systems and even full electrification at a more rapid clip, and ultimately Cadillac will need to as well. The XT6 may complete a comprehensive and cohesive Cadillac lineup, but it still doesn't tell us much about where the brand is going next.

2020 Cadillac XT6

Edmunds says

The 2020 Cadillac XT6 is a solid step forward for the carmaker, but for its many strengths it still shows that Cadillac has more room to grow.