Thousands of feet above the Pacific Ocean, the winding roads that lead to the summit of Palomar Mountain turn from undulating curves to tight, blind, hairpin bends. Most drivers along this route are looking for a chance to exploit the limits of their cars’ handling as much as one can on public roads, while taking in the bucolic views and endless blue skies. Up here, taking the thrilling curves at high speed is best left for drivers of performance cars who have platinum health insurance, lest the possibility of rolling a vertical mile toward Hellhole Canyon Preserve (we are not making this up) is not a deterrent.
How different the experience is when you’ve chosen to climb the mountain in the 2017 Cadillac XT5, the crossover that replaces the SRX in a growing lineup of refined and redefined XT-named utility vehicles. An instant reminder that this SUV is not a Lotus comes as we enter a corner with a smidgen too much gusto, the tires begin to claw for traction, and the seatbelts tighten with the grip of sudden death. A quick tap of the brakes releases the belts, but not before a bead of sweat forms on the forehead. The overwhelming feeling is one of being unsure if this exercise is out of the XT5’s comfort zone, despite Cadillac’s goal of hitting the high-achieving sweet spot of the sport-luxury crossover segment.The XT5 is the second Cadillac model to arrive since the brand learned to speak with a New York accent (albeit an affected Soho dialect) and it’s a key pillar to the brand’s chances at worldwide success. In 2015, the final year of sales for the five-year-old SRX, Cadillac managed to sell almost 100,000 of them around the world – no small feat for a model about to be replaced, and proof of the crossover’s relative freshness and its popularity in export markets like China.
Like the SRX that precedes it, the XT5 will be available with either front- or all-wheel drive (a $2,645 option), but that’s one of few commonalities with the outgoing model. A new, lighter chassis helps the XT5 shed about 300 pounds, although Cadillac favors high-strength steel for bodywork and leaves aluminum for the engine and interior trim. In line with the revised brand guidelines for naming, SRX evolved into XT5, leaving room for larger and smaller utility vehicles to eventually join the lineup.
That’s one way of explaining the evolutionary exterior styling of the XT5, which maintains the wedgy profile of the SRX but grafts on the new corporate face previewed by the CT6 sedan. Boomerang-style taillights bend, as on the ELR and SRX, and a lengthwise character line connects front and back with more grace than before. Most XT5 trim levels share a common front fascia, while the top-level Platinum has a brighter-looking grille and front skid plate. The overall look is that of a more refined SRX, and that’s no bad thing for any of that model’s fans – or any aficionados of the retired CTS Wagon. In short, you’ll know that an XT5 isn’t an SRX when you first see one, although the differences are harder to tell when the two are parked side by side.
If the XT5’s exterior is a familiar sight to Cadillac fans, then its interior is a welcome departure that’s sure to convert would-be buyers of GermanCUVs. The dashboard is an expansive, flowing testament to the new school of Cadillac design, and it’s immediately impressive. Gone is the waterfall-style center stack, which relied on frustrating capacitive touch inputs, and in its place is a tastefully integrated navigation screen surrounded by soft-touch materials and several storage compartments. The navigation screen is too small to compete with the Volvo XC90 for clarity, and too cluttered to offer much map information, but graphics are nonetheless crisp.
If you’re familiar with the interior of the recently launched CT6, the shapes, colors, and quality will make sense. Particular kudos go to the color and trim team for having the gumption to experiment with unusual hues and materials. You might not order your XT5 with the Carbon Plum interior leather – which most closely matches a midnight blue in the dark, and a deep lavender in broad daylight – but Cadillac deserves some respect for offering the offbeat option. If Cadillac’s goal is to coax style-conscious buyers away from the Audis, BMWs, Lexuses, and Mercedes-Benzes that they adore, job well done. Less impressive is the fit and finish of some of the details, like the cargo cover that feels more ’90s Subaru than modern-day Cadillac.