Review: 2013 Cadillac XTS

Cadillac has slowly been rebuilding its brand to glory, but it has been a long road. For Cadillac, the phoenix that rose from the ashes is without a doubt the successful CTS. The brand’s greatest triumph since the V-16 Cadillac’s of the 1930’s is without a shadow of a doubt the CTS-V, an absolute menace to society dressed in a tuxedo. Yet, with all focus on the CTS, Cadillac’s larger car family went neglected, and between the DTS and STS, it seemed confusing as to where Cadillac wanted to go with their premier large car. Which made me scratch my head, given that Cadillac has been building luxury cars for over 100 years.

The DTS and STS are now extinct, and the XTS takes their place. The XTS boasts a prominent grille, and the creased styling we’ve come to expect from Cadillac’s ‘Art & Science’ design mantra. The XTS is easily recognizable as a Cadillac, but there is no hiding the fact the car was engineered as a front wheel drive vehicle, and it looks it. And that can be a tough sell in the luxury car market, where buyers demand looks above all else. The XTS is a handsome car, but being front wheel drive, it cannot pull off the elegance of design its rear wheel drive competitors offer.

Inside, the XTS is a revelation. Step in to the driver’s seat, hit the start button and you are greeted with a swirling digital display for not just the infotainment center, but the dashboard itself. That’s right-no needles, the gauges are all computerized. They look fantastic. If you’ve complained that stepping into a car has stopped having any sense of occasion, step into an XTS. You genuinely feel like you are sitting in the most cutting edge car out there. And that’s not always a good thing. Meet CUE, Cadillac’s newest infotainment system. Cadillac has forgone buttons to control climate control and other functions. Yes, it is high tech, but as a Gen X’er with an iMac, iPod, iPad and Android phone, the XTS’s controls proved to have the highest learning curve of any car I have ever driven in all the years I have reviewed cars. My Grandfather loved Cadillac’s, but he would positively hate the XTS for its controls. Which I understand. Cadillac has been desperate to reach out to a younger audience, and shake the ‘old man’s car’ that has dogged them for decades. But the reality is the guy contemplating an XTS will likely be in his 50’s at least, not understand how to work Facebook, doesn’t know what a tweet is, and think Pandora is about a box. Yes, the XTS is extremely comfortable, build quality and materials are on par for the price paid, but simpler controls would be welcome.

Motivation for the XTS comes in one form only, a 3.6L V-6, rated at 304hp, and paired to a six-speed automatic. Buyers have a choice between front and all-wheel drive. The XTS does a decent job of getting out of its own way, and passing power is perfectly fine. However, I suspect Cadillac buyers will be disappointed at the lack of a V-8 option. As expected, the XTS was stellar as a highway cruiser. Fitted with 20″ alloys, the XTS’ Magnetic Ride Control delivered one of the smoothest rides I can recall in a car sporting wheels that large. Brembo brakes up front instilled confidence, and the XTS was cool as a cucumber when pushed, but few owners are likely to drive this car hard. For its considerable size, the XTS EPA fuel economy numbers are 17/26 MPG city/highway, not bad for a large all wheel drive luxury car.

A base front wheel drive XTS starts at $44, 075USD, and comes well equipped. The XTS is available in four trim levels: Standard, Luxury, Premium, and Platinum. Our test car was the Platinum with all-wheel drive. The standard equipment list is staggering. Bose studio surround sound with 14 speakers, SiriusXM and HD radio, Opus leather interior, real wood trim, power tilt/telescope/heated steering wheel, heated/vented front seats, three-zone auto climate control, head up display and a panoramic moonroof. Of course, there are shades aplenty for privacy. I mentioned before the XTS offers a real sense of occasion when you step in, but even before you get in, while leaving a five star restaurant after dinner, walk up to your XTS, hit the button to unlock the doors, and the illuminated door handles are jaw-dropping sexy. In words, it may sound tacky, but in person, seeing this puts the XTS at the height of class. Our test car’s sole option was a gorgeous Crystal Red Tintcoat, which brought the tally to $62,300, including delivery. That’s a far cry from the base XTS price, but with all-wheel drive and every conceivable luxury option as standard equipment, the XTS we sampled did not seem excessively priced for what you get.

Still, the XTS, as fine a car it is, seems conflicted. With Cadillac, you have the well received CTS, and the new rear wheel drive ATS, meant to fight the BMW 3-series. With the XTS we have a front wheel drive, full size luxury car competing in a market segment that practically demands rear wheel drive. Then again, the XTS’ nearest domestic competitor,the Lincoln MKS, also based on a front-drive platform, which is less expensive and more powerful in Ecoboost form, but seems old next to the XTS. Cadillac may not be after the BMW 5-Series buyer, but their renewed interest in a large car has produced a luxurious, capable car that suffers none of the driving traits of the cars the XTS can trace its roots to.

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