It is obvious that GM is extremely proud of its CUE entertainment system interface. If you have some time to play with the system in the brag edition of the spanking new Cadillac XTS sedan, you immediately understand why.
The XTS is Cadillac's new premium car offering that compares in size to the BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-class. What the XTS lacks in horsepower (there is just a 3.6 liter V6 with 304 hp), it makes up with the most advanced multimedia infotainment system we have seen and played with to date. The center stack multi-touch screen is 8 inches in size, it has the user experience of a modern smartphone or tablet. The software backend is based on Linux, like other mobile OSes. There is tactile feedback and support for responsive swiping - as well as a interface that lacks physical buttons. Since Cadillac was able to squeeze the 6-disc CD changer into the glove box, there is suddenly much more space and a storage compartment behind the center controls.
However, there is special feature that goes beyond the superficial looks: GM says it has built the most powerful ARM processor it could find into CUE (it’s a 3-core processor with two cores being used just for voice recognition) and uses an impressive 800x480 pixel screen. It is a highly integrated system that plays well with the (optional) 12.3-inch LCD that replaces the traditional physical gauges in front of the driver that has a much stronger focus on "design" than the dashboards we remember Cadillac has built two product generations ago. Cody Hansen, interaction designer at GM, told us that usability was the first priority, not specs. The approach of Apple product design isn't too far off from Hansen's thoughts. Tech follows user experience, not the other way around.
Of course, there are different ideas how car infotainment should look like. CUE lacks the Internet capability that is, for example, offered by BMW. While it can pull data from your phone and stream Pandora, Cadillac won't show a web browser (there is however, a hidden Webkit-based browser built in). Showing Google's front page would not solve a problem, Hansen said. Showing a search page would tell the driver and passengers to figure out a certain task themselves. Instead CUE was designed in a way so that applications and built-in features deliver on the consumer's desire to be entertained and stay connected with others while in the car. He did not deny, however, that there will be more online features in future versions. The interesting part on this note is that CUE could be flashed and updated simply via the SD card slot that is available below the armrest between the front seats. Hansen neither confirmed nor denied that Cadillac will be offering such a feature.
Cadillac promised us an XTS for an extended time to test the features in detail. The first impression is that, despite the clean layout, the overall feature set can be overwhelming and XTS buyers more than likely will have to spend some time with the system to be able to take advantage of it. However, there was also the awkward feeling that kids who are growing up with touch screen devices will expect CUE-like entertainment systems in the cars they will drive in a few years down the road.
The XTS retails from about $44,000 to $61,000.