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Cadillac XTS: Beauty and High Tech Come in Bundles

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 31 comments

Several weeks ago, I was given a tour of Cadillac's new Mercedes E-class fighter, the XTS sedan. Until this week, I was allowed to put some miles on the car and to learn what Cadillac's CUE entertainment system achieves in a real-world setting.

In some cars you can sit down, and you know in an instant what to do – which buttons to press and how to drive it. The Cadillac XTS is not that car. Let's take two steps back before we delve into the technology that is packed into this new sedan. 

The XTS is a special car, special in its very own way. Just as the fantastic 556 hp CTS-V screams sports sedan, the XTS screams luxury. The reactions we received when driving the Black Raven painted sedan were very consistent. "Beautiful car" were the words we often heard from people who walked by. We were asked at stoplights which "beautiful" car it was; even a police officer had the nerve to flag us down and ask for a demonstration of CUE, which he had read about.

As striking as the XTS is (it shares its size and silhouette with the Buick LaCrosse, upon which it is based, but with much more pronounced geometrical lines that give the car a unique visual identity), as confused were those bystanders about the engine choice. "What, no V8?" they asked. Yes, no V8, dear reader. Cadillac chose its 3.6 liter V6 with 304 hp that is, in a similar configuration, also available for the Buick LaCrosse (303 hp). In fact, a few days of driving suggested that the XTS with 4-wheel drive was a bit underpowered. It never feels slow, but you have to push it hard into the 4,000 RPM range via its manual shifting options to get the acceleration you expect from its looks. Another 100 hp certainly would not hurt.

However, let's remember that the XTS is not a sports sedan. It has some features that it shares with the CTS-V, such as GM's magnetic ride control and the V's superb Brembo brakes, but it is no BMW 5-series. It is built right on top of the rather soft LaCrosse. Given that foundation, the XTS has a much more determined ride and connection to the road. At the same time, it can also serve as a car that removes you entirely from the road and shuts you out. With all the gadgets activated, this is how I imagine a car to feel when it is one step away from taking active control of driving while I lean back answering emails.

At the dealership, I was reminded that Cadillacs have to fill very distinct roles. People buy them to drive other people. They buy them as comfortable family cars. With the XTS, that formula adds a sporty note. If you want to throw it around corners, it will give you the confidence that you can. In this view, the XTS is light-years ahead of the DTS that it replaces.

 

Tech: A Milestone and Eye Opener

The interior of our XTS AWD Premium was just as beautiful as the exterior. Tastefully appointed, it is in a different class than the DTS and the CTS. Our tester carried a base sticker price of $55,810 and was equipped with a fancy, screen-covered sunroof for $1,450. With the manual sun shades in the rear and destination, the final price came to $58,340, a bargain for the right buyer, in my mind. Subjectively, it feels like an $80,000 car. All XTS versions come standard with the CUE entertainment system; the two top editions, the Platinum and Premium levels, also replace the traditional gauge cluster with a 12.3-inch LCD for the driver that provides several configuration options regarding what information should be displayed. For example, drivers can choose from advanced features such as speed limit information, central navigation and phone connection information. 

CUE

Cadillac hopes that CUE is a key feature that will attract buyers to the car. In fact, it is a visually stunning implementation; think of it as a tablet that is built right into the car. It has tactile feedback, you can swipe, and pinch zoom. There is a proximity sensor that reacts to your hand moving toward the screen. It adds screen options when you move toward it, and removes clutter from the screen after a few seconds when you pull back.

There is no doubt that CUE is the most advanced UI for entertainment systems in cars today. From the crisp 800x480 pixel screen to the quick reaction times, I found it a pleasure to use. The screen is a highlight in the cabin, from the 3D navigation data that includes buildings in metropolitan areas, to the live graphics of weather that is as good as the information you can draw from weather.com on your PC at home.

However, I found myself constantly playing with the system when I was really not supposed to be doing so. Because information is removed from the screen, you are required to take your eyes off the road much longer than you would if you knew where to place your hand without having to wait for the system to react with more display and menu options.

In its first generation, CUE seems to result in having the driver’s eyes focused more on the screen in the car rather than on the road where they belong. The attention-getter appeal of the UI surely comes with the nature of being distracting as well. Fortunately, the XTS has a very effective collision and lane change warner that even makes your seat vibrate when you are about to cross a line without setting a turning light. It takes some getting used to when your left butt cheek suddenly gets massaged, but I quickly learned that I may be a bit too close to the middle lane of the road and should correct my direction. The system won't save drunk drivers from being pulled over, but it is present enough, for example, to let tired drivers know that they need a break.

One problem with CUE is that it requires a massive learning curve from non-tech enthusiasts to use the system effectively. My fiancé loves her iPad and her Android phone, but she was frustrated with the user controls of CUE to the point where she refused to drive the car. Our 12-year-old ended up explaining to her how to navigate the screen. The lack of physical buttons and the integration of everything touch felt much more natural to him than to her, which should be a telling sign that our kids will expect such features in cars in the not too distant future. Similarly, I do not believe that older buyer groups will fall in love with CUE.

Another problem with CUE is that its audio recognition is not as advanced as I had expected. The controls are very much what is standard today and cover especially navigation and audio. However, our family minivan, priced $20K less than this XTS, can also cover climate controls, which the XTS cannot. This is a feature that can be extremely useful, particularly with very clean dashboardsand should be on Cadillac's list as an immediate needed improvement.

In addition to the above, the advanced UI and the audio controls are two major downsides that I found. Once you are used to the system, it is a tech geek's dream come true. There is nothing on the market today that can match the modern technology appeal of CUE.

The 12.3-inch display in front of the driver is very much a matter of taste. It fits well with the striking appearance and technology approach of the entire car, but personally, I did not like it being positioned exactly vertically without an angle towards the driver. Readability, however, is excellent, and the options to configure the display are a hint about just how much Cadillac wanted this car to be a demonstration of what is possible today. If there is a car on the road that exemplifies how future sedans may look and feel, the XTS is as close as you can get.

Conclusion: A Step Closer

We have been discussing systems like CUE for at least a decade. In a strange way, CUE may even be a bit ahead of its time with an appeal to those who grow up with touch computing interfaces and LCDs everywhere. The Cadillac design team should be applauded for pushing the CUE design through, even if it can clearly benefit from some improvements. That said, remember that this is a digital interface that can be flashed. Just as you update your phone occasionally, this system can be updated equally as easily.

Given the background of the DTS, the XTS is a giant leap in the right direction and is exemplary for the transformation of GM. A few years ago, we complained about GM's old engines, plastic dashes and rides that were reminiscent of a sofa on wheels that was about to fall apart at the next corner.

This XTS is proof that GM is making unmistakable progress to run with the Europeans. It may not be the sportiest sedan on the road, but if you are looking for striking design, luxury, and you enjoy technology, this is a car that should be on your shopping list.

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  • 3 Hide
    eternalkp , August 22, 2012 6:46 PM
    but would you buy one?
  • 0 Hide
    cknobman , August 22, 2012 6:53 PM
    But it is still a Crapillac.
  • 2 Hide
    zubikov , August 22, 2012 6:54 PM
    The interior is tacky, it still bears the Cadillac name, it costs an additional 10-15K above a similarly spec'd Acura TL and looks like a boat on the outside.

    As far as tech features, CUE must be nice, but I doubt it's worth the difference. Also, I don't feel comfortable having a car correct me beyond ABS, slip and some suspension adjustments. I've been driving for 15 years and think that I'm doing just fine on my own.

    Worst of all, I don't trust GM after decades of stories from friends and family about Pontiacs breaking down and Chevys blowing transmissions. The story about how GM discontinued EV vehicles and recalled all of them back makes me cringe, too. Sorry, you won't see my money unless it comes in the form of another gov't bailout.
  • Display all 31 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    freggo , August 22, 2012 7:01 PM
    Samsung gets sued for copying the iPad style... How about Cadillac getting very 'inspired' by the E-Class lines ? :-)

    Still, anyone who has owned a Mercedes knows there is NOTHING GM can do to get the same 'status' of their products outside a selected group of the US Market. That's why Benz' are sold worldwide and GM needs a bailout to sell their overpriced products in the USA.

    And before you (Guys) tell me that 'status' is not important... let's be honest.. we buy cars to get chicks. And I assure you from own experience, that 'Star' on the Hood gets you more than the Cadillac emblem (unless you are looking for a Lady in her 60s; not that there is anything wrong with it !).
  • 2 Hide
    deadlockedworld , August 22, 2012 7:26 PM
    freggoStill, anyone who has owned a Mercedes knows there is NOTHING GM can do to get the same 'status' of their products outside a selected group of the US Market. That's why Benz' are sold worldwide and GM needs a bailout to sell their overpriced products in the USA.And before you (Guys) tell me that 'status' is not important... let's be honest.. we buy cars to get chicks. And I assure you from own experience, that 'Star' on the Hood gets you more than the Cadillac emblem (unless you are looking for a Lady in her 60s; not that there is anything wrong with it !).


    This is actually not true. GM is making huge profits selling Buicks in Asia. That's part of how they paid back the bailout money so quickly. I agree that europe is a tougher nut to crack, but with this and the ATS I think they are coming a lot closer (also the more favorable exchange rates). Also, just in case you dont know, Benz has made some pretty crappy vehicles too over the years (along with some truly awesome ones).
  • -2 Hide
    nebun , August 22, 2012 7:37 PM
    what an ugly looking car...really...Americans like junk like this?
  • -1 Hide
    danwat1234 , August 22, 2012 7:40 PM
    If you want more power then try to get Cadillac to make a hybrid version of the car that has more acceleration than this model with the same engine, and better MPG.
  • 1 Hide
    freggo , August 22, 2012 7:40 PM
    deadlockedworldThis is actually not true. GM is making huge profits selling Buicks in Asia....Benz has made some pretty crappy vehicles too over the years (along with some truly awesome ones).


    We are talking luxury segment/Cadillac. Not Buicks.
    And yes, the 190 Series for example was crap for a Mercedes. However, it was -like the "Porsche 928" not built for the European market but -just like Lexus- for the US market. A German would not get caught dead in a 190, 200D (Taxi cab) or a 914/928.
    Ah yes, and neither the 914 nor the 928 where actually Porsches to begin with; they where VW designs!

  • 1 Hide
    freggo , August 22, 2012 7:43 PM
    danwat1234If you want more power then try to get Cadillac to make a hybrid version of the car that has more acceleration than this model with the same engine, and better MPG.


    Yeah, because you need a huge engine to get up to US Highway speeds...



  • 1 Hide
    kcorp2003 , August 22, 2012 7:59 PM
    nebunwhat an ugly looking car...really...Americans like junk like this?


    hey i'm an american. and that hurt my feelings. However i would prefer a CHARGER R/T 2012

    But we have other US car manufacturers you know like:

    Buick
    Cadillac
    Chevrolet
    Coda
    Chrysler
    DeLorean Motor Company
    Dodge
    Fisker
    Ford
    Global Electric Motorcars
    GMC
    International Harvester
    Jeep
    Lincoln
    Navistar International
    Scion
    Tesla
    Jay Leno
    Callaway
    Chaparral
    Saleen
    Panoz
    Readied
    Mosler
    Leading Edge
  • 3 Hide
    mrmoo500 , August 22, 2012 8:02 PM
    I actually got to drive one of these two days ago and can say it certainly looks and drives great. Mine didn't have the 12" screen for the instrument panel, but it still had a smaller lcd screen under the gauges. The cue system itself works pretty good for being a first gen product, but it sure does take a learning curve to get used too. But after that it works wonders. Now I never found it to be under powered at all for its needs, unless you're trying to be a drag racer it's totally fine. The ride is great and the stopping distance is amazing for its size, oh and don't think that it's a small cart, because it's not. There is tons of room inside and the back seats are huge, heated, and have plenty of amentities. It really does feel like a very expensive car, but in reality it costs a lot less than comparable models. I would certainly, as a mechanical engineer, recommend this car for anyone looking for a very distinctive and highly advanced car in that price range.
  • 0 Hide
    deadlockedworld , August 22, 2012 9:02 PM
    kcorp2003hey i'm an american. and that hurt my feelings. However i would prefer a CHARGER R/T 2012 But we have other US car manufacturers you know like: BuickCadillacChevroletCodaChryslerDeLorean Motor CompanyDodgeFiskerFordGlobal Electric MotorcarsGMCInternational HarvesterJeepLincolnNavistar InternationalScionTeslaJay LenoCallawayChaparralSaleenPanozReadiedMoslerLeading Edge


    LOL JAY LENO.

    But seriously, like half are defunct or owned by foreign corporations... and Delorean, really?
  • 2 Hide
    deadlockedworld , August 22, 2012 9:07 PM
    freggoWe are talking luxury segment/Cadillac. Not Buicks.


    I was responding to the "image" thing -- Buicks in China are the status equivalent of a Benz in the US. It's all perception. When I was there last in 2005, it seemed like VW was the only European brand to have serious market penetration there and its mostly taxis.
  • -2 Hide
    schnitter , August 22, 2012 9:13 PM
    For that amount of money, you could buy an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 series. You would have to be a complete car illiterate and an "America fuk yeah" type to buy this over the superior European counterparts.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , August 22, 2012 9:24 PM
    Its actually a very nice car, but I am not about to pay that amount for a V6.

    Freego, your an idiot. Cadillac/Buick are the dominate luxury brands in China. All the europeans combined are not even a fraction of what Cadillac and Buick do there. Its the Europeans that have a long way to go....not to mention the european issue of making cars that suck big time on reliability.
  • 0 Hide
    teh_chem , August 22, 2012 11:32 PM
    Central control/integration of features is the worst thing for a car. The lady's earlier-model Prius was one of the models that had ALL controls through the touch-screen interface (thank god they came to their senses and at least separated the climate control to physical buttons/dials). Nothing more infuriating than having to back out of your current view (let's say Nav.), enter the climate menu, find the touch-button to, say, adjust the temperature, then repeat the process in reverse to get back to your previous screen. Whereas you can just turn a dial to accomplish the same feat. You want things to be tactile so you don't have to take your eyes off the road. But no, it's not "advanced" enough-looking... How retarded.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , August 23, 2012 12:27 AM
    @zubikov
    Except that this copetes with the RL; In fact, it's larger than the RL in every dimension(interior and exterior).

    it starts at $4000 less than the RL; and for the price of the "Base" RL you can get the "Luxury" edition of the XTS

    and at that price ($49K) the XTS is better equipped( Rainsense wipers,Active Magnetic suspension,Park Assist, Remote Start, Panorama Roof, Hands Free, Nav,Telmatics(onstar) are missing on the RL)

    this also gets better Milage than the RL
    24MPG vs 28MPG

    Now, yes, this is NOT a competitor to the lux-sports like BMW or MB E Series. This IS a Acura Competitor. BUT Cadillac does have a real competitor to the BMWs and the Mercedes of the world; The CTS/CTS-v/ATS these are as good if not better performers than their couterparts in the german brands.

  • 0 Hide
    alextheblue , August 23, 2012 12:28 AM
    schnitterFor that amount of money, you could buy an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 series. You would have to be a complete car illiterate and an "America fuk yeah" type to buy this over the superior European counterparts.
    A lot of people looking for a big comfy luxury car might not like the ride of a BMW 5 or Audi A6. They'd be looking at Mercedes, Cadillac, etc. The XTS isn't my cup of tea though, bit too big and I do prefer a more aggressive handling vehicle. But to each their own, even the outdated DTS had is fans, and the XTS has its place in the market.
  • 5 Hide
    blakbird24 , August 23, 2012 12:30 AM
    Alot of people here don't have a clue what they are talking about.

    Quality - Both Cadillac and Buick have consistently ranked in the top 5 of all automotive brands in quality for almost a decade now. That puts them well above both Mercedes Benz and Audi (who haven't once made the top 10, let alone the top 5) and even above the mighty Toyota and Honda. In fact, only two other brands have managed to rank as highly as Cadillac and Buick consistently do - BMW and Lexus.

    Image - Cadillac was voted "most desirable automotive brand of 2011" by Fortune magazine. The CTS is one of the best selling cars in it's class, and Cadillac and Buick have become far bigger status symbols in Asian countries than Mercedes Benz. They still have work left to do, but there's no question that Cadillac is returning to it's original place of prominence in the automotive heirarchy in this country, and even gaining attention in europe, where GM would not even dream of having Cadillac out-lust MB and BMW.

    You can dislike the XTS if it's not your thing, but to say that it's worthless shows everyone you clearly are not qualified to comment. Those comparing it to Acura again are showing their ignorance... Cadillac is not targeting the likes of Acura and Infinity, that's what Buick is for. This car is for Lexus and Benz buyers. Like it or not, the XTS is a VERY nice car, and thanks to it's price, it is going to take alot of business from Lexus and MB.
  • -4 Hide
    schnitter , August 23, 2012 12:39 AM
    blakbird24Alot of people here don't have a clue what they are talking about.Quality - Both Cadillac and Buick have consistently ranked in the top 5 of all automotive brands in quality for almost a decade now. That puts them well above both Mercedes Benz and Audi (who haven't once made the top 10, let alone the top 5) and even above the mighty Toyota and Honda. In fact, only two other brands have managed to rank as highly as Cadillac and Buick consistently do - BMW and Lexus. Image - Cadillac was voted "most desirable automotive brand of 2011" by Fortune magazine. The CTS is one of the best selling cars in it's class, and Cadillac and Buick have become far bigger status symbols in Asian countries than Mercedes Benz. They still have work left to do, but there's no question that Cadillac is returning to it's original place of prominence in the automotive heirarchy in this country, and even gaining attention in europe, where GM would not even dream of having Cadillac out-lust MB and BMW. You can dislike the XTS if it's not your thing, but to say that it's worthless shows everyone you clearly are not qualified to comment. Those comparing it to Acura again are showing their ignorance... Cadillac is not targeting the likes of Acura and Infinity, that's what Buick is for. This car is for Lexus and Benz buyers. Like it or not, the XTS is a VERY nice car, and thanks to it's price, it is going to take alot of business from Lexus and MB.


    All this, in USA.

    CTS is inferior in every way to it's European counterpart. I know more about cars than all you downvoters know about computers so keep on down voting, it shows how little you know about cars. Stick to tech if you actually think the CTS is good in any way.
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