Cadillac hasn’t really been the “Cadillac of cars” since the mid 1960s. Even though their tag line is “The Standard Of The World”, anyone who’s been paying attention knows that they are really going through a renaissance after around 30 years of terrible products. The triumphant V16 cruisers, which made Cadillac’s name, are distant memories of the past, and even the classic finned cars are now over half a century old. The 2013 XTS is Cadillac’s new flagship model, replacing both the STS and DTS in the lineup. There has obviously been lots of talk about Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system because the XTS is the first to feature it, but my purposes going into this drive were focused on one thing: has Cadillac made a world-class luxury car, or is the XTS more of the same?
First off it should be said that Cadillac acknowledges that the XTS is a stopgap flagship car until they release their proper Mercedes S Class competitor (rumored the “LTS”) in a few years time. That said, while the XTS isn’t quite as pricey as an S Class or a 7 Series, the all wheel drive Platinum Edition I drove still commands a hefty $61,000. That puts it right in line with a host of stiff competition including a well optioned Audi A6, BMW 5 series, and the Hyundai Equus; which is actually much closer to the XTS in size than the Germans. GM has a bad habit of trying to dictate what cars they compete with and what cars they don’t, but despite their efforts price remains the most important factor in the actual market. This means that the XTS has a lot to live up to because in this segment, standards are very high.
The exterior of the XTS is handsome from all angles except for in profile, where it appears quite chunky. That said, it does look very well proportioned with nice lines from all of its good angles. Most of the time you will look good in it, and with luck people on the sidewalk will just happen to blink right as you pass them so they won’t notice its heft. The wheelbase is rather small at 111 inches, but there are huge overhangs front and back. Viewed from the side the XTS has a huge ass that could show up Queen Latifa, but I still think she wears hers a lot better.
One thing that big ass does get you is a lot of trunk space, 18 cubic feet (509L) of it. The XTS also has a more than plenty of room for its occupants, I (5’11, and husky) was perfectly comfortable in both front and back seats with zero complaints whatsoever regarding space. As far as interior appointments go, this is the first Cadillac I found no issues with. The XTS has an interior that reflects its price point well. There are soft leather surfaces all over the place, wood and metal trim, and lots of technology that adds to the experience.
There was also no evidence of GM cutting costs in areas that are felt more than seen. For instance, the center armrest lifted and shut with just the right amount of resistance, unlike in many Caddys of old. I know that sounds like nit-picking, but it’s a real let down when you get into a nice car and everything feels like it was put together by toddlers. Cadillac has really nailed the interior department in the XTS, it all comes together well in an overall sense.
Technology has been one of the big stories for the XTS, being the first Cadillac to offer their new CUE system. I actually didn’t bother playing with CUE too much because it has been so extensively covered elsewhere. I can report that the touch screen system works well though, and anyone who’s skeptical should go try it for themselves before complaining. Another area with somewhat fancy tech is the digital instrument panel, it appears fairly standard with revs and a speedometer, but you can access all of the car’s gadgets through it via steering wheel mounted buttons; not entirely revolutionary but handy nonetheless.There is also a customizable heads up display that helps keep your eyes on the road.
Safety wise the XTS comes equipped standard with powerful Brembo brakes, the same type used on the CTS-V and other high performance cars. The XTS is a hefty package, so it is important that it is able to stop exceedingly well. Then there is Cadillac’s new warning system, which works via directional vibrations in the driver seat. I had heard about the system, but even so I didn’t immediately gather what it was that kept tingling my behind. Once it hit me, the vibrations made a lot more sense, but the system was a little too active for my taste. The problem is that the XTS is a large car, and on these tighter back roads there was little room to move around in your lane to begin with, so the seat was literally going off non-stop. This warning system is a good idea, but its execution needs some work.
It is important to remember that the XTS is a luxury car, and not secretly doubling as some dynamic thrill ride behind the scenes. That said, much of the XTS bodes exceedingly well for its purpose. The ride quality is fantastic, the chassis is solid, and the driving position is comfy as can be. The steering is both good in that it is very easy to operate, but also bad in that it offers no road feel whatsoever. Great road feel is a party piece of the XTS’s German adversaries, so it will be sorely missed by those cross shopping in the price range. If maneuvering is required, you will find the XTS soft but competent, meaning it can be driven hard but that it doesn’t want to be. This is of the utmost important for the XTS because Cadillacs of this type have been favorites of Mafia gangsters for decades. You have to be alive to be comfortable, so what good is comfort alone if the car cant also dodge a few bullets too?
I’m sorry to report that this is where things fall apart for the XTS. GM is a big company and it would seem that Cadillac’s powertrain devision resides in a secluded cave somewhere deep in the bowels of the Renaissance Center. Whoever made the decision of what engine and transmission to put in the XTS clearly hadn’t the slightest idea of what makes a good luxury car. The emphasis should be on smooth, effortless power delivery, and the engine should be but a murmur in the background from inside the cabin. The XTS on the other hand has an extremely shouty V6 that needs to be revved like hell in order to produce any power, as well as a terrible gearbox that delivers sudden, jerky shifts, all of which will surely upset Don Corleone in the back seat.
Look, GM’s 3.6L V6 is a great motor, but it is totally wrong for this sort of car. It is much more of a sports car engine, and works far better in the likes of the Camaro and ATS. For the XTS, something much less strained was needed, something that would deliver more mid range power for easy speed. Many have called for a V8 XTS, but I think that a twin turbo V6 would be a far more appropriate option for the times. Even if it had the same 304hp, the turbo V6 would make much more torque and would have a more usable power so the car wouldn’t sound strained. This is a big problem for the XTS in its range because the BMWs and Audis all have exceedingly good powertrains in them, all of which use boosted six or eight cylinder motors like I said. GM’s 3.6L is a dinosaur in the luxury realm at this point, and it makes the XTS vastly inferior to drive by comparison. Sure the XTS has enough power for the real world as is, but it is the delivery, the refined execution which is lacking. That has been GM’s problem for some time with cars like this, and I am sorry to report that it continues in the XTS.
So everything was going great for the XTS until I got it out on the road, and I wasn’t even pushing it either. This lack of refinement will become evident any time you need to accelerate more than little. Keep in mind that I drove the top of the line, all wheel drive XTS, and that even more problems appear when you get down to the front wheel drive models. Imagine having to control this 2 ton barge if it were to skid on snow or ice. All of your steering and gas inputs would only go to the front wheels, and there is still 12.5ft, and 1000+lbs behind them that you have no control of whatsoever. If you live anywhere that gets more than just a drizzle from time to time, then you should forget the front wheel drive XTS exists. So while the advertised starting price is as low as $44k, the only XTS’s worth considering start around $52k; and by then, why wouldn’t you just buy an Audi?
The XTS is a nice car, it really is, but it is still not a proper Cadillac. I can wholeheartedly say that this is the best car of its type that Cadillac has produced, but the problem is that this entire line of cars, going back through the DTS and various DeVille models, was a terrible formula to begin with, and I do mean terrible. These cars were the result of Cadillac lowering its standards over the years, and are the essence of Cadillac’s fallen reputation. When your flagship is front wheel drive and shares all of its parts with lower end brands, then you no longer build true world class luxury cars. Now we are in an era where Cadillac is working to regain their reputation as “The Standard Of The World”, but the XTS remains a lowered anchor, putting a drag on their voyage toward progress. As a town car, or a limo, this new Caddy works just fine, but it cannot compete with true world class luxury cars, despite costing the same. When it comes down to it, I would love a ride home from the airport in an XTS, but if I were looking to buy a new luxury car then this new Caddy falls far short.
WoM Score: Cadillac XTS-4 Platinum
Primary Function: Luxury: 1
Secondary Functions: Performance (0), Practicality(2), MPG(2): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 0
Final Score: 6.5/10