How do you get a generation of Americans raised on small and midsize cars to consider Cadillac's new full-size car, the XTS? Make it smaller, of course.
OK, to a Honda Civic buyer, at 202 inches long, the XTS is one whale of a car. But it's half a foot shorter than the full size DTS it replaces and slightly roomier than the almost full-size STS, which it also replaces.
The XTS sits atop the Epsilon II platform, which is used for the Buick LaCrosse and forthcoming Chevrolet Impala. This means no more Northstar V8. Instead, a corporate 3.6-liter engine produces a merely adequate 304 horsepower and routes it through a six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels, although all-wheel drive is available.
The XTS' overall shape and truncated nose is dictated by its front-wheel-drive layout. So it lacks the long nose/short trunk proportion of rear-wheel drive full-size luxury cruisers -- or even the small Cadillac CTS and ATS. But all of the other Cadillac styling finery is present. My favorite touch? The car's illuminated door handles.
Of course, this car's true mission is to take on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series or Audi A8. Its competitive set is more like the Lincoln MKS or Acura RLX. It's a placeholder of sort: a tightrope walker, meant to retain Cadillac's older clientele who might have bought a DTS, while hoping to attract those buyers who want something larger than the CTS.
Given those parameters, the XTS acquits itself well.
The cabin is roomy and had little problem taking five of us to dinner. The cabin is quiet and lined in sumptuously soft, aromatic leather.
So far, sounds like a geezer-pleaser, right? Well, while this car was being designed, a funny thing happened: the 21st century.
The whole interior is masterfully realized, eschewing the fake wood and cheesy plastics of Cadillacs of recent vintage. The V-shape, used so effectively on Cadillac exterior styling, is used once again on the interior to great effect. The premium detailing on the instrument panel is particularly attractive.
The panel's instrument cluster consists of three digital gauges that mimic the look of analog gauges, and is identical to the one used by Jaguar. Some read-outs can be changed at the driver's whim. To the right of that, framed by alloy and piano-black accents is a touch-sensitive screen that houses Cadillac's infotainment system known as CUE, or "Cadillac User Experience."
Like many new systems, buttons and switches are banished in favor of a flat screen. CUE, like other systems, can be hard to use when plummeting down the freeway. Thankfully, Cadillac has engineered two features that make it easier to use. One is a proximity sensor, which activates the screen when the system senses your finger is near. Secondly, once an icon is activated, the screen vibrates. There are even some redundant switches under the screen for various functions, all housed behind chic black glass.
And the buttons control a list of features that, along with the silent, comfy cabin, make this a very agreeable ride.
This even holds true once you take the wheel.
You'll wish for a couple extra cylinders under the hood -- or at least a supercharger. The XTS is certainly adequately powered, but it lacks the effortless muscle you'd expect at this price. Cadillacs have always had their own engines and, for the first time in its history, Cadillac lacks its own unique power plant. Thankfully, the transmission responds quickly, even when using the manual shift mode. Body motions are well controlled -- this is no floaty boat. Credit should go to the shock absorbers, which use magnetic-ride-control technology that GM uses on the Corvette and has licensed to other auto manufacturers, including Ferrari.
Steering is responsive, and the power steering has enough weight at speed, but doesn't return much feedback. Brembo, an Italian performance brake supplier, makes the front brakes. Needless to say, stopping ability is impressive. Ultimately, however, the XTS' front-drive platform limits its performance envelope.
But this is a car that caters to traditionalists with an eye toward newer Cadillac buyers. It's a surprisingly satisfying car, even if it's not the rear-wheel-drive, full-size flagship car Cadillac truly needs.