x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Road test: 2013 Cadillac XTS

The midsized saloon is the biggest Cadillac money can buy right now, but in the big scheme of things, this XTS really isn't big at all.

The new Cadillac XTS handles much better than its bulkier predecessors, but still sports plenty of interior room and a huge boot. Pawan Singh / The National
The new Cadillac XTS handles much better than its bulkier predecessors, but still sports plenty of interior room and a huge boot. Pawan Singh / The National

The car you're looking at is the new Cadillac XTS and it represents yet another corner turn for General Motors, inasmuch as this effectively midsized saloon is the biggest Cadillac money can buy right now. Cast your minds back just a few years to the gargantuan machines that used to constitute the largest American luxury cars, and you'll appreciate what I'm saying. In the big scheme of things, this Cadillac really isn't big at all.

But it's big enough, and this is key to the new direction of the General. Even its domestic market is beginning to see that size isn't that important when it comes to motoring. And China and Europe, where GM sees huge potential for growth, don't really have roads large enough to cope with US cars of yore.

Apart from sheer physical dimensions, the other aspect of car design that has come in for huge change with American cars is the way they handle. Recently I got to drive a Ford Crown Victoria on Yas Marina's F1 Circuit in Abu Dhabi. That model has only just gone out of production yet it was so floaty it was hilarious. Even the gentlest of corners sent it into a roll, it was like piloting an ocean liner. Comfortable in the extreme, yes, but hardly relevant to the demands of drivers in countries where the roads actually have bends in them. And the XTS clearly demonstrates the hunger of its maker for customers more used to Mercs, Audis and BMWs.

I'm not sold on its looks. From the front it looks distinctive, with Cadillac's signature headlamp treatment, a huge chrome grille and a quite aggressive nose. From the side, too, it looks elegant and luxurious, but the rear is pure Americana, which won't be a problem for customers in the UAE but could put off the Europeans. It's also very pointy, which might mean you get to damage its paintwork when backing into a tight parking spot.

Inside the XTS, you can't help but feel that Cadillac has thrown away the previous design rule book to deliver a hit of perceived quality that previously would have seemed like a pipe dream for a GM saloon. Soft-touch leathers and quality plastics lift the ambience to almost Mercedes-Benz and Audi levels, and there's a genuine feeling of space and airiness, with pleasing architecture to the dashboard and, at long last, nothing in the way of green dot matrix digital displays. On the contrary, the main instrument binnacle now houses virtual gauges similar to the ones you'll find on high-end Jaguars and Range Rovers (possibly a step too far, as I've never found analogue dials to be particularly offensive).

The seats are supremely comfortable. While the suspension componentry feels way stiffer than previous American efforts, the plush, leather upholstered chairs seem to make up for the blancmange effect, soaking up road imperfections before any harshness reaches your derrière. Rear passengers, especially if there are three of them with normal upper body proportions, will find themselves rubbing shoulders as the car is significantly more narrow than the old luxo barges, but it's still a pleasant environment for anyone to spend time in.

And if you're wondering about the overall side profile - whether or not it's attractive - its slight awkwardness might be explained when you lift the boot lid. For when it's raised, a space so cavernous it could house another entire family becomes evident. It is a seriously huge boot - so big that you'd be advised to use the cargo net for anything smaller than a chest of drawers, otherwise you'd end up having to climb inside to retrieve your errant groceries.

Its 3.6L V6 engine, however, is probably the weakest link in the XTS's chain. Whereas luxury American cars were almost always fitted with lazy, torquey V8s, this unit (all the models come so equipped) feels breathless unless you're really on it. So to dig the depths for some rapid forward motion, particularly when accelerating from low speeds, the engine feels and sounds stressed and thrashed. Once up to speed, however, it shrinks back into the shadows and barely makes a whisper.

As well as all XTS models coming with that same engine, all come equipped with impressive Brembo stoppers. They're really very good indeed and serve to prove that the XTS could easily deal with more power than it currently possesses. The chassis is well damped and crying out for greater levels of grunt than the six-pot can muster but, who knows, perhaps this will come in time?

All in all, the XTS impresses. Cadillac's designers and engineers must have felt the great burden of expectation on their shoulders, bringing to market a car that did the company's history proud while moving the game on in every facet. If they could see to giving the car a more suitable powerplant then I think they've come up with another winner and it's getting to a point where it feels like the past never happened.

The specs

Price, base / as tested Dh280,000 / same

Engine 3.6L V6

Gearbox six-speed automatic

Power 304hp @ 6,800rpm

Torque 358Nm @ 5,200rpm

Fuel economy, combined 11.2L/100km


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