By Isaac Bouchard
Cadillac’s flagship Escalade has been an unalloyed success, and in its latest iteration it appears that no effort has been spared to making sure it remains the standard for a classic body-on-frame, luxury SUV. The company’s other recent offerings have been received with slightly more of a mixed reception, though. Herein we examine the XT6 crossover and CT4 sedan to see how they stack up.
2020 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury
Based on the component set that underpins the well-resolved Chevrolet Traverse, the XT6 is a roomy and dynamically accomplished 6- or 7-passenger crossover. Its styling is restrained and upscale, with sleekly rendered lines and such nice detailing as trim and wheels that all appear to be polished aluminum instead of the more commonly used chrome. Its proportions and stance are confident and—to these eyes—better resolved than that of the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, direct competitors. Perhaps the only crossover of similar type that beats it in aesthetics (both inside and out) is the Volvo XC90. It is inside the XT6 that compromises are evident. Despite some very nice finishes on the top trim level, Platinum, there is still some cheapness evident, and a lack of cohesion in material selection, that works against it. That said the layout is clean and logical, and the features class-competitive. On the positive side of the ledger, the Cadillac’s interface, CUE, has evolved from horrid to about the best in the industry, though its 8-inch screen could be bigger. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are offered, and unlike BMW, there is no charge for thier use. Like all vehicles based on the C1 platform, the front seats seem less than generous in size and adjustments the competitors, which is a shame, as they are covered in very nice hide, and heated and ventilated. An annoyance is that the Cadillac requires you to select AWD every single time you start it up. If you don’t, be prepared for the front wheels to scrabble if you give it a boot-full of throttle from a stop.
Dynamically, the XT6 easily matches or surpasses the others, with a superbly calibrated balance between ride and handling, accurate and precise steering and a firm, powerful brake pedal. It is better than the Volvo and Acura and so close to the Audi it is too close to call as to which is better for any single buyer. The Cadillac is powered by a 3.6-liter, six cylinder engine that is smooth and refined, and offers a competitive 310 horsepower. But the XT6 lacks a turbocharger, meaning it suffers at our altitude compared to the Audi, and doesn’t have enough low-end torque when loaded with passengers and gear. That said, its engine and 9-speed automatic serve up thrust in a more even-handed manner than the Volvo’s 2-liter four, which is notoriously nonlinear in delivery. The XT6 gets top marks for passive safety and many driver aids are standard, but one needs to pay extra for adaptive cruise control and Cadillac’s Super Cruise Level 2 autonomous drive is conspicuously absent.
EPA Ratings: 17/24/20mpg
0-60mph: 6.4sec (indep test)
Price as tested: $71,585
Here is what Cadillac has to say.
2020 Cadillac CT4 Premium Luxury
Cadillac spent a lot of time and effort overhauling its sedan lineup, just as conventional 4-door vehicles were going out of fashion with consumers. That is probably a blessing in disguise, as there aren’t many vehicles I have driven lately that are more uneven than the AT4. As a luxury/sports sedan it has a complicated mission: be rewarding to drive hard yet cossetting and comfy, come across as upscale in appearance and interior quality, be loaded with tech yet still not too expensive. The test vehicle, equipped in Premium Luxury specification, hits the sweet spot for the CT4 in many of these respects. It has all the expected niceties, like heated and ventilated leather seats, heated steering wheel, a huge (8 inch) head up display, remote start, and more. Yet its interior sports that distinctly General Motors penchant for finishing high quality plastics so they look and feel cheaper than they really are. Overall its cockpit design is very, very busy, with lots of lines converging and separating without any cohesion. Even the metal speaker grills and subtly-shaped, polished trim cant make the CT4 look or feel special enough for its price. Likewise, the CUE interface is superb, but its 8in screen seems small compared to what Mercedes and others have available. The front seats are unsupportive in corners, though comfortable on straight roads, and the rear bench isn’t badly shaped yet headroom and space for feet is on the tight side. The Cadillac’s exterior likewise is somewhat bipolar. The front end is a confident update of the styling themes the brand has been working on for over a decade, yet the CT4’s hind quarters are heavy-handed, busy and afflicted by the same kind of add-on, “Bustle back” trunk that was reviled even when BMW foisted it off on an unsuspecting public, decades ago. Certainly not helping is that the 19in alloys and low profile tires look lost in the fender wells.
The CT4 is based on a rear-wheel drive platform (the test car had the optional AWD); this pays big dividends in driving dynamics. Unlike the BMW 2-series or even Mercedes A220 and A35, it both rides and handles superbly, with low angles of body roll, hardly and fore/aft pitch and accurate, linear steering. It feels neutral, tied-down and playful. Yet it rides absorbingly and quietly. But the engine offerings don’t have the refinement nor combination of performance and economy of competitors. Brake feel is firm and predictable with even the normal brakes; Brembos are an option. Sadly, the chassis is much better than the engines that are available from Cadillac. Standard is a 2-liter turbo that underperforms the German competition in independent testing for acceleration and real-world fuel economy. The optional 2.7-liter four cylinder punches out a competitive 310hp in this car’s spec, and a stout 350lb-ft of torque, and is hooked to a superb 10-speed automatic. But its lineage as a Silverado pickup truck engine seems a bit too obvious. The redline is low, and it is either gruff or uncouth when worked hard, depending on which setting you select from the configurator for throttle response and engine noise. Driven in a more sedate manner it has good off-the-line urge (thank you, low-end torque!) but the numerous shifts forced on it by its low redline and tight gear ratios mean it never vanishes into the background in a luxurious manner. The CT4 is a car you want to root for; Cadillac has made some doozies over the past decade or two, including the incredible CTS-V. But it seems GM either starved them of resources to finish the car properly, or Cadillac’s engineers, designers and marketing folk were riding out too many changes in company mission and leadership to craft a car that lives up to the promise of its platform. Thankfully, for 2021, Cadillac is making many of the CT4’s options standard equipment, and they are finally making their brilliant Super Cruise autonomous driving system and option.
EPA Ratings: 20/28/23mpg
0-60mph: 5.1 sec (est)
Price as tested: $49,640
Here is what Cadillac has to say.
This article was also featured in the Winter issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.