Road Test: 2010 Cadillac SRX 3.0 V6 AWD
By John Phillips of Car and Driver
As GM wobbled toward bankruptcy, the company's boosters often cited Cadillac as proof that at least one division knew the secret for success. But stroll through a Cadillac showroom. The DTS isn't even on your Uncle Marvin's radar. The pretty but aging STS has been nudged onto the berm by at least five luxo-sports sedans, none from America. The angular XLR, a marketing spinoff from the Corvette shop, has been euthanized. There are a couple of embarrassingly immense Escalades. And then there's the CTS — in truth, the lone vehicle that carries the division's reputation on its back. And so it was with huge anticipation that we welcomed this all-new SRX, a crossover we've loved since the day it was introduced in, uh, wow, 2004.
In the Detroit Three's universe, new models usually arrive bigger and heavier. Not this time, Cadillac promised. In fact, the SRX has been yanked from the $50K, V-8 luxo-ute niche, where it was nonetheless strong, finishing second to an Acura MDX in a C/D comparo in 2007. Problem is, the SRX now parachutes into the killer $40K-crossover class, where it faces, among other all-stars, Audi's stunning Q5 3.2 Quattro (the winner of July's "New Arrivals for Summer" comparo), not to mention the beyond-dominant sales king in the segment, the Lexus RX350, itself recently refurbished unto the zenith of plushness.
This latest SRX is now driven through the front wheels rather than the rears. Length is down by 4.6 inches, height by 2.1 inches, and wheelbase by 5.9 inches. No longer are seven passengers welcome; five's the limit. In either front- or all-wheel-drive iterations, three trim levels are available: Luxury, Performance, and Premium.
The 320-hp, Northstar V-8 has been broomed; a 265-hp, direct-injection V-6 is the base engine. An optional, 300-horse turbo V-6, built in Australia for Saab and Holden, will arrive this fall. With either engine, a six-speed automatic is attached. Cadillac insists vehemently that this new SRX shares only its powertrain with the Chevy Equinox and the Saturn Vue. Otherwise — Cadillac's words, here — "It has no commonality with the Theta platform."
What you instantly notice about the SRX is that its cabin equals or exceeds anything in the class. The materials are superb: "Pearl-nickel chrome" accents that look like silver satin and spears of walnut trim that blend magically into hand-cut-and-sewn leather. The elegant compound curves in the door handles make them look like Georg Jensen jewelry. Nowhere will your elbows strike anything hard. An eight-speaker Bose stereo is standard, and there's a clever dial on the driver's door that controls how far the liftgate rises, preventing it from banging into your garage ceiling.
The center stack is easy to learn, and just under the optional pop-up nav screen reside two large rotary controls, one for volume, the other for tuning. Thank you. The front seats are quite firm and bolstered perfectly; they would make a BMW engineer proud. The steering adjusts for reach and rake, and the pedals are also adjustable. The 60/40 rear seatbacks fold flat, although the cushions neither slide nor tumble forward. With the rear seats flat, the cargo bay will swallow nearly the same sheet of plywood that the roomy RX350 can ingest, and the Caddy will carry three bonus cases of beer. If you don't order the optional spare tire (an electric inflator is the standard roadside fix), there's a nice-size well under the cargo floor, perfect for hiding purses and briefcases. Rear-seat comfort for two is excellent, but a third rider will have to straddle the center console, which protrudes too far rearward.
Although the stubby backlight and huge C-pillars do damage to the rear three-quarter view, the side mirrors are huge. And when you select reverse, objects astern are televised on the nav screen.
At wide-open throttle and at a 70-mph cruise, the SRX is as quiet as the RX350 and is only one decibel noisier at idle. That is a major achievement.
In the hills, our SRX — riding on the optional 20-inch Michelins and fitted with Sachs continuously variable dampers — proved flat, stable, and composed. Its chassis was informative, reassuringly solid, and expert at controlling body motions. The ride was definitely firm, and big displacements could occasionally cause crash-through at the rear, but the overall ride-and-handling trade-off was to our liking, far more visceral than, say, the RX350's. We'd have preferred steering that was a little lighter and faster, à la Audi Q5, but at least its sense of straight-ahead was unsurpassed. And with that, sadly, most of the good news concludes.
This "downsized" SRX — no V-8, no third-row seat, no spare tire — weighs 4505 pounds. That's heavier than any of its leading competitors, namely the aforementioned Lexus and Audi, as well as the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC, the BMW X3 xDrive30i, and the Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. The Cadillac's V-6, as our test numbers reveal, was thus overwhelmed. All five of the SRX's strongest competitors clear the quarter-mile in the mid-to-very-low 15-second range at 90-some mph. The SRX completes the same task in 16.7 seconds at 85 mph. To 60 mph, in fact, the Audi and the Volvo are both 1.9 seconds quicker than the Cadillac.
Step-off isn't just leisurely, it's agonizing. First time we nailed the throttle, we thought the parking brake was on. The "fast five" reach 30 mph in the low two-second range. The SRX requires 3.1 seconds. That extra wait — especially in town, where you're constantly departing stoplights and trying to squirt into holes in traffic — is irritating. You'll be equally annoyed on two-lane country roads, where a 50-to-70-mph pass will require 6.4 seconds versus, say, the Audi's 4.2. That's a lot of scary hung-out-to-dry time.
If the SRX were merely an accelerative dog, we could forgive it. But the problems continue.
The accelerator felt as if it were connected to a series of sponges that extended from one's right foot all the way to the injectors. It was so nonlinear, vague, and generally gooey that it became difficult to predict how much thrust any given length of pedal travel might summon. Eventually, we more or less gave up, mashing the pedal flat whether it was an extra 10 horsepower and 5 mph we wanted or an extra 50 horsepower and 30 mph we wanted.
The six-speed transmission was of little help, either. In regular "D" mode, kickdowns were so dilatory that we immediately switched to sport mode and never looked back. Sport proved better about holding onto revs and seemed slightly more receptive about responding to aggressive throttle inputs. But the transmission still spent too much time deliberating, after which it often chose the wrong gear. On our handling loop, there was little choice but to shift gears via the manumatic. Even then, there was so little thrust available as the SRX exited a corner onto a straightaway that we got into the habit of flooring the throttle upon turn-in, managing speed wholly with left-foot braking. Moreover, the manumatic was inconsistent about matching revs on downshifts, sometimes eliciting a head-snapper.
That firm go-git-'em chassis we mentioned earlier? It was camouflaged by mass, a slow-to-react transmission, and consistently inconsistent power delivery.
What can we say to put a brighter face on this? Well, the engine uses regular fuel. The taillights look like fins. The rear wheels are driven through an electronic limited-slip differential capable of apportioning power side to side — that is, if any power ever finds its way back there. And once the SRX is up to speed on the interstate — with the cruise control on — it voraciously gobbles up the miles, leaving its driver to revel in luxury and serenity, which may be all its buyers care about anyway.
The upcoming turbo V-6 will surely help, although we're not sure an extra 35 horses and 72 pound-feet will save the day. Meanwhile, if it's a Cadillac with practical pretensions you're after, sample the base front-drive SRX with 18-inch wheels. At only $34,155, it sharply undercuts most of its rivals, and its amenities are legion. Better still, try a CTS wagon with the optional 3.6-liter V-6.