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Cadillac SRX delivers less than it promises

As Transformers and Speed ably demonstrate, a sequel isn't always better than the original, and that is the case with the latest Cadillac SRX.

  • Driver

As Transformers and Speed ably demonstrate, a sequel isn’t always better than the original, and that is the case with the latest Cadillac SRX.

This baffles me, since the right ingredients are there. This latest SRX rides on a new architecture that borrows engineering elements from two other GM chassis that are quite competitive in their respective segments: the Chevy Equinox’s “Theta” and the Chevy Malibu’s “Epsilon.” (It is not simply an Equinox with frosting, as some believe.)

In base form it uses a direct-injected 265-horsepower 3.0-litre version of GM’s “High Feature” V6 family, paired with a six-speed automatic. A 300 hp, 2.8-litre turbo version is also available, but you’ll have to move up to the $55,870 “Performance Collection” trim level to get it.

My $52,195 ”Luxury and Performance Collection” tester – a trim level that, despite its name, ranks below the “Performance Collection” – had the 3.0-litre mill.

The SRX’s available all-wheel-drive system is essentially the same Haldex unit that gives the Saab 9-3 XWD such a wonderfully balanced feel (SRXs are front-wheel drive otherwise). There’s even an optional Sport Suspension that features continuously adjustable damping and a special ZF steering rack; all SRXs feature hydraulic power steering and an aluminum-intensive suspension.

With state-of-the-art componentry, the SRX’s greasy bits should add up to greatness. Instead, the vehicle achieves startling mediocrity.

If I had to pick on one area of weakness, it’s in the engine bay. Acceleration isn’t a strength – at least not with the base 3.0 litre and all-wheel drive combination. Its 223 lb.-ft. of torque rating is among the lowest in its class, and it peaks way up at 5100 rpm.

The whole driveline has a heavy feel. To save fuel, the transmission is programmed to be in as high a gear as possible as soon as possible, so it feels like you’re constantly forcing downshifts whenever you ask for any meaningful acceleration. Ironically, fuel mileage suffers accordingly.

Even steady-state highway cruising will have the gearbox dropping into fifth to tackle mild grades, and the engine gets fairly vocal when this happens. I suspect this would be less of an issue with the optional turbo engine. If my tester is any indication, I’d be reluctant to own an SRX with the base engine.

The available Sport Suspension transmits more harshness than necessary – it’s far too coarse to be considered luxurious – but the SRX otherwise rides and handles competently. The problem is the SRX exhibits absolutely no enthusiasm on the road.

Maybe part of the blame lies with its predecessor, which was based upon the then-new CTS sport sedan. Longer, taller and able to seat up to seven (the new SRX maxes at five), it was more SUV-ish in profile, but it went and handled like, well, a taller, heavier CTS – a family hauler with emphasis on the “hauler.”

Under the closed conditions of a track, the V8 AWD version actually performed much like Infiniti’s more compact FX45 – good company to keep.

Unsurprisingly, conservative Cadillac crossover buyers didn’t embrace the first-generation SRX, and the decision to resize the model certainly makes sense.

One area where the new SRX kicks the old one soundly to the curb is the quality and style of the cabin’s finish. Where the old one represented Cadillac’s thankfully brief flirtation with modernist minimalism (coming across as cheaply made in the process), the new one continues GM’s recent trend of nicely fitted, stylish interiors; much more appropriate for a Caddy.

Wider than before, the new SRX quite comfortably seats five. However, it lacks the useful sliding rear seat function possessed by the Lexus RX 350 and even the related Equinox. Cargo space is down compared to last year’s five-passenger SRX, but it does have a clever floor-mounted track and rack cargo management system, complemented by some additional in-floor storage.

All but base SRXs have a height-adjustable power tailgate, which opens upwards between the model’s distinctive tail-light “fins.”

Several serious players, including the Audi Q5 and Q7, the Volvo XC60, Mercedes’s GLK 350 and even Buick’s much larger (but similarly priced) Enclave, have entered the SRX’s premium crossover segment. And they’re pulling no punches.

The SRX also faces revamped versions of the Lexus RX 350 and Acura MDX.

Cadillac may have one of the strongest vehicles in the premium compact sedan market with its latest CTS, but the SRX fails to attain the same greatness. In this crowd, “pretty good” just isn’t enough.

Freelance auto reviewer Brian Early can be reached at bandb.early
  • Cadillac SRX delivers less than it promises

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