First Drive: 2019 Cadillac XT4
Ready for battle in the ultra-competitive compact premium crossover market.
Seattle, WA – The 2019 Cadillac XT4 stands as the next big step for the General’s luxury brand, embarking on a path that will see the manufacturer release a new car every six months until 2020. It’s a journey that Cadillac says will revitalize the brand image, grow the company’s product portfolio and eventually culminate with numerous EV and autonomous offerings. And it’s the littlest Caddy’s job to get things heading down the right track.
Make them stop and look
It’s a big job, but the XT4 definitely has the looks to do it. Looking especially squat and athletic from the rear ¾ view which is some parts Volvo (the vertical taillights) and some parts BMW (the tailgate’s crease just below the rear window), the XT4 manages to keep the bulldoggish styling—slightly canted forward, wheels pushed as far to the corners as possible, slightly chopped-top—and stance of non-luxury crossovers but with a touch of class, providing a nice 3D look that’s detailed, yet not too busy. I couldn’t stop photographing the XT4 from this angle; it looks that good.
Speaking of those taillights: two styles are offered, to differentiate the two XT4 models – Luxury and Sport – from each other: the former gets a red lens, the latter, a clear one with as much smoking as is allowed within the rules. Other differentiators include a different grille detail, while the sport gets high-gloss black rocker panels, front splitter, rear splitter and window surrounds, pieces that are all finished in silver on the Luxury model. They also get unique wheel designs – base Luxury models ($39,900) get a single 18” choice, while Sport and Premium Luxury trims ($46,295 apiece) get two 20” choices each. The multi-spoke items available on the Premium Luxury trim are the pick of the litter for me, however.
Colours range from bright orange and reds to more restrained dark blues and silvers; I’ll take a sport in burnt orange, please.
Inside, there’s a bit of a flip-flop when it comes to colouring, especially on the two cars we tested. The Sport model’s all-black with real carbon fibre inserts (there are two different weave styles available) and contrast-colour stitching plays the Luxury’s white and wood treatment. The Sport’s steering wheel is also thicker than that of the Luxury, lending a more committed air to the proceedings. I’m not 100% sold on which one I’d prefer, but the fact they’re so close probably means that its not exactly going to sway buyers either way. A little more notable are the front seat differences: base XT4s get an 8-way power adjustable and driver’s seat and 6-way power adjustable passenger seat, but Sport models get adjustable side bolsters as well, a feature the Luxury does without. Even without, however, the Luxury’s seats are well-padded and a very nice driver position is achieved, if one that I found a little high as a six-plus footer.
Seating-wise, both models benefit from having the best rear legroom in the segment (think Mercedes GLA-Class, BMW X1), and it’s no smoke and mirrors act as it really does feel roomy back there. I did find myself brushing the headliner, however, which may rub some people the wrong way but like the steering wheel choice, probably won’t sway buyers either way.
What I do take a little issue with, however, is the cargo room; with a 2,770 mm wheelbase, all that rear legroom had to be found somewhere and Cadillac admits that they had to cut into rear storage a bit, and as a result there’s less room behind the 2nd row seats than there is in the BMW X1. There’s also a full-sized spare under the load floor, and while there are two storage bins on the right side of it, I feel their odd shape means they’ll be used very little. You can fold the rear seats full-flat with the flip of a lever, however, and Cadillac is confident that’s all most buyers will require.
Respect the tech
The first thing you’ll notice when considering the tech on offer is how it looks a little different here than it does in other Cadillacs. That’s because that bane of many a Cadillac considerer – CUE Infotainment – has been updated in the XT4. It looks better and has a more responsive touchscreen – which is interesting because you don’t need to use it as much as previous since there are a set of traditional buttons directly below it for your climate control needs and so on. The real star is that screen though, which is as slick as anything you’ll find on the market today, both in its action and look. Of course, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support also come standard, along with 7-speaker audio and active noise cancellation so you can hear it all.
Safety-wise, you get a backup camera with audible assist as standard; lane keep alert, blind spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert all come as standard on the top two trims. The $895 Driver Awareness Package, meanwhile, adds active lane keep assist, forward distance indicator and low-speed automatic braking. That’s all nice, but it’s a shame you have to spend an additional $1,295 on top of that for adaptive cruise control and forward/reverse auto braking.
The implementation of the features is mostly good; on the top two trims, the way the seat vibrates if you wander over the lane marker is good in that it doesn’t bother others in the cabin, but it can cause a bit of a jolt if you’re not ready for it. The forward collision warning is nice in that it warns you both audibly and visually via the standard heads-up display, but it is a little over sensitive; the main issue I found was its deciding to get all antsy in its pantsy when the car ahead of me was leaving the lane, even if I was nowhere near it.
One motor, two attitudes
Both the Luxury and Sport models come with a 2.0L turbo-four good for 237 hp and 258 lb-ft, fed through an all-new 9-speed auto (which includes, it should be said, a somewhat awkward shift lever) to either the front or all four wheels, depending on spec (FWD and AWD are available at base), or what the drive mode is requiring; there are three modes – Tour, AWD and Sport – all affecting transmission shift times, steering response and damper settings if you have the optional continuous damping control available on the Sport. In Tour, the rear axle is disconnected; in AWD, up to 100% of available torque can be apportioned to either rear wheel if slip is detected, and Sport maintains a more rear-biased approach. Both FWD and AWD models, meanwhile, are available with a tow package and can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
We were treated to some properly winding roads along the Washington coast, which is an ambitious place to showcase a crossover utility vehicle of any stripe. Nevertheless, Cadillac obviously thinks the XT4 has what it takes to excel in these conditions.
As you set off, it’s hard to argue against that. The XT4 moves forward in a confident, planted manner more reminiscent of a hot hatch than a utility vehicle. Added to which the power delivery through the close-ratio ‘box is smooth and very instant – thank the engine’s small twin-scroll turbos as well as numerous weight-saving bits (such as its aluminum block and composite oil pan) for all that. I am a big, BIG fan of the power delivery here. As new as the XT4’s engine is, Cadillac has done a small turbocharged 4-banger before, and their work with the ATS sedan and coupe has paid dividends here.
As nice as all that is, the XT4’s build and shape suggests that it should be quite the handler, too, and on those curvy coastal roads, the chassis is an able, confidence-inspiring handler that adds a layer of fun to the proceedings. Better yet is how the standard magnetic dampers ensure that even though it’s perfectly happy through the corners, it absorbs bumps and keeps the body in check, too, for a comfortable ride in situations where it’ll likely spend most of its time in the urban grind.
Trouble arises, a little when it comes to the steering. Firstly, the turning radius needs to be better; on more than one occasion, what should’ve been a simple u-turn became a three-pointer, a few three-pointers four- and five- pointers. That can be problematic in those selfsame urban settings in which it will mostly be used. In the sharper bends, meanwhile, the steering required a little more lock than I expected, an issue that is compounded by the fact that there is no torque vectoring. It’s interesting; you don’t realize how well that tech works until you no longer have it.
Starting down the right path
Luckily, that stuff really only speaks to the “sport” end of the spectrum in more extreme cases, something I feel won’t really be an issue for most owners. Aside from that turning radius, the power, efficiency, smooth ride and properly spacious interior – not to mention the tech and fantastic exterior styling – should impress a fair number of buyers. It’s a step in the right direction for the “new” Cadillac, and with a busy few years ahead, we’ll be keeping our eye on where it will lead.
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