WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wherever you are reading this right now – on the couch at home, at your work desk, or in the backseat of an Uber that’s fighting rush hour traffic–do us a favour: glance out the window and count how many three-row SUVs and crossovers are present. Go ahead, we’ll wait for a few minutes. In fact, since we would never ask our readers to do something we wouldn’t, we’ll do a count as well.
*mumbles … four, five … ten … jeez, that’s a lot*
Finished? Good; us too. We counted a bunch and, chances are, so did you. In the last few years, the ubiquitous car-based three-row crossover has become the de facto vehicle of choice for a great number of North American families. These rigs usurped the minivan in that role, just like the minivan vanquished station wagons from our landscape in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
For a manufacturer not to have one in their portfolio is akin to leaving several cubic yards of cash on a very profitable table. Cadillac recently took stock of their own showroom and discovered a three-row hole, one which needed to be plugged to stem the tide of customers buying rigs like the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90 instead of a machine with the Cadillac crest on its nose.
Sure, the brand already has a three-row solution in the form its hulking full-sized Escalade but this new XT6 is a rig with more friendly packaging and without a Nimitz-class turning circle. Riding on a wheelbase spanning three inches less than the jumbo Escalade, the XT6 is 5.5 inches shorter and 3.2 inches narrower, meaning drivers can breathe easier in their condo’s underground parking garage. However, thanks to packaging efficiencies provided by its car-based architecture, the XT6 makes better use of its space.
Despite being imbued with a standard sunroof, the XT6’s headliner did not intrude on the rapidly balding pate of your 6’6” author as he drove around the green hills of DC’s outskirts. In fact, the XT6 beats the Escalade in head- and legroom measurements for occupants of the second and third rows. Simply put, this is a better option for those who want to haul people instead of trailers (the XT6 can tow about 4000lbs).
Casting a smaller shadow does impact cargo space, of course, with XT6 giving up a dozen cubic feet behind row #2 compared to Escalade. Its rating of 43.1 cubic feet (1221 litres) bests the Volco XC90 by about a single cube and is on par with the Acura MDX. The cargo area is wide and well-shaped, featuring power folding seats and an array of power outlets.
Cadillac is in the midst of cleaning up their trim levels, rolling out a “Y” trim strategy in which the $60,995 Premium Luxury model resides on one branch and the $63,795 Sport trim on the other. Able to be layered on either branch is a Platinum package costing about $5000. Why? Well, Caddy marketers have learned some folks liked the microfibre interior trappings of the old top-dog Platinum trim but also desired the Sport’s styling features, so the brand is now allowing those people to have their cake and eat it, too.
Designers have lifted large swaths of XT6 interior verbatim from the two-row XT5. This is not wholly a bad thing, given Cadillac’s recent positive strides in the area of material feel and infotainment usefulness. The aforementioned Platinum package ratchets up the interior jazz factor with a leather-wrapped instrument panel and microfibre suede-like material on the headliner, pillars, and on a thin strip across the dashboard. It’s an attractive but pricey option.
Driver interactions with the CUE infotainment system have been massively improved with the addition of a rotary knob on the centre console that now incorporates a jog function to quickly access far-flung menus. A new Night Vision option provides an infrared camera display in the instrument cluster, drawing a yellow box around errant animals and roadside winos.
In fact, the Sport model is more than simply a matte black grille and other like-minded accoutrements. On XT6, it earns a distinct AWD system, one which deploys twin-clutch technology that feeds power to the outside rear wheel in a corner. This allows for quicker turn in, virtually shortening the car’s wheelbase and making it feel more alert. Premium Luxury models get a traditional single-clutch setup.
There’s no gee-whiz technology at play under the XT6 hood, as it is bereft of hybrid technology such as Volvo’s cleverly-named Twin Engine option. A naturally-aspirated 3.6L V6 engine churns out 310 horsepower and is matched with a nine-speed automatic transmission. On rural roads, the ‘box was largely invisible, always seeming to be in the right gear at the right time without hunting through the cogs. It was possible to catch it flatfooted while trying to dart into an opening in DC’s notoriously snarled traffic, when a prod of the pedal abruptly sent the nine-speed down into first gear. Use finesse if you’re driving Miss Daisy to the shops.
One of Cadillac’s killer apps – Super Cruise – is conspicuous by its absence on the XT6. Your author had the opportunity to try this semi-autonomous equipment on a long stretch of Quebec highway last year and came away very impressed with its ability to shepherd the vehicle along a busy road and significantly reduce driver fatigue. Super Cruise would have been the piece of tech to which Cadillac could have pointed to radically differentiate XT6 from all those other three-row crossovers you counted at the beginning of this story.
John Plonka, chief engineer of XT6, told wheels.ca and another journalist that the team is working on making sure all the bits and pieces of Super Cruise work on the XT6 crossover as well as they do on the CT6 sedan. Your author asked if it was a cadre of bedwetting lawyers preventing its rollout on XT6 and was assured that it was not. Note well: Plonka also told us that Super Cruise cannot be retrofitted so if you buy an XT6 without it, you’ll have to trade up whenever it appears.
There are some important distinctions between XT6 crossovers sold here in Canada and those hawked south of the border. Chiefly, all-wheel drive will be standard equipment in the Great White North, helping to explain the vast gulf of base prices between the two countries. Other kit that is optional in America, such as the $750 Comfort and Air Quality package which includes front- and second-row heated seats (and ventilated fronts), is included in Canadian-spec XT6s. An air ionizer in the climate system is standard in Canada as well, allowing all hands to breathe easy. Cadillac must think there’s a lot of maple syrup in the air up here.
The 2020 Cadillac XT6 is pleasingly polished and fetchingly able, particularly in Sport trim with its unique suspenders and all-wheel drive system. All XT6s have a distinct Yankee character that is perfect for this niche. But, absent of a killer app, its main challenge will be to stand out in a sea of three-row luxury machines – at least until engineers have signed off on Super Cruise. When they do, we’ll ask you to count crossovers again and are confident there will be more Cadillacs amongst the lot.