Yesterday, we told you the 2010 Cadillac SRX not only changed shape, but also changed personality into a grown-up crossover capable of actually handling. Now, what about everything else a luxury-crossover's supposed to do?
Exterior Design: ***
The new SRX has polarizing looks, especially in pictures. In person and in a driveway it's actually quite handsome. This is the nature of modern car design, either make a statement or fall into irrelevance. But, the statement isn't all good. Blame the train-wreck of modern design memes for the fender vents stupidly interrupting an otherwise well executed design. Aside from those vents, it's a solid, handsome, tuxedo-like execution of the modern Cadillac design language.
Interior Design: ****
We did mention it smells like leather and old books, right? This earns major points from the get go, but well-integrated and slick controls, handsome leather, comfortable seats and awesomely huge sunroof (the back seat view is practically unreal) make this an interior worth noting regardless of price point. The high-def circle of info inside the speedometer is very slick and properly commandeers function from their normal place in the navigation screen. Front and rear accommodation is limo-like; plenty of legroom, comfy seats, ambient lighting in the doors and optional pop-up DVD screens. Negatives include the front seat cup holders and their positively idiotic dual shelf... thing, which folds the shallow shelf away for a Big-Gulp sized well without any kind of reasonable way to revert to the former.
Our tester's 3.0-liter V6 with 260 HP was backed by a six speed transmission and all-wheel drive, pedal to the metal from a stop, there wasn't much difference between the regular and sport mode — quick, but unremarkable. But it's the mid-range acceleration in aggressive driving situations that's handsomly rewarded in sport mode, as the transmission takes advantage of the heady 7,100 RPM redline to make power readily available. Downshifts can be a bit aggressive, but no more so than that of your average manual transmission aficionado. Otherwise, the engine and trans are as transparent as the segment buyers expect them to be.
Braking is strong and linear with a high threshold for ABS engagement. Beat the snot out of it and there isn't much brake fade. In the era of modern braking systems, saying basic brakes are good is like saying plain vanilla ice cream is both tasty and cold.
We're reviewing two different vehicles here depending on the mode selection. The base model SRX has a passive, fully independent suspension which provides a pleasant, though less isolated ride than its competitors. In base form you get some road feedback but things are well controlled and balanced with handling . When you step up to the active suspension, the car defies the segment and becomes enjoyable to drive while comfortable. It samples the array of sensors every 25 milliseconds and adjusts each damper independently for ride and control, if you manage to get all the wheels on different surfaces, each will have different damping rates, a slick trick which pays dividends in ride without sacrificing handling
Anything handling better than a warmed over minivan is like magic in the crossover segment. So the fact the SRX handles admirably in entry trim is notable, that it handles remarkably with the active suspension is, well, remarkable. We haven't hated crossovers in the past because they're big and ponderous, but because they don't handle worth a spit. In top trim, the SRX offers both a comfortable, but direct ride and a level of suspension responsiveness we're not used to in the segment.
The transmission is one of the weaker points of the SRX, in regular mode it's a bit slower than we'd like, but set that way in the interest of fuel economy. In sport mode things get a bit better as the car snaps through shifts smartly, wringing out the last useful revs and holds gears much further than normal, keeping things interesting on the way to 7100 RPM. If you choose to fake-shift it yourself, it's only okay, the delay is more than we'd like and let's be honest here, manually shifting automagic transmissions is silly anyway. Let's say this, the transmission is able to keep up with the driving style whether it's in regular or Sport, but it's not a shining star of cog swapping.
The stereotypical response here is to the harangue the audio system in favor of the engine note. With this V6, all you get is a muted mechanical whine, no throaty burble or otherwise noteworthy awesomeness and the cabin is so isolated there's not much getting in to begin with. This means the Bose audio system comes in handy when you get bored. You get an six disc CD changer, USB and aux inputs, and AM/FM/XM radio, all of which can be controlled by the steering wheel, control knobs on the center stack, or the pop-up touch-screen when it's activated. Sound quality is very good, crisp and clear and the sub gives it good punch.
Some of the best toys on the SRX are in the hardware systems. The best toy in our terms is those trick variable orifice dampers which offer four-channel independent real-time damping and a close approximation of the far more expensive Magnetorheological dampers on the higher end Corvettes. It also boasts a Haldex AWD system that can put 100% power to the rear and the electronic limited-slip differential that can shoot 85% power to the wheel with grip. Those are very slick, but most buyers will be looking more at "amenities," things like the pop-up nav screen, front and rear parking collision sensors and backup camera, all the various audio options, bajillion-way power seats with optional extending thigh bolster for the driver and the huge sunroof. Still, our navigation system freaked out and placed us about 400 miles from our actual location, though that's very likely due to our example being a non-saleable unit the 53rd off the assembly line.
This one's a little tougher to nail down. We're just not luxury crossover buyers, so getting into the value proposition for this crowded segment is a tough one. Consider this: The leader in the segment is the Lexus RX, but there are options including the Infiniti FX, Acura RDX, Land Rover LR2, Audi Q5, BMW X3 or X5 depending on price point and more. The new SRX starts off around $34k, and will supposedly be popularly equipped around $40k, that's right in the meat of the market. We managed an average of 20.8 MPG in mixed use and saw as high as 25 MPG on the highway, not the most frugal, but certainly average in the segment. Considering this vehicle's performance dynamics and excellent interior it's going to be very competitive. We await the turbo version.
Cadillac has been working to shed itself of the also-ran, luxo-barge image for almost a decade now, most successfully with the 2008 CTS sedan. The SRX adds a second vehicle to the "good Cadillac" lineup and it's as exciting a vehicle as you can get in an unfortunately popular, and just as unfortunately, boring, class. If you have to buy a crossover, the SRX is probably the best you'll find at the price point.