The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader

Photos by the author except where noted

When I told my husband I’d be driving the 2020 Cadillac XT6 as my first-ever review car, he was far more stoked than I was about being in a proper SUV. “Just wait—you’re going to love it,” he said. “You’re not gonna want to go back to driving your shitty little hatchback all the time.”

While an outing in a luxury SUV didn’t totally convince me that this is the kind of car I need to be in every day of my life, I was actually pretty surprised. The XT6 dispelled many of my previously held conceptions about what driving a modern SUV would be like, even if I felt like it still had room to improve. Which it does.

(Full Disclosure: Cadillac was kind enough to let me drive their XT6 with to the ends of the Earth and back [i.e.: between Philly, NYC, and upstate New York] for three days.)

What Is It?

Illustration for article titled The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader

Cadillac’s first-ever XT6 is new for the 2020 model year as the company’s latest foray to the ceaselessly growing crossover market. (The Escalade is a real SUV, mind you.) It’s a large-medium option that has good interior room and luggage space without quite going as huge as Cadillac’s range-topping, opulent truck.

Illustration for article titled The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader

That space has been a gaping hole in Cadillac’s lineup for years. The XT6 is now a direct competitor to other higher-end three-row vehicles like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Lexus RX L.

It’s not revolutionary; the XT6 fits neatly into a well-trodden class of car. That’s not wholly a bad thing. It is, simply, A Thing To Note.

Specs That Matter

The XT6’s 3.6-liter V6 engine comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission that you can shift via paddles on the steering wheel and makes a Cadillac-claimed 310 horsepower.

I did really enjoy the four different drive modes: Touring, AWD, Sport, and Snow/Ice, all of which seem to set the car up for… pretty much exactly what they sound like. While I didn’t get a chance to test the Snow/Ice setting on snow or ice, I did use it in a torrential downpour to get me more grip. This mode basically tempers throttle response a little, effectively making it easier to maintain traction.

Cadillac also implements something called Active Fuel Management technology, which shuts down two cylinders to save gas when V6 power isn’t needed. I really enjoyed it—I managed to drive from Philly to NYC to Monticello to NYC back to Philly on a single tank of fuel. While the XT6 only gets 20 combined mpg, according to EPA testing, the vehicle’s range is good enough to keep you from having to pull into gas stations too often.

The XT6 comes in two different trims: Sport and Premium Luxury. The most obvious differences between the two levels are decorative. Premium Luxury models feature wood trim, 20-inch wheels, Galvano finishes inside and outside of the car, and red taillight lenses. Sport, on the other hand, has a carbon-looking trim, 21-inch wheels, a sportier grille, and clear taillight lenses.

Illustration for article titled The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader

Both modes come with the standard slew of driver-assist technologies—helpful stuff like lane change alert and speed limiters. You can check out the full list below:

Illustration for article titled The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader
Screenshot: Cadillac

The three-row Caddy lists at $53,690, but that creeps up very quickly when you start adding options. Our test car here had $3,700 worth of soft materials through the Platinum Package, it’s another $2,000 for Night Vision, plus more for the wheels you see photographed, driver assistance tech like emergency auto braking, captain’s chairs, the premium headlights, and the paint choice, all added up to a very heavy asking price of just over $73,000 for this vehicle in particular.

What’s Great

The dude noted above drives a 2015 ATS, which has a cringe-worthy, impossible-to-use haptic-feedback CUE infotainment system.

Thankfully, the XT6’s system is entirely different. You don’t have to press something three times to get it to register the weight of your finger. There’s no annoying delay in responsiveness. It’s actually a pleasant experience.

I’ve been firmly on the anti-infotainment system train, largely because I had eye surgery that left scars that always seem to catch the light from the infotainment system at night. No matter how many features I kind of like with a screen-intensive interface, I hadn’t felt like they provided anything that got me excited. The XT6 actually changed my mind on the value of advanced interfaces, though.

Illustration for article titled The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader

In addition to touchscreen functionality, the XT6 has rotary knobs that let you control the screen without actually touching the screen. I don’t know why I enjoy these so much, but I’ve liked using inputs like them in the new Mazda 2 and Mazda 3 I’ve driven, and the XT6 was no different here. It’s satisfying to have a physical knob-button to use instead of being forced to poke the screen.

The tech seems, overall, well-integrated. In my husband’s ATS, it feels clunky. Amateur. The XT6 has refined all that.

On the road, I was surprised by the XT6’s smoothness. Within half an hour of having the car delivered, I was driving down Lincoln Drive outside Philadelphia. That’s a notoriously narrow, curvy, and aggressively potholed road—the only road that has ever made me carsick.

While it was still obvious that I was driving over Philly’s most sadly maintained thoroughfare, I didn’t feel my teeth rattling out of my skull and there was none of the precarious body roll that sometimes plagues larger cars. Paired with the lane-keep assist that nudged me back into place with some steering wheel feedback when I veered too far to the side, it was the most comfortable I’ve ever been driving into downtown Philadelphia.

Possibly most impressive, though, is the amount of space you get in the rear rows. In the second row of the XT6, I had legroom for days. The third row’s still a little cramped for an adult, but it wasn’t quite the knee-smooshing cramped you’re more likely to see in other three-row crossovers.

What’s Weak

Illustration for article titled The 2020 Cadillac XT6 Is Good But It's Not A Class Leader

Just looking at the XT6 probably isn’t going to get most folks very excited. It’s decent enough, edging on the assertive-but-still-inviting side—but it’s definitely still an SUV, and it’s definitely a family car. There’s not a lot of particularly distinctive Cadillac flair when you look past the grille and taillights.

And that carries into the cabin. The dashboard is oddly shaped and looks like it’s melting. The cupholder space is cramped, with the rotary knobs and shifter all being packed into the same area.

There also isn’t a surplus of luggage space with the rear row of seats up. While even plenty of adults would be comfortable in that third row, you’re trading off on that legroom for your ability to carry a lot of shit. Even just an overnight bag and my perpetually-stuffed backpack took up most of the room back there. You might want to add a roof box if you need extreme cargo capacity and passenger space together. Or a bigger car.

Ergonomically, too, I had some trouble. The buttons on the steering wheel are distractingly difficult to press; I had to remove my hand from the wheel in order to change a song or check fuel consumption. Larger-handed people may have less of a problem than I did, but it was still frustrating to have such an obvious difficulty reaching buttons that were designed to be easily accessible.

While the cabin of the car is pretty quiet, you can definitely hear engine sounds. Normally, I wouldn’t complain—but the engine in the XT6 often sounds a little sick under rapid acceleration. There’s not an abundance of get-up-and-go. It was like hitting the accelerator just made the car sigh say, “fine, I guess we can go faster now.”

Finally, I was pretty damn disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be getting to experiment with Super Cruise, Cadillac’s hands-free driver-assist software, in the XT6. That felt like a pretty massive oversight on its part, given that semi-autonomy has become such a buzzword in the industry lately.

What Needs Time

There were a fair amount of features included in the XT6 that I wasn’t super keen on and that were initially disorienting, but not in a way that actively took away from my driving experience. It was like switching from a PC to a Mac for the first time: a tough transition at first, but one I could get used to.

One of the biggest—and most disorienting—of these features was the rearview camera. While the rearview mirror initially appears as the standard mirror we’re used to, a flip of the switch on its underside changes everything. Instead of a mirror, there’s a camera-based digital display showing you everything behind your car.

I’m not a fan. You can’t adjust the camera for a better view: it’s just stuck, stationary, in one spot, and I found myself trying to adjust it when I used it. It also makes things look more terrifyingly close up than you’re used to. I imagine this is a great feature when your rear window vision is obscured, but it really bothered me when I tried to use it on the road.

I had a similar response to the Night Vision mode that’s available on the dashboard. If you select this display, it will automatically turn on at night and show you an eerie night-vision version of the road in front of you. The depth of view in the camera itself was so drastically different from my view of the road in front of me that I found it really hard to have that feature open. However, it did show me a family of deer lining the side of the road that I hadn’t been able to see with the naked eye.

There are other very minor features that I found disorienting, too. The seatbelt automatically tightens when you turn the car on, which genuinely scared the hell out of me the first few times I got behind the wheel.

Instead of the car making a noise, the driver’s seat vibrates when the car wants to alert you to something—something that also made me jump the first time I felt it. (It also took me a while to realize what that was; I often work with my phone sitting in my lap on vibrate, and I was worried I’d done that while driving without even noticing it.)

Early Verdict

The Cadillac XT6 is a good car, but it’s not a far-and-away great car.

It’ll be competitive, but maybe not a class leader. Given that it’s Cadillac’s big strike back into the world of the non-truckish luxury SUV, I felt like this car should have flat-out blown me away to actually make a splash in what’s become a very oversaturated market.

It suffers from what it doesn’t have more than anything. You’re not going to get in and say, “man, this whole experience sucks.” You’re more likely going to get in and go, “man, it sucks that this doesn’t have Super Cruise.” (It’s only supposed to get that later.) Without any standout features, it’s tough to say the XT6 has anything that will really set it apart from the other vehicles it competes with.

That said, it was a damn fine car to ride around in, and I enjoyed what it did have. I love a good SUV that makes me feel like I’m actually driving a much smaller car, and the XT6 absolutely owned in that regard.

The XT6 is one of those cars that you’re probably not going to pine after but will decide to buy after a lot of cross-brand comparisons and test drives. There’s not enough here to say this would be a great car for everybody, but what it does have will likely satisfy certain niches of folks who are looking for a good three-row crossover.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.



Seatbelt person here! Those tugs you are feeling actually a motorized seatbelt retractor. It’s unfortunate to hear it scared you. The point is actually to minimize the amount of tension you feel normally by using the motor to take up slack. It has other major benefits as well though, unfortunately, you won’t see them day to day (and I can’t comment if this particular model has these features).

There are programs where the belt can automatically tighten if an evasive lane change is detected, keeping yourself and occupants heads and bodies from whipping towards the glass, pillars, etc. Additionally, coupled with AEB (automatic emergency braking), the car can pretension you to the ideal position so that you’re not compromised during an emergency stop. As you can imagine, if the car is having to activate AEB for you you’re likely distracted and/or out of position. This will help bring you back into proper position to avoid injuries coupled with the AEB firing either avoiding the collision altogether or to minimize injury. Belted crash tests are done with dummies in standard position (i.e. seated as one would expect someone to sit when in a vehicle), but it’s not unreasonable to say that many accidents occur when a person is not paying attention, grabbing something they dropped, etc. This seatbelt combined with level 1/2 automated driving assistants can help bring you back into the ideal occupant position before the crash, thereby minimizing injury, or worse, chances.

It’s actually a very cool twist on seat belt technology that many consider to be something you buckle up and forget about (yet is truly the first line of defense in keeping you safe in a collision). It was ahead of the curve and take rates were not very high, but now as ADAS (automated driver assistance systems) come online it has the potential to be the first line of defense in injury mitigation. The industry spends a LOT of time on chest compression, shoulder loads, neck injury criteria, etc. etc,. but at the end of the day when it comes to belts it assumes you’re belted in position correctly (you have to control for variables in a “sled test” or barrier test.

I’m not an MSB (motorized seat belt) expert, but I am in the industry and know enough about it to know it has real benefits especially as automated driving system intervention and driver distraction becoming more and more common place.