2013 Cadillac XTS first drive review

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Climbing into the XTS for a drive, it was hard to not think of all that Cadillac officials had cautioned us the technology-focused 2013 Cadillac XTS isn’t. It isn't a new flagship model for the brand; it isn’t intended as a performance-oriented model; and it isn’t expected to be on the radar of those considering the CTS or ATS sport sedans.

But at the center of the XTS's instrument panel is a reminder of this sedan's leading-edge feature set: an eight-inch, fully capacitive touch screen—like what's used in iPads and other tablets, and the first of its kind to be integrated into a new car. The system comes standard, cleaning up the dashboard and leaving it remarkably free of physical buttons; and in many XTS models there are no real gauges either—just a reconfigurable 'screen' of simulated ones.

All that aside for the moment, what else is the XTS? Outside of fancy footwork on tight switchbacks, or high-speed proving on the Nurburgring, pretty much everything else that luxury shoppers want. While die-hard enthusiasts would be misguided to even consider the XTS, it’s one good pick for those who want luxury, comfort, convenience, and some of the world’s top in-car technology, along with confident performance.

Just as the bland but utterly comfortable and competent Lexus ES 350 has been the best-selling sedan in the Lexus lineup, with the somewhat more enticing XTS Cadillac has the potential to break into the heart of the luxury market—an area it’s been skirting in recent years with a little too much bold and brash.

Art & Science, but softer

So it’s certainly no mistake that the XTS takes a step back from the upright, sharp-edged look. It’s a good-looking car on the outside, and while the boxed-out front and rear appearance give the XTS a distinct look, you can see some resemblance to the Buick LaCrosse in the profile and softly arched roofline (it’s also related to the upcoming 2014 Chevrolet Impala). Inside, the XTS’s instrument panel and interior trims look like those of no other GM vehicle; they quite closely follow the look of the XTS Platinum Concept (first shown at the 2010 Detroit auto show). It has elements of the Art & Science themes that have now been seen in Cadillacs for years, but there’s a swoopier look and softer details throughout.

And of course the centerpiece is CUE (the Cadillac User Experience), a system that comes standard on all 2013 XTS models and places an expensive piece of equipment—a true capacitative glass touch screen—at the center of the dash.

The XTS rides on the same 111.7-inch wheelbase as the Buick LaCrosse, and it keeps the same basic Epsilon platform that also underpins the new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu as well as the upcoming 2014 Impala, but here Cadillac has added a few extra inches of overall length, mostly to trunk space.

With both the MagneRide suspension system and active noise cancellation standard—even on the base model—there are more than a few hints that GM has done more than a badge-engineering job with the XTS, and it impresses as more sophisticated than just a ‘badge-engineering’ job with upgraded materials and some extra sound blanketing. And if there was any doubt, seeing those Brembo brake calipers (they’re another standard feature) is an added reassurance.

Athletic beyond its mission statement

While its CUE infotainment system needs something of an orientation session (we’ll get to that in a bit), thankfully just driving it does not, and otherwise the XTS is delightfully simple, with a normal shift knob and no complicated custom-performance interface. Unlike many other luxury cars today, there are only two modes—normal and sport. To get to sport mode, you merely pull the shift knob back to 'M,' where the XTS gets a somewhat firmer setting for the magnetic dampers, plus a more abrupt throttle setting, and full manual control with a touch of the paddle-shifters. That's all there is to it.

The engine, a 304-hp version of GM’s 3.6-liter V-6, starts with nary a shudder and settles to a smooth idle. Front-wheel-drive cars weigh about 4,000 pounds, while all-wheel-drive models weigh 200 pounds more than that. You do tend to feel that weight more than a little bit when taking off from a standing start—about the only time that the V-6 seems to labor a bit, until it gathers revs—and when braking hard, with some noticeable nosedive (even though it’s in theory curbed a bit by the HyperStrut design). Throttle tip-in—perhaps in a nod to a more hesitant target driver here—is more aggressive than that of the CTS. Otherwise, the six-speed automatic transmission does a great job in Drive, in keeping the revs up when they’re needed and bringing them down when they’re not. From inside the vehicle, you only hear the engine when pressing it hard—in the range of 4,000 rpm on up—so when you’re just commuting or cruising it’s way in the background.

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