Give Cadillac some credit. It tried.
That is, it tried to shake off its legendarily stodgy image by going after the foreign luxury brands on their own turf in recent years with a lineup of high quality, fun to drive sports sedans. It made some good ones, too. The CTS and ATS, in particular, which could both hold their heads high at the country or racing club.
Unfortunately, while Cadillac was busy doing that, its competitors were outflanking it by creating SUVs in every shape and size imaginable, just as the high-end market was shifting away from sedans and coupes. BMW and Mercedes-Benz now each offer seven. With only two in its arsenal, the XT5 and Escalade, Cadillac got dusted, despite the pair’s strong sales.
So it’s out with the not-so-old and in with the new. As it begins clearing three of its four car models from dealer lots, Cadillac has started filling their spaces with the new XT4 compact SUV, becoming one of the last of the luxury marques to enter a segment it should’ve owned years ago.
The XT4 matches up against the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and the Jaguar E-Pace. Like the midsize XT5, it’s about a half-size bigger than most of its rivals at a similar price. In this case $35,790.
That gets you a front-wheel-drive XT4 with a 9-speed automatic transmission and 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine good for 237 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque and 30 mpg highway. All-wheel-drive models start at $38,290 and still manage 29 mpg.
Three trim levels are available --Luxury, Luxury Premium and Sport – with the top two priced exactly the same at $42,790, but dressed and equipped to live up to their names. The biggest mechanical difference between them is the available adaptive suspension on the XT4 AWD Sport that I tested, which can be adjusted for stiffness.
The XT4 borrows its styling from the rest of the Cadillac lineup, combining chiseled shapes with soft edges and LED headlights that appear to be crying. It’s a strong, distinctive look that stands out among its peers. The interior is in line with the XT4’s price, particularly with the leather upholstery that comes in the top two trims. Anyone who’s been in an XT5 recently will feel right at home.
There’s a lot of legroom all around for a vehicle in this class, but passengers over six-foot tall that are seated in the rear cabin may brush their head on the surprisingly low roof, which also makes getting in there a little bit of a squeeze. The otherwise generous trunk space is also vertically-challenged, but only if you need to fill it above the window line.
If you do, the XT4 is available with GM’s new Rear Camera Mirror that can switch between a reflective surface and a video feed from the back of the vehicle that bypasses any heads or cargo in the way. The option is bundled with a 360-degree bird’s-eye-view camera system that helps when parking and navigating other tight spaces.
On the dashboard you’ll find a touchscreen infotainment system that can also be controlled by a knob on the center console, and between them every button and toggle known to man. At night it looks like a night bright. It’s a welcome overcompensation for Cadillac’s past, much-maligned attempts to incorporate everything into the display and a spare number of unresponsive touchpads.
Oddly absent on the XT4 is a standard automatic emergency braking system, which isn’t even an option on the Luxury model. And you only get a blind spot warning system on the higher trims. A full suite of driver aids including lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and a head-up display can be added to them as options, though, along with a wireless smartphone charger, a Bose sound system and climate-controlled massaging seats. Load an XT4 with all of them and a set of fancy 20-inch wheels and you can push the price to around $55,000.
None of that changes the XT4’s performance, which skews heavily to the luxury side. The engine is as smooth and quiet as a four-cylinder can possibly be, and plenty potent for a vehicle this size. Truly world class.
One interesting feature is the ability to lock the XT4 in front-wheel-drive, I suppose for efficiency. Given the small improvement on tap, I don’t really see that it’s worth the trouble. Trying it both ways on a slippery uphill street, there was a noticeable difference in traction. Might as well leave it in all-wheel-drive and be prepared.
Even in the XT4 Sport set to Sport mode, which only operates in AWD, things never get too exciting. The suspension firmsup just enough to keep the body on keel, but you won't be fooled into thinking you're in one of those outgoing sedans. There’s plenty of room left for a higher performance model, and don’t be surprised if Cadillac adds one soon.
Overall, the XT4 feels more like an Audi or Volvo than a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but you can tell Cadillac has learned a lot about refinement from chasing all of them in recent years. It should catch up them on the sales charts quickly enough. The XT4 may be a follower, but it’s not a copycat. It’s distinctive enough to attract new customers to the brand and makes a nice sidekick to an Escalade or XT5.
Unless you need something that fits between them. In which case, wait a little while longer, because Cadillac will continue to be making up for lost time by introducing an all-new three-row crossover SUV called the XT6 later this year.
2019 Cadillac XT4
Base price: $35,790
As tested: $52,265
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 237 hp/265 lb-ft
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
MPG: 22 city, 29 hwy