Test Drive: 2013 Cadillac XTS

Retirees of America, rest easy. The whippersnappers at Cadillac haven’t forgotten about you, they just want you to keep up with the times, or at least stop complaining about them.

As GM’s luxury brand continues its pursuit of the Germans and Japanese with recent additions to its lineup like the sporty ATS compact, the all-new XTS full-size sedan is as close to classic Caddy as it gets. New name aside, the big boat is a direct descendant of the Cadillac DeVille, long the ultimate reward for a life of hard work and often the chariot of choice for chauffeured suits.

The XTS shares much of what is not seen with the upcoming 2014 Chevrolet Impala and current Buick LaCrosse, completing a modern three rung version of the General’s classic ladder to success. This includes its basic platform and the latest version of GM’s smooth and potent 3.6-liter V6 engine, here with 304 hp in a choice of front or all-wheel-drive models.

Instantly recognizable as a Cadillac, at a distance the XTS could pass for a slightly inflated version of the DTS that it replaces in showrooms, but a closer look reveals many of the automaker’s contemporary styling cues. It’s chrome-encrusted, V-shaped snow plow front end is straight off of the SRX crossover, while its sharp, sweeping character lines and tailfin-shaped rear light clusters out of the Art and Science playbook that defines Cadillac style today. Slicing through traffic, the XTS cuts the dramatic profile of a low-flying stealth dirigible.

The interior is suitably enormous, with more rear seat legroom than anything short of a stretch job, something Cadillac is actively encouraging limousine companies to give it, anyway. The design is American-style elegance and nicely tailored with plenty of shiny bits, black gloss, wood trim and quality materials throughout.

All XTS models, from the $44,995 entry-level version to the loaded $61,305 all-wheel-drive Platinum edition tested here, come standard with the company’s new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system. Based around an 8-inch touch-screen display that is used to control nearly every accessory, CUE offers tablet-style pinch and swipe functionality, smartphone-tethered cloud connectivity for Pandora internet radio and haptic feedback that vibrates the screen to confirm inputs.

Generally intuitive to operate, CUE can be slow to respond at times and, as with many in-car touch-screen applications, not ideal to use on the move. Voice commands are a better bet, but can still be cumbersome if you don’t know exactly what to say to get what you want done.

Not interested in that kind of high-tech razzmatazz? Sorry, there’s no old-school option, although, unlike some competitors in this field, Caddy does provide a collection of small, touch-sensitive nubs under the display for more conventional operation.

They look like buttons, but aren’t. You have to rest your finger right on the top to activate them and then wait a breath or two to feel a pulse before anything happens. There’s also a bar that you can slide a finger along to turn up the volume, but not too quickly or it doesn’t keep up.

Aside from the style, I’m not sure how this is better than a couple of knobs and actual buttons, and I’ve got to think there’s a certain type of otherwise loyal Cadillac customer just looking for a comfortable car that will be immediately turned off by all of this wizardry. But some other 21st Century features in the XTS might make it worth their while to just stop worrying and learn to love it.

The XTS rides on a suspension featuring magnetically-controlled shocks that is truly, to borrow a catch phrase, the standard of the world. Originally developed for the Chevrolet Corvette, versions of it have been used to great effect in the 580 hp Camaro ZL1 and 190 mph Cadillac CTS-V, not to mention a couple of cars from an Italian company with a name that starts with an F that’s not Fiat.

It reads the road 1,000 times a second and adjusts the stiffness of the dampers accordingly, allowing it to be cushy one millisecond and more firmly controlled the next. It doesn’t go so far as to turn the XTS into a sports sedan, but in the transition from city streets to mountain roads it eliminates most of the float from the big boat without sacrificing the plush.

Much of the latter is provided by the leather trimmed seats in the XTS, which in the Platinum are fitted with a unique, and somewhat naughty driver awareness system that vibrates the seat bottom if you start drifting out of your lane, try to turn toward a car in your blind spot or start back into an obstacle. Just one cheek gets goosed on the side to side stuff, while you get a full fanny pat when obstacles are to the front or, ahem, rear. It’s surprisingly effective and, if you turn off the audible alarm that is also available, a secret between you and the car that your passengers don’t need to know about.

An optional driver assist package, which costs $2,395, takes this sort of intervention to the next level and adds adaptive cruise control and an automated braking system that aims to react more quickly to impending collisions than even someone prodded by a pat on the backside. Top level models also come with a virtual instrument cluster, similar to those found on Jaguar and Range Rover models, which can be configured with a number of different displays.

All told, the XTS delivers a decidedly American luxury car experience tinged with tech that stands apart from the foreign competition and really only has the Lincoln MKS to deal with directly; another car that’s gone out of its way to appeal to a more cutting edge crowd that the brand’s traditional clientele.

The accoutrements of the XTS are, in fact, so out of character for its segment that Cadillac has seen fit to make sure that every dealership has at least one expert fully trained on all its technology, and is providing all XTS buyers with an iPad that’s equipped with both the user manual and an app that lets you practice using CUE in the comfort of your own home.

That’s right, the XTS comes with both a tutor and homework.

These kids today think they’re so smart, don’t they? We’ll show them.


2013 Cadillac XTS AWD Platinum

Base Price: $61,305

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 3.6-liter V6

Power: 304 hp, 264 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 17 city/26 hwy