It is not too often that I begin an automotive review quoting Thumper, but as his father advised- “…if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothin’ at all, ” I am left pondering how to be positive about the 1,000 miles I logged in the 2017 Cadillac XTS. Although being constructively critical can help consumers make informed decisions and automakers make improvements, I still am fining it hard to justify the $50k price tag (let alone existence) of such a vehicle as the XTS.
Growing up in a Cadillac family, I grew to have an appreciation for the brand and what that crest meant within the automotive industry. With the exception of the absolutely horrendous Cimarron (nothing more than a badge-engineered Caviler), as well as the ill-conceived Catera (the Caddy that supposedly “Zigs”), I have always respected what that marque meant for GM and for luxury in America. Although Cadillac has spent the last 15 plus years trying to be more youth and sporting oriented, how the XTS failed so miserably in execution truly baffles me.
When I first picked up the 2017 Radiant Silver Metallic XTS in Luxury trim, I must say- I was quite impressed with the basic exterior design. Although a bit porky in proportions, the clean and powerful lines gave the vehicle a fairly refined appearance. Not too boastful nor too flashy, the XTS looks a bit humble for a Cadillac. The HID headlamps combined with the LED taillamps, alluded to Cadillac’s approach to appealing to younger demographic, while lending some additional design cues to a somewhat boring design.
Sitting inside the vehicle was another story. Although Cadillac committed to a technology-forward cabin, sad to say nothing made the interior feel immediately special, let alone worth the price tag. In fact, I was a bit disappointed with the overall choice of materials and the overall feel of the controls. Ergonomically speaking, all of the buttons and controls felt just slightly out of place and would lend themselves to incorrect selections or hunting for the correct controls. Later while on the road, these would become more annoying as the miles added on in my journey.
Although Cadillac as a brand is trying to position themselves towards a younger crowd, the XTS is clearly aimed at those with bad hips and limited mobility. This is apparent by the absolutely annoying automatic “exit” positioning of the driver’s seat whenever you open the door. Seriously- every damn time I touched the interior handle, the seat would move all the way back and tilt up and the steering wheel would retract into the dashboard. In spite of my efforts to defeat this, it wouldn’t turn off.
To make matters worse, it would not automatically remember my previous position unless I saved in into the 2-position memory (which was almost as annoying to program). Then after several attempts to correctly save it, I would have to actually hold down on the memory button while my seat, mirrors and steering wheel slowly readjusted themselves back to my saved position. Getaway drivers and carjackers take note- DON’T GRAB AN XTS! Also worth noting, is after spending all of that time fighting with the adjustment controls, I still found the driving position to be oddly uncomfortable for my 5′ 9″ frame.
Once on the road, GM’s tried and true 304-hp 3.6L V6 did an adequate job getting the XTS up to highway speeds, however in of vehicle weighing over 4,000lbs- it felt under powered. After a few hundred miles I began to feel wistful for the old Northstar V8s. Even the 6-Speed automatic lacked urgency and didn’t make up for the torque deficit (264 lb-ft), making pre planning somewhat necessary for merging and passing. It is a shame really, as the 3.6L V6 is a good engine in its own right, but it just felt out of place in this vehicle at this price point.
Driving along I-65 through Indiana was flat, smooth and absolutely boring. The XTS soaked up most bumps and potholes with relative ease, making the ride supple and comfortable. It was basically as boring and as uninspiring as the scenery. In fact, the overall lack of road feel (and I mean there was almost no feedback at all) had me searching for a ride control switch to go from Perry Como placid to at least Kenny Loggins smooth. The closest thing I found was an “M” mode on the shifter, which encouraged higher-RPM shifts and the option for manual shifting- which is a total joke with this engine and transmission combo.
By the time I arrived in Tennessee, I learned the strengths and (many) weaknesses of the XTS for the most part. Motoring through the foothills via a curvy I-75 had me yearning for an ATS, a 3-Series, my GTI, or even a Fusion for that matter- anything that would let me experience some sensation on these excellent roads. As the road grades changed with elevation, the Brembo brakes did an admirable job slowing the hulking Cadillac down to manageable (and legal) speeds. However, the sheer numbness in driver feedback made “unintentional” speeding a regular occurrence.
Once arriving in Knoxville, I decided to put the self-parking feature to the test. Although it is quite impressively accurate, I still didn’t feel that it justified the price of the XTS. The same goes for the standard Bose sound-system as well. The weak bass, and overall lack of “crunch” made it clear that it is designed for the talk-radio crowd and not for the audiophiles among us. I am not saying that it is terrible, but it is clear that Cadillac is positing the base-level XTS model for an older audience. This is odd, because the clunky CUE system and poorly labeled controls (especially the for the cruise control) could be confusing to this particular market segment.
Driving through a rainy night on my way back to Chicago, I became fond of the heated and cooled seats. On higher-level trims, Cadillac does offer an upgraded seat with 22-way power adjustments and massaging, but I hope they can at least remember the original seat position? The HID headlamps sliced through the rain with ease, but having rain-sensing wipers (that actually worked) would have been amazing for the intermittent downpours encountered on an 8 hour drive. I also had to take issue with the way that the car began to hydroplane over larger puddles, but yet the traction control system didn’t even awaken from its slumber.
Rolling back into Chicago, I began to think back to my initial question of “Why?”. After 1,000 miles behind the wheel, I actually felt less impressed with the vehicle than before I first set off. I pondered “Why would Cadillac tarnish their progress towards a more youthful brand with this car?”, “Why would anyone design an interior like this?”, and then the biggie- “Why would anyone pay $50k for this car?!?”. The truth is, that I honestly couldn’t answer any of those questions without surmising that some kind of alcohol abuse or illegal pharmaceutical use struck the XTS development team, prior to launch.
It is great that Cadillac offers a wealth of optional technology as well as a more potent twin-turbo variant of the V6 (rated at more respectable 404-hp), but I seriously doubt that too many people would go that far with optioning out an XTS . Remember that this is a modern replacement for DTS and STS, so most of those buyers care more about aftermarket chrome trim, velour roofs and whitewall tires, than about wireless charging for their mobile devices. Cadillac needs to own up to this, forgo the gadgetry and bring the people a car that will make them feel special every time they set off for the golf course or for the early-bird special at Golden Corral. The XTS fails tremendously at doing this for the driver.
As a motorist, I truly enjoy where Cadillac is headed as a brand when it comes to bringing more driver-oriented vehicles to market. I can admire that they have been at the forefront with in-vehicle technology, but they need to remember that in order to “win” the $50k plus market, the buyer needs to feel special every day of owning their vehicle. It might sound like a tall order, but that is where manufacturers like Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes, Tesla and even Mazda got it right. Now more than ever, people need to feel comfortable parting with their money, so why not make a car that screams “Shut up and take my money!”?