WASHINGTON – Early promotional images of the ’20 Cadillac XT6 depict the all-new SUV in the driveway of a contemporary home with a little red wagon and pair of youth-size bicycles discreetly in the background.
Enjoy the suburban spell, Cadillac.
From the brand best known for the over-the-top Escalade large SUV, the XT6 turns away from the glamour of the red carpet to unabashedly woo growing families with a smaller, slightly more subdued riff on the three-row luxury SUV.
A step down in size from the Escalade, the 7-passenger XT6 still boasts enough style to stand out at the soccer fields, and the howling V-6 combines with a nifty all-wheel-drive system to ensure mom and dad will have plenty of fun while the shorties are off to summer camp.
Domestication never felt so good.
Sure, we could complain about its front-wheel-drive proportions. A Duesenberg, it ain’t. It’s rather tall, too, but hardly feels gangly in the corners and the rear headroom is generous. Averaging a middling 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km) while testing through rural Virginia, the XT6 also could use a plug-in version like its Lincoln Aviator rival for our greener-leaning neighbors.
Cadillac likely won’t bemoan the hybrid miss, because this long-rumored Baby Escalade arrives in the nick of time to give the General Motors luxury brand a full SUV lineup as consumers race to anything with high seating and a rear hatch.
Cadillac’s new SUV/crossover lineup starts with the newly launched XT4 compact crossover and rises in size, pricing and capabilities to the XT5 midsize crossover, which just received a mid-cycle refresh, and then to the XT6 and the Escalade at the very top. A redesigned Escalade is due early next year.
With the product investment executed and brand image on the mend, Cadillac now can accelerate its sales volume, enrich its dealership experience and add personalization and product services before jumping headlong into a future of electrification and autonomy.
Speaking of autonomy, the one glaring miss on XT6 is its lack of Cadillac’s superb Level II automated driving technology, Super Cruise. Exclusive to the CT6 large sedan and promised with the all-new CT5 midsize sedan this fall, Super Cruise would give the XT6 a completely unique selling point. Cadillac asks for patience, saying XT6 will get Super Cruise in the near future. There is a capable night vision system available at launch, but it won’t wow the local PTA like hands-free driving.
The XT6 certainly is fun to drive, though. The Sport model tested here handles all kinds of road surfaces well, with direct steering tuned a bit quicker than what the Premium Luxury trim line receives. There is surprisingly little body roll for its upright proportions, and the truck smartly enters and exits the corners thanks to active damping and a twin clutch all-wheel-drive system with active yaw control. Active yaw control works like torque vectoring, sending grip to individual wheels for optimal traction through the turn.
Buyers choosing the Premium Luxury model will get a less sophisticated but entirely capable, single-clutch AWD system and the ride is more isolated.
The XT6 Sport also features throttle mapping and shift calibrations unique to its trim line, which nicely matches its 310-hp naturally aspirated 3.6L gasoline V-6 and 9-speed automatic transmission. The XT6 Sport likes to run, but again leaves us pining for the extra split-second punch some electrification would deliver.
The front seats of the XT6 could use more bolster, too. It is particularly noticeable on the passenger’s side when there is no steering wheel to steady yourself during spirited driving. Yet stuck in one of Washington’s notorious Beltway traffic backups, the ventilated seats help pass the time comfortably.
The third row will comfortably seat most tween- and teenage-kids. Accessing the third row of our $65,940 XT6 Sport was easiest by tilting and sliding forward either of the optional, second-row captain’s chairs. Stepping between those captain’s chairs to the third row is a bit trickier.
There isn’t a ton of cargo room behind the third row, just 12.6 cu.-ft. (356 L), so families would need to pack economically for a weekend at the water park. But powering down the third row reveals a generous 43.1 cu.-ft. (1,220 L), which would easily handle the bags and gear of four grownups on a getaway.
Few design risks are taken inside the XT6 Sport. Carbon-fiber inlays to the dash and doors suggest performance, as do the sport pedals. The rear camera mirror, part of a $2,350 option package that also adds items such as high-definition surround vision and a head-up display, offers a safe unobstructed rear view.
There is an available Wi-Fi hotspot and a handy Near Field Communication feature to quickly pair devices to the car by simply holding it near the infotainment screen. A specially designed, 14-speaker Bose audio system easily will drown out bickering siblings, while six USB ports (including two of the newfangled USB C outlets) will keep their devices charged.
The real pop comes from the exterior design, which likely will be the key selling point. The XT6 Sport receives a black grille, compared with the chrome-like appearance of Premium Luxury models, and the shape mimics the recently updated Cadillac crest. The available 21-in., 12-spoke wheels very much hint to its relationship to the Escalade. Vertical lighting up front is unmistakably Cadillac, while exhaust ports are trimmed with chrome and cleanly integrated in back.
There is a long list of standard advanced driver-assistance technologies, suggesting GM may be coming through with its promises to unlock those important safety items from expensive option packages. But automatic parking assist, which worked awfully well if not a bit aggressively, remains part of package. Guess you can’t give away the entire farm.
The XT6 is hardly a perfect SUV, especially against the up-and-coming Aviator or big dogs such as the 3-row Lexus RX 350L, Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. But don’t discount the look-at-me factor, which weighs heavily in a segment where buyers covet individuality. If you want to be handsome hauling around the little monsters, the XT6 is an attractive, if not slam-dunk, alternative.