Meet the 2013 XTS, the new full-size sedan that Cadillac assures us is a) not a direct replacement for their current big cars and b) not the brand's new flagship. So what exactly is the new XTS? Read on, and we'll try to figure that out.
First Glance: Tomorrow's styling, yesterday's running gear
The 2013 Cadillac XTS sort of replaces both the DTS and the STS, although Caddy doesn't want us to say that, since the XTS is on a different mission. The DTS was (supposedly) the last of the old-fogey Cadillacs, while the STS, once renown for its cutting-edge styling, was left unchanged for years, like leftovers forgotten at the back of the fridge. And if you've ever stumbled upon that carton of shitake mushroom lasagna you brought home two months before, you'll understand how unappealing both the DTS and the STS had become by the time they were discontinued in 2011.
Enter the new XTS, which owes its lineage to both cars. Like the STS, the XTS introduces a new era of styling for Cadillac: Big, bold, and in-your-face, with a bulbous chrome nose and fender wells stuffed full of shiny wheels. Love it or hate it, there's no mistaking this car for anything other than a Cadillac.
Unfortunately, the XTS inherits its mechanical heritage from the front-wheel-drive DTS. Most of the greasy bits are scarfed from the corporate parts bin: Epsilon II platform from the Buick LaCrosse; HyPer Stut front suspension from the Regal GS; MagneRide shocks from rear-drive performance cars like the CTS-V, ZR1, and ZL1; optional Haldex all-wheel-drive system from the Saab 9-5; and 3.6 liter direct-injected V6 engine from virtually every big-ish vehicle GM makes.
In the Driver's Seat: Best of the XTS
No question, the XTS' interior is its best feature. I've accused GM's luxury cars of having a veneer of cheapness, but not the XTS. The design is beautiful, and more importantly, it doesn't look like your run-of-the-mill German or Japanese luxury car. Whoever approved the materials in the XTS' cabin should have their salary raised to ten million dollars a year -- I sampled several XTSs, from the $49,610 one-up-from-the-base XTS Luxury all the way up to a top-of-the-line $59,080 XTS Platinum, and all were lavishly trimmed, especially the Platinum model with its leather-covered dash and faux-suede headliner. Premium and Platinum models get a nifty LCD screen for an instrument panel with several user-selectable gauge layouts, supplemented with a crisp full-color head-up display that projects speed, directions, and other useful info on the windshield.
Centerpiece of the XTS is Cadillac's new CUE infotainment system, which uses a giant touch-screen and buttonless touch-panel to control the XTS's climate, stereo, and optional navigation system. The concept is brilliant; as with most GM infotainment systems, the screen graphics are beautiful, advanced functions are easy to access, and the supplemental voice recognition system is excellent. I especially like the "favorites" bar, which replaces traditional presets -- you can put anything there, from a radio station you like to a frequently-used destination. The system is easy to learn, and Cadillac gives every XTS buyer an iPad with a CUE tutorial app to get them on their way.
But the execution leaves something to be desired: It's too easy to "press" those touch-sensitive controls with other parts of your hand. Every time I used the touch screen, I wound up inadvertently turning up the stereo or blasting the A/C. And the gloss finish on the touch screen picks up fingerprints like a Secret Service agent picks up Columbian prostitutes. Old-fashioned buttons and a matte screen might not look as cool, but they'd work a heck of a lot better.
On the Road: Better than I expected... but I didn't expect much
The XTS may be a parts-bin special, but at least GM picked from the nicest bins. At moderate speeds, the ride is too firm for an old-school cruiser, while the steering is too light for a serious performance car. Push it hard, though, and the XTS wakes up: It turns in eagerly with little body roll and impressive grip, especially the all-wheel-drive version. Much of the credit goes to the magnetic shocks, which can instantly alter their damping rate to suit road conditions. Caddy's press-preview route came perilously close to the About.com Top Secret Curvy Test Road, so I took a little detour and was amazed -- given the beans, the XTS attacked the curves like a small, aggressive sports sedan. But when I eased off, I felt like I was driving a Buick LaCrosse with the wrong shocks installed.
The 3.6 liter V6 is tuned for a modest 304 horsepower, but Caddy has kept the weight down -- 4006 lbs for the front-wheel-drive version and 4215 for the all-wheel-driver, same ballpark as the Audi A6, which allows for respectable acceleration and fuel economy of 17 MPG city/28 MPG highway for the front-driver and 17/27 with all-wheel-drive. And while most of Caddy's competitors require premium fuel, the XTS runs on regular. Still, this is not a class-leading powertrain by any stretch. Caddy has alluded to more power in the future, but if they're hoping to transform the character of the car, they have their work cut out for them.
The XTS is due to get radar cruise control and a collision-avoidance system that automatically applies the brakes, but they weren't ready for our press preview. The cars we drove did get Caddy's innovative driver-alert system, which vibrates the seat bottom cushion -- if you drift out of your lane to the left, for example, it buzzes your left butt-cheek. If you're about to back into something, it vibrates both sides. The first time I got buzzed, it felt uncomfortably like violent flatulence, but as with all things, I got used to it. (The seat, not the violent flatulence.)