by Tod Mesirow

It’s not much of a challenge in word association to say turkey during the holidays.  The same holds true for car manufacturers when you say the word crossover. They’re busy giving thanks for a category that since 2000 has continued its upward climb to one step from the top, in a tight race with sedans. Crossovers are barely edged out 35% to 35.8% for sedans, according Stephanie Brinley, Senior Analyst at IHS Markit.

After driving the Cadillac XT5 with three adult passengers on a holiday journey, it’s easy to see why the category is so appealing. This stellar example of the breed combines equal measures of comfort, style, form and function. XT5 has become Cadillac’s global best seller.

Starting out in New York City the day before a holiday can be a challenge.  I went to a garage to pick up the car, trying to beat the traffic rush getting out of town.  As I walked around the car, it struck me as more understated in its stance than big brother Escalade. There was no doubt XT5 was a Cadillac, with the signature grille on the front, but it wasn’t screaming at me. It was inviting me to enjoy the more curved lines, swept back from the front roof peak, and the gentle hint of expanded curves over the wheels.  The XT5 was definitely shorter and smaller than the Escalade, but not diminutive like some of the smaller Crossovers. My AWD 3.6-liter version with DI (direct injection) and VVT (variable valve timing) is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.  I was about to do a little of one, and more of the other, as we made our way from the heart of NYC to the bucolic Massachusetts college town of Northampton.

There’s some sort of space-related magic or sleight of hand that car designers have mastered it seems. Getting in to the XT5 felt like getting in to a much bigger vehicle than I had imagined I was getting in to. Maybe it’s the sweeping curve of the leather dashboard and comfy seats. Or the panoramic moonroof that provides a ton of light streaming in, if one wants it opened. While it’s true that the cargo area behind the back row is not as cavernous as an SUV, there was plenty of room for four adults to stash their luggage, as well as a few extraneous bags of food and drink.

Out on the road, the driver assistance systems kick in. The XT5 has a back-up camera of course – it seems mandatory – with the virtual overhead view which always feels weird, but makes some sense to help people orient themselves in space. Cars have been edging their way towards airplanes in this regard – they’re becoming almost IFR capable. IFR is instrument flight rules – which means you essentially rely on the instruments to guide your actions as you fly. You’re not actually looking where you’re going – you’re only looking at the instruments and reacting accordingly.

Another automatic system the XT5 comes with is automatic parking. While driving down a street, the driver hits a button, which alerts the car to search for a parking space. When it finds one, it takes over control of the car, and by all accounts, works perfectly, like another magic trick. Except I was in NY, and after a few searches up and down and around the block, I stopped the car from looking for a space. I will admit to a certain amount of age-related crankiness about a car that parks itself. My feeling is that if you own or lease a car, it’s incumbent upon you to know how to drive the car, and that includes parallel parking it in New York City. And yes, this crankiness is based on the fact that I expended a bit of effort mastering the skill of parking a car in New York City, back in the days when I actually lived there. One can’t park a car without having a sense of where the four edges of the car are, which is also kind of paramount to operating it successfully and safely on the road. So, consider parallel parking a kind of litmus test of how well one knows the car one is driving.

With the Cadillac XT5, however, the driver assistance systems don’t end with back-up cameras and self-parking modes.  Out on the highway, the XT5, with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, has the power to get up and go. Time to get from zero to sixty is reported to be 6.4 seconds.  I didn’t time it, but I believe it. Speed can be fun, but driving on the highway, it can also be an important safety consideration. Sometimes being able to get out of the way in a hurry is critical to avoiding an incident.

Holiday traffic being what it is, of course, meant a ping ponging of traveling at full highway speeds and slowdowns due to the number of cars, and over the course of the three plus hour trip a variety of traffic accidents — precisely the kind of driving Adaptive Cruise Control was made for. Instead of having to constantly brake and gas, brake and gas, I was able to choose from three different distances at which I felt comfortable following the car in front of me, and enter the maximum speed I wanted to travel. After that, my job as driver was to steer the car. And also, these technologies being somewhat new, and not 100% full proof, a bit of attention to the Adaptive Cruise Control is of course called for. Over the course of the journey it worked really well, with the one or two times when I wasn’t sure it was going to stop, and it did. It’s not Super Cruise (offered on the 2018 Cadillac CT6) which has received high marks from a few writers, but it’s a welcome addition.

Road noise inside the cabin was minimal. The controls worked pretty easily as one would desire – a large touchscreen placed at the correct angle for visibility without sacrificing any forward view. Unlike some vehicles, the touchscreen is integrated in to the dash design, and not stuck on like a tablet, the way some manufacturers do. The heated seats – with three levels – came in super handy as the temperatures dropped in to the 30s. Sound system provided the lush touches to the road trip environment.

Tallying up the experience, the XT5 fares well against its somewhat crowded field of competitors like the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, Lexus RX, Mercedes GLC class. We’ve entered a time where we’re approaching Peak Automobile – which in some ways feels like the end of an era, as we move from cars we drive to cars that drive us, as the Autonomous Automobile age is upon us. And at this stage, no one makes a bad car. In fact, you would have to work really hard to find a bad car to buy. What makes the difference between various versions of a category like crossovers is more about style, and the splitting of hairs among accessories and systems like Adaptive Cruise Control and things like touchscreen placement. Price is one key differentiator as well – the Platinum level XT5 I drove comes in just over $67,000 – but again, over the course of four-year loan, or two-year lease, the monthly difference of even a $5,000 price variance is not that great.

The holiday itself arrived. Family and friends dined on the traditional feast, with a few vegan additions thrown in as we expand our approach to food into new quarters. The turkey was tasty, and even though we didn’t find the wishbone, my wish did come true – we made it safely and comfortably to our holiday destination thanks to the 2018 Cadillac XT5 crossover.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

See Tod’s video review of the 2018 Cadillac XT5 on YouTube. 

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.