Posted: January 10, 2012

Executive wheels: The Cadillac of SUVs is…

...a Cadillac

Jeff Rundles

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2012 CADILLAC SRX AWD PERFORMANCE COLLECTION

It's an interesting - and fortunate - twist of fate that the top-of-the-line in anything should be called a Cadillac - "The Cadillac of Toothbrushes," or "The Cadillac of Snow Shovels," or whatever. That General Motors, owners of the Cadillac nameplate since 1909, still basks in its glory after more than 20 years of making some of the worst cars in the world with that name is testament to the brand image built up by Cadillac in its first six-plus decades.

Oh sure, Cadillac competed in the glory years with Lincoln, Packard, Dusenberg, Pierce Arrow, Cord and the like, but even in some of those lines they explained unofficially that they were the Cadillac of their offerings.

General Motors, for all of its faults, did create some iconic ideas in American life. Henry Ford gets most of the credit for automating the American car manufacturing plant, but the founders of GM, C.S. Mott and Alfred P. Sloan, were right there in the thick of things.

One of the top things invented by GM, in my estimation, is the whole notion of upward mobility and station in life as embodied by the car. The entry-level guy just starting out in life would be your Chevrolet Man, and as he moved on up the ladder of success he would achieve Buick status and, if highly successful, Cadillac status. With a little more sporty attitude, in the Chevy/Buick stage the guy could go Pontiac, and if there was that solid middle-class family status that was important that guy would become an Oldsmobile Man. The car as metaphor for American life.

Ford and Chrysler tried to replicate the system, or invent their own versions, with the working-class Ford and Plymouth, the sporty Ford and Dodge, and the more upscale Mercury and Chrysler and then, with Ford at least, the Lincoln. Try as they might, and with a lot of brand loyalty, none of these offerings ever rose to the level of Cadillac - as cars or as metaphors.

Starting in the 1990s and accelerating into the 2000s and now, GM decided to wake up and start designing and building some cars that could compete on the world stage, and someone with a lot of smarts decided the best place to concentrate was on Cadillac. They have decided - decidedly - to make Cadillac once again into the luxury leader that its name has come to mean. I have not driven the entire line in recent years, but if the CTS and CTS-V, not to mention this SRX I just drove, are any measure, then GM and Cadillac have succeeded.

I liked the SRX the moment it pulled up in front of my house. It is, without question, one of the most beautiful cars on the road. Cadillac, when it first stated to reinvent itself back in the 1990s, took this chiseled approach to design that I found a bit daunting. Lately they have softened the lines without removing the distinctiveness and they have some up with something very rare in today's automotive world: recognizable style.

Inside, same thing. This SRX is one of the classiest interiors I have ever been in. It felt luxurious from the moment I slide into the leather seating, saw the wood trim, put my hands on the steering wheel. I loved it immediately.

The SRX comes in seven trims - a base model (MSRP $35,188), a Luxury Collection model (MSRP $39,715), an AWD Luxury Collection (MSRP $42,210), a Performance Collection model (MSRP $43,530), A Premium Collection (MSRP $45,976), an AWD Performance (MSRP $46,340), and an AWD Premium (MSRP $48785). I got to drive the AWD Performance Collection, what that means, I gather from the line's website, is that it includes as standard what you get in the Luxury edition - leather seating, 8-way adjustable seats up front, an UltraView sunroof that takes up 70 percent of the roof, 18" wheels (cast aluminum), remote start, front and rear park assist, rainsense wipers, keyless access, power liftgate with memory height, rear backup camera with LCD screen in rear-view mirror, a cargo management system, ambient interior lighting, heated steering wheel, and the wood trim (made of Sapele wood) - and then for performance they add: touch screen navigation, 10-speaker Bose surround sound system, high-intensity discharge headlamps with adaptive forward lighting (they bend with turning) and washers, fog lamps, 20" wheels, and ZF Servotronic steering which provides precise high-speed cornering. If you go to Premium they add in ventilated seats, heated rear seats, rear-seat audio controls, and tri-zone climate control.

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So now you know it has all the luxury stuff and then some - the SRX is a marvel of technology.

What you need to know is that it is the quietest vehicle I have been in for years. I loved having conversations with my family while driving around, or absolutely pure listening enjoyment on the Bose sound system if there was no talking or I was alone. It was better than being in my living room.

Then there were some other things to love. The back tailgate is automatic, both up and down, operated from the key fob or a button inside or on the liftgate itself (for closing), and the whole thing is adjustable. What this means is that if you are 6'6", you can have the liftgate go higher than if you're 5'8", and once it is set it will meet your needs beautifully. Loved it.

The rear seats in this five-passenger vehicle fold flat and marry with the back deck, so if you want it there is a huge, flat area back there delivering 60 cubic feet of cargo space. When you just need the back space, it is easy to get to, and there is this adjustable bar in there to secure cargo; very intelligent. Speaking of storage, the SRX has an extra-large glove box that will fit a 2-liter bottle and it can be cooled. Cool.

I am a big fan of ambient lighting, and just smart lighting all around, and the SRX delivers. It has soft lighting on the running boards for ease in stepping in, outside lights comes on when you unlock the door so you can see what you're doing, there is soft lighting around your feet, again so you can see what you're doing without big glare, and then the whole thing just dims, slowly, as you nestle in. Quite nice.

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Also, the navigation system and much of the audio controls and menu options can be seen on a screen that rises out of the dashboard. The beauty of this system is that it displays all you need to know, quite nicely, but that it goes back into the dash once you set things and offers a smaller readout of the things you might need - radio station, climate control temp - without being a major driving distraction. Very smart. Oh, and yes, the sound system comes with a 10 GB hard drive that will hold 2,000 songs and it will also operate you iPhone, iPod, etc., and it is Bluetooth for the phone. And there's also a feature for pausing live radio - if you're listening to a game, say, and have to stop for gas, you can pick up right where you left off because it will record 20 minutes. It's great.

The huge sunroof - 70 percent of the roof area, called the UltraView for a good reason - is the coolest sunroof I have ever seen. The front part of it, over the front seats, opens up or tilts like all sunroofs, and then there's plenty of light to the rest or the cabin - or not; a sunshade will cover the whole thing if desired. Very smart, very fun.

You also can use the top for putting on a bike or ski rack - they have thought of pretty much anything. We strapped on a Christmas tree, no problem, with rope and bungee cords.

Okay, so there's two other important features.

First, is the performance. All models of the SRX feature a 3.6-liter V6 engine with 308 hp that feel more powerful than that. The engine is smooth, responsive, and with the 6-speed automatic transmission, it never lurches when passing or speeding up the mountain. This vehicle just goes - smoothly.

Then there's the driving - Wow! This thing corners like a dream, handles the highways perfectly and is very nimble in city traffic. And the AWD is wonderful. I got this vehicle during one of the many snowstorms we've had, and I drove it all over my neighborhood where the City and County of Denver never bothered to plow and where Mother Nature decided to have a heaping ice party. The SRX never slipped, never wavered. I felt perfectly safe in any conditions.

I went through all the stuff so you know what you get for the base price. All they added on my test-drive model was $1395 for a dual-screen, DVD-based rear entertainment system, and then $875 in a destination charge. The bottom line is $48,610 - which is highly competitive with the Mercedes GLK 4-motion and the BMW XDrive 35i, similarly equipped. A few years ago I wouldn't haven't put the Cadillac SUV in the mix.

Today I believe - after checking out the competition - that I would put it in my garage.

RATING: 4 WHEELS AND THE SPARE (OUT OF FOUR)

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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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