Reviews

Review: 2010 Cadillac SRX


Up Front

In recent months, the newly redesigned Cadillac crossover vehicle, the SRX, has emerged as one of General Motors' hottest products and Cadillac's best-selling model, ahead of both the Escalade and the CTS. SRX sales more than tripled in the fourth quarter of 2009, to 11,467. The only other GM model with comparable growth is the redesigned Chevy Equinox, a small, fuel-efficient SUV that saw its sales nearly triple, to 30,166, during the same period.

I'm not a huge fan of the new SRX. I prefer the new Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, a sporty European-style wagon that's quicker, handles better, and starts at $40,655 with rear-wheel drive. The CTS Sport Wagon sits lower to the ground than a crossover, yet still has six inches of ground clearance, only an inch less that the SRX. However, if you're into crossover vehicles (as so many shoppers are these days), the 2010 SRX has a lot to recommend it.

In redesigning the model, GM seems to have targeted Toyota's (TM) popular (and newly redesigned) Lexus RX 350. The base SRX is cheaper than the Lexus while matching it in many other respects. It's also boldly styled and unabashedly American-looking while the Lexus' styling is bland. You'll probably either love the way this Caddie looks or hate it. I'm in the latter category: I find the SRX's Escalade-like front end, bulked-up front fenders, and fin-like taillights pretty ugly.

The new SRX is dramatically different from the original SRX, which was sold from 2004 to 2009. The previous model was based on the CTS and had rear-wheel drive, as well as an available third row of seats and V8 engine. The 2010 SRX is smaller and more fuel efficient, with front-wheel drive, only two rows of seats, and a maximum seating capacity of five.

Both available engines in the new SRX are smaller yet more sophisticated than the power plants in the previous SRX. The base engine is a direct-injection 3.0-liter, 265-horsepower V6 with variable valve timing that's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode. The alternative is a turbocharged 2.8-liter, 300-horsepower V6 paired with a sportier six-speed automatic that also has a driver-selectable "eco mode" that saves fuel.

With front-wheel drive, the base-model SRX gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway, matching a comparable Lexus RX 350. The SRX's mileage drops to 17/23 with all-wheel drive (slightly less than the AWD RX 350), and to 15/21 with the turbocharged engine (which is only available with AWD).

The base-model SRX starts at just $34,155 and only comes with front-wheel drive and has virtually no options. That's significantly lower than the $38,500 base price of a front-wheel-drive RX 350, yet the entry-level SRX comes well-loaded with standard equipment that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, an eight-speaker Bose sound system, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a leather-wrapped tilting and telescoping steering wheel, leatherette upholstery, a USB jack, and satellite radio.

The somewhat fancier SRX Luxury trim line starts at $40,230 with all-wheel drive, about the same as the most basic AWD Lexus RX 350, which starts at $39,990. A top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive SRX Turbo Premium starts at $52,185. The pricier SRX trim lines are heavily loaded with standard features such as heated seats, a power-adjustable rear hatch, and a hard-drive-based navigation system with backup camera. The main option is a $1,295 rear-seat entertainment system.

The 2010 SRX doesn't yet have government crash test ratings but earned the top "good" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in front offset crashes. Standard features include OnStar, stability and traction control, front and rear head curtain airbags, and front seat-mounted torso airbags.

Behind the Wheel

When it comes to performance, there are two different SRXs. With the base engine, the SRX is far from sporty, accelerating from zero to 60 in a relatively slow 8.5 seconds. That's a full second slower than the lighter Lexus RX 350.

In the all-wheel-drive SRX with the less powerful engine that I test-drove, the steering and brakes were quite responsive, but the ride was boaty—a bit like a traditional Cadillac sedan only with a higher center of gravity. There was a significant throttle lag after I punched the gas and the transmission ran way out in each gear when I kept the pedal on the floor. In short, the less expensive versions of the SRX are mainly for shoppers who put a priority on price and comfortable day-to-day driving.

If performance is your priority, you have to pay up for the turbocharged engine, which pushes the SRX into the $50,000-plus price range. With that engine, the SRX matches the Lexus' 7.5-second zero-to-60 performance, though rivals such as Daimler's (DAI) Mercedes GLK350 are significantly quicker. In addition to a sportier transmission, the top-of-the-line Premium and Performance SRXs with the more powerful engine come with a sport-tuned suspension with a continuously variable damping system. The AWD system also automatically shifts power to the outside wheels during hard cornering, which improves handling.

A big selling point of the new SRX is its classy interior. The dash is attractive, and in higher trim levels there's lots of leather, as well as brushed aluminum trim and wood inlays that curve around to integrate with the door trim. The center console is similar to the one in the CTS, with a pop-up navigation screen and controls bunched in a central panel. A nice touch is the way the shift lever is nestled in a pouch of high-quality, stitched soft leather. Another nice touch: The Cadillac logo is etched in script into the doorsills and lights up in the dark.

The comfortable, power-adjustable front seats are well-cushioned and seem more like RV seats than car seats. Head and leg-room are adequate for average-size adults, both in front and back. I love the enormous panoramic sunroof that comes standard on the fancier SRXs. Open its cover at night and, even with the sunroof closed, you feel like you're riding under the stars in an open sleigh.

The SRX has 29.2 cu. ft. of space behind the rear seats and 61.2 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded down, which is adequate but lags the Lexus RX 350 and Ford's (F) Lincoln MKX. The rear seats fold down in a 60/40 pattern and there's a small pass-through for stowing long objects when the rear seats are up. There's a handy tie-down system in the cargo area.

Buy It or Bag It?

At just over 34 grand, the base SRX is a real bargain, but you have to be willing to settle for front-wheel drive and no options. Fancier versions of the SRX are less competitive. All-wheel drive raises the price to 40 grand or more, and the more powerful engine to the 50 grand-plus range.

The luxury crossover market is crowded with attractive new models near or below those price points. Models to check out include the Lexus RX 350, which sells for 43 grand on average, according to the Power Information Network (PIN) and the new but somewhat smaller Audi Q5 (44 grand on average, according to PIN). If price is your main concern, the SRX's closest rivals are the Lincoln MKX ($40,556) and Mercedes GLK350 ($40,445). With all-wheel drive the Lexus, in particular, is as quick and more fuel-efficient than the turbocharged SRX, and it's less expensive.

Click here to see more of the 2010 Cadillac SRX.
Thane Peterson reviews cars for Businessweek.com.

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