Cadillac SRX — Performance catches up to design

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Sales of the first generation Cadillac SRX, designed to compete against the hot-selling Lexus RX as well as models from European brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo and BMW, hit 30,000 only once, in its inaugural year of 2004, before falling into also-ran status.
The mid-sized luxury crossover RX, with sales nearing 100,000 annually during the first decade of the 21st Century, had nothing to fear from the Cadillac in terms of sales supremacy. 
The original SRX was a well-engineered vehicle, but the styling was ungainly, looking too much like a station wagon, not doing a good job carrying Cadillac’s edgy design theme.
Lexus is still the luxury crossover sales leader, but with a complete redesign of the SRX for the 2010 model year — now based on the Chevy Equinox platform which meant taking it from rear-drive to front drive and eliminating the third-row seat — the Cadillac vaulted from ninth in the segment in 2009 to second in 2010.
The new-found success can be attributed in large part to stunning design inside and out. It could be argued with some conviction that the SRX is the best looking luxury crossover in the world.
To put some validation to this assertion, the SRX jumped from 20,000 sales in 2009 to a whopping 51,000 in 2010. Through 10 months of 2011, the SRX is on track to hit about 54,000 units.
But the current-generation SRX has its shortcomings. And Cadillac has listened to its customers and its critics and has created a more appealing vehicle for 2012. The biggest and most welcome change is the elimination of the two engine choices. Gone is the underwhelming 3.0-liter V-6 and the expensive 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6, both replaced by a 3.6-liter 308-horsepower V-6, the same engine found in the CTS car lineup.
The 3.0-liter engine, making 265 horsepower, struggled to move the heavy SRX in a manner befitting a luxury crossover. And the 300-horsepower turbocharged engine, a two grand upgrade, had to be revved up to 5,000 rpm to take advantage of its rather limited 223 pound-feet of torque.
After hundreds of miles in a top-line 2012 SRX AWD Premium Collection trim level and a front drive Performance Collection vehicle, we were rewarded by the vast improvement of the new engine over the engines it replaces
Unfortunately the SRX still carries a lot of baggage at 4,277 pounds, but the new engine is up to the task of moving the bulk in an acceptable manner with a 0 to 60 time in the neighborhood of 7 seconds.
What suffers, perhaps, is gas mileage, which is rated at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway in two-wheel drive mode and 16/23 in all-wheel drive. There is an upside — the SRX can run just fine on regular gas. Most crossovers in this segment require premium fuel.
Cadillac has also re-calibrated the six-speed automatic transmission for smoother more predictable shifts. An Eco mode was added and Cadillac maintains by having it engaged drivers will derive one more mile to the gallon; the cost is a reduction in performance because of early upshifts and resistance to downshifts. To enjoy the drive Eco is best left unused and worth the one mile per gallon lost.
Overall we found the newest SRX a very attractive driving partner with confident handling and a composed and quiet ride. We found the driving position good, the front seats comfortable, the switchgear easy to use and the gauges easy to read. 
Two back seat passengers can find excellent stretch-out room, and our Premium edition came with such goodies as heated rear seats, climate controls, rear-seat audio controls and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with dual seatback-mounted screens. So outfitted, the SRX provides long-distance travel at its best.
But you will not have to pay the top-trim bucks to enjoy the interior surroundings with their striking styling, high-end materials and quality fit and finish. Those things come standard and it pushes the Cadillac to the top of the mid-sized luxury crossover class.
Rear entertainment can be purchased as a standalone option for $1,395, and navigation and an upgraded 5.1 surround sound audio can be purchased as a $2,395 option on all trim levels expect the base.
We like the large satellite radio readout in the pop-up navigation screen, as well as the backup camera. And if navigation is not used the screen can be lowered to show just the radio readouts. Nice touch.
When hauling cargo is the order of the day, the SRX is not as spacious as some competitors, but cargo space with seats folded is decent at 61 cubic feet. Luggage capacity behind the rear seats is nearly 30 cubic feet, and the seatbacks can be folded down in a 60/40 configuration.
The base model — which starts at $36,060 including destination charge — comes with a high level of standard equipment. Included on all models are 18-inch alloy wheels, an electronic parking brake, leatherette upholstery, two-zone climate control, eight-way power driver's seat, and an eight-speaker Bose sound system.
The other three trim levels are Luxury ($40,590), Performance ($44,405) and Premium ($46,850).
Luxury adds several features including a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and power liftgate. And the Luxury trim allows for the ala carte options. Performance gets a 10-speaker surround sound system and an Ebony accent interior trim among other items.
Standard safety is also noteworthy and includes antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, side-curtain airbags and the OnStar satellite tracking system. In crash testing, the SRX got a top rating of “Good” in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
If towing is a weekend pursuit, the SRX is rated at 3,500 pounds.
After driving the newest SRX with the stronger engine and suspension and interior refinements, we believe the vehicle’s excellent sales results from 2010 and 2011 are very likely to be even better in 2012.
The SRX is a classy, tasteful vehicle that would be easy to live with and easy to enjoy.
Base price, $36,060; as driven, $51,550
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 308 @ 6,800 rpm
Torque: 265 foot-pounds @ 2,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.5 inches
Length: 190.3
Curb weight: 4,277 pounds
Turning circle: 40.3 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Cargo capacity: 61 cubic feet
Luggage capacity: 29.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 23 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lexus RX 350, BMW X5, Lincoln MKX
The Good:
• Eye-catching styling inside and out
• New energetic V-6 engine
• Excellent road manners
The Bad:
• No options available on base model
The Ugly:
• Cargo capacity not up to many competitors