Cadillac SRX proves to be a car for all seasons

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The first time we experienced the Cadillac SRX was in the dead of winter. It was an ice event, the kind of winter storm that is inherent to eastern North Carolina.

This is an area of the East Coast where about once every winter snow turns to rain as it falls through a warm layer of the lower atmosphere and then into ice as it enters sub-freezing temperatures near the ground. What you have are upper 20s to low 30s and if the rain is heavy enough, a blanket of ice on the roads, trees and power lines; brutal, beautiful and dangerous all at once. This particular icing kept schools, government offices and banks closed and many people, mercifully, off the roads for several days.

Perhaps those are the weather conditions that the all-new 2004 Cadillac SRX sport utility vehicle is best suited for.

Combine an 8.2-inch ground clearance with a full-time all-wheel drive system, which features a 50-50 torque split, traction control and General Motors’ StabiliTrak stability control system together with brake assist and you have a true winter warrior in the SRX.

We spent two icy days challenging the treacherous landscape, running some tests, doing errands, and generally enjoying ourselves knowing that we had accomplished far more than we would have in a lesser-equipped vehicle.

And the winter driving was done in the luxury of a quality leather-and-wood-adorned interior with heated front seats and with a great-sounding Bose stereo system to add background music.

With four wheels providing motivation, its traction and stability control systems kept the SRX moving on some icy hills, never faltering with anything close to wheel spin.

The only time in two days that we allowed the rear to waggle out came on a corner with a cell phone in one ear attempting to get directions. It is something we occasionally do but we don’t recommend it. Making hands-free cell phones mandatory might not be a bad idea. Nevertheless we easily and quickly got the SRX back in line and heading in the proper direction.

The SRX is Cadillac’s first car-based or crossover sport utility, more like a high sport wagon. A luxury version of what we see as the new-age station wagon. And it is a job well done. A platform mate of the well-received CTS sedan and the soon-to-be STS, the SRX is not the type of vehicle suited for heavy off-road work, but excellent for the bad weather situations that can crop up in many parts of the country.

Subsequent tests in the spring and this summer proved the SRX was equally adept on dry roads, and while not as challenging as our winter experience the vehicle proved to handle quite nicely under a variety of road conditions making it a car for all seasons.

The SRX has an excellent driving position, and from behind the wheel it’s easy to be washed over with the feeling you are in a large car. Its car-like manners including a friendly suspension shine through in all driving situations.

Cadillac offers the SRX with two engine options and in either 2-wheel or all-wheel drive configurations.

We drove the 260-horsepower aluminum V-6 with 252 pound-feet of torque, which we found potent enough for all situations. It’s a pleasant surprise to find the base engine of a nameplate, even a luxury nameplate that is so exemplary that we see no need for the bigger engine, in this case a Northstar V-8 that admittedly will give you bragging rights to one of the most powerful sport utility vehicles in the neighborhood.

The V-6 offered smile-inducing performance at all times, whether empty or fully loaded.  And as gas prices escalate, its 16 city and 22 highway mileage averages look good, too.

The Northstar-derived V-8 that we drove on some endless California highways generates 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque and provides neck-snapping power in the 6.5-second range on a 0 to 60 run. That puts it in the same class with the Infiniti FX45, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg V-8 and BMW X5 4.4i.

The biggest difference in the two models is cost. The V-6 in 2-wheel drive guise begins at $38,690. The V-8 starts at $46,595.

Our test V-6 test vehicle carried a whopping $10,280 in options including the all-wheel drive system and a $3,095 luxury package. The 10-grand did not include a navigation system.

But even in base 2-wheel drive, the SRX is relatively loaded with good stuff including traction control and the stability control system, antilock brakes, front row side-impact airbags and second-row head-curtain airbags, leather seating, dual climate control, power driver’s seat and a stereo system with a 6-CD in-dash changer.

SRX follows the new Cadillac styling with its sharp bodylines, vertical headlamps and tall razor-sharp taillights. We found most people liked it including two or three who were originally cool to the cutting-edge Caddy design trend, but have warmed up to it over time. Even we’ve grown to like it.

The dashboard is laid out much like the CTS sedan with the center stack canted toward the driver. Switchgear is user friendly, but there seemed to be too much empty space between the stereo/information system readout and the climate controls.

You get the feeling Cadillac engineers designed the stack for the navigation system, and the non-navigation editions were an afterthought. That being said, the interior package is attractive if a bit austere. The seats are excellent and rear-seat passengers have adequate leg and hip-room.

One nice feature is something Cadillac calls Ultraview, a giant moonroof that extends the length of the passenger area letting in five square feet of open air. It was a $1,800 option on the test vehicle. Another noteworthy feature is a DVD screen that flips up from the back of the center console instead of folding out of the ceiling as in most vehicles. Two things of note here – the viewing position is better and it does not interfere with the driver’s rearview mirror.

Storage space in the rear, measuring 32 cubic feet, is excellent.

A third-row power seat was a $1,000 option on the test vehicle. If you must routinely carry a couple of children, the seat will come in handy. It’s not a fit place for an adult, however. And if you opt for the seat, you will lose a neat in-floor storage compartment.

The luxury package on our test vehicle included rear air conditioner, upgraded stereo, tire-pressure monitor, eight-way power driver’s seat, power adjustable pedals and Homelink garage door opener.

Cadillac is rapidly transforming itself back into a luxury brand capable of competing with the upstarts from across the Atlantic and Pacific and the SRX is yet another shining example that the General Motors’ premium brand is headed in the right direction.