2012 Cadillac SRX Ecellent Crossover

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The 2012 SRX has confident moves; now it needs a top-shelf cabin.

A FEW DAYS and many miles in Cadillac’s 2012 SRX crossover wagon led to some bifurcated opinions.

A long and boring ride on a traffic-choked interstate left me grumpy about the stiff ride and noisy, abrupt downshifts when coping with the rolling roadblocks who won’t vacate the left lane.

A few days later, however, returning via mostly secondary roads winding through mountain country, the SRX magically morphed into a willing accomplice.

The secure ride provided great control as well as pothole absorption, and always had the vehicle pointing in the right direction at the right attitude. And this time the V-6 engine’s 308 horsepower and the 6-speed automatic transmission meshed well.

As did the full-time all-wheel drive and the limited-slip differential, which may have helped in the occasional stretch of pavement covered in wet leaves or early snow.

There’s a lot here for the enthusiast to like, even beyond the new, much more flexible motor and the no-nonsense suspension: The driver’s chair is positively Germanic in its range of movements and supportive comfort, and not only the steering wheel but also the pedals are adjustable.

The variable-rate steering is firm and direct; the brakes need some commitment from the driver, and then they respond with serious bite. The wipers are fitted with proper blades—fully rubberized, long and clingy—and the windshield and headlamp washers are effective. (Like high-capacity defrosting, this is a big deal in regions that feature cold temperatures and/or plentiful precipitation.)

I am a big fan of xenon headlamps, too—especially if I’m behind them, not looking into them—and these swivel with the front wheels to peer around corners. The satnav is easy to program and the spoken directions are clear.

Outward visibility is excellent. There are obstacle sensors in the front bumper as well as the rear, and a backup camera.

Switches in the wheel let us fiddle with the stereo and the cruise control without reaching for the dashboard. The power tailgate and the sliding cargo rack in the back are welcome, and on an icy morning the steering-wheel heater is a bonus. Even the electronic key got some thought—matte black and sleek, it doesn’t cause an unsightly pocket bulge.

The captive audience, I mean passengers, are also well treated. Space is ample for four adults, the seats are comfy for all, and the split zones offer personal heat and air conditioning. A $1,395 entertainment option provides dual DVD screens for the people in the back.Like Cadillac’s vaunted sister ships, the CTS sedan and wagon, the SRX was styled with a razor blade, a straightedge and plenty of jaw-jutting attitude.

Back in ’04, when the SRX debuted, the look was meant to underscore that Cadillac no longer wished to be the Official Car of America’s Elderly. Since then, the styling has gotten even edgier (and more confident) as Cadillac smoothed out the mechanical flaws in earlier versions of the SRX.

Now, to everyone’s surprise, it has climbed to second in sales in the luxury crossover market, behind only the best-selling Lexus, the RX. This is especially remarkable if we think about how different these two vehicles are.

The Lexus is genuinely luxurious and oozes quality, but it drives like, well, like Cadillacs used to back in the land-yacht era—while the aggressive SRX behaves more like a BMW sport-ute. It still needs a makeover inside, though. No one in Detroit, even at Cadillac, yet “gets” luxury interiors.

The shapes and lines here are generally decent, but the materials and feel are much more Walmart than Bang & Olufsen. Class up the cabin, and the SRX should do well even in decadent Europe—especially if it can keep its price edge. At about $48,000, an upmarket AWD SRX is five to ten grand less than a comparable Lexus or BMW.

And then let’s talk about a dual-clutch, 8-speed transmission and a high-efficiency, high-torque diesel option. The best should always get better!