2013 Cadillac XTS Needs a New Name

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With a bit of ironing out, the handsome XTS could become a proper Cadillac flagship.
With a bit of ironing out, the handsome XTS could become a proper Cadillac flagship.

Cadillac has a penchant for inscrutable model names—SRX, CTS, ATS, XTS and, soon, ELR—leaves us confused. What happened to traditional American car names, like Impala, Riviera, Mustang, Seville?

I, for one, would be happy to call this car a . . . Milano! No, that’s a cookie. Right, let’s call it the Argonaut. The Wensleydale.

Well, maybe not. But this new sedan is making a real stab at elegance, and “XTS” just doesn’t deliver the message.

Look at those lines; someone bought the stylists at Cadillac their first French curve! From every angle, the car is sculpted, almost sensuous, yet masculine and commanding.

It’s only four inches shorter than an S-class Merc, but sleeker and much less bulky. (It seems even smaller from the cockpit because the hood drops away out of sight.)

In the modern automotive idiom, the XTS has a 304-horsepower engine, but it’s a six, not a V-8. Front- or all-wheel-drive is available. The automatic transmission has six speeds and a sport setting, and also can be shifted manually with paddles behind the wheel. The steering is light but precise.

The suspension is supervised by Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control, which adjusts the shock absorbers near-instantaneously to varying pavement conditions. It transmits plenty of road feel to the driver—sometimes a bit too much. The front brakes are from Brembo, the Italian company that supplies most of the world’s supercar stoppers.

The cabin, especially in this $62,000 Platinum AWD edition, is a fine place to be. With each new car, Cadillac’s interiors inch closer to good taste and real luxury. Design-wise, there are only two goofs here: The badge on the grille is way too big—it looks like a bolo tie on a tuxedo—and the electronic instrumentation is better suited to a Vegas pinball machine.

The XTS is stuffed with active and passive safety features—make a wrong move or get too close to anything larger than a chipmunk, and something flashes or beeps or even vibrates one or another of your butt cheeks. It’s like a particularly clumsy pickpocket going for your wallet with a joy buzzer in his hand.

In some areas, Cadillac is trying too hard. For example, the new CUE—Cadillac User Experience—touchscreen and the various command systems in this car are capable of many tasks, but I had to get out the manual just to reset the odometer. Sure, owners will get used to these things, but Cadillac is being too clever by half here. (To be fair, almost every luxury carmaker is guilty of this to some degree. It took BMW years to civilize its notorious iDrive controller.)

Cadillac also has been trying hard with the ride, handling and performance of its cars. With the CTS and ATS and the SRX crossover, it seems Cadillac wants to out-German the Germans, even going so far as to brag about their lap times at the Nürburgring racetrack. After all the ill-handling, poorly made land yachts of yore, this is an enormous improvement, but not all Cadillacs need to be so hard-edged.

A flagship Cadillac should be a refined, large sedan capable of purring down 5th Avenue in high style and then blitzing serenely from Manhattan to Boston in two hours flat—with the CEO and the chairman of the board swapping grandchildren photos on their iPads in the back. The American Rolls-Royce, as it were, but at a quarter to one-fifth the price.

The XTS comes closer to this mark than any other present Cadillac save possibly the giant Escalade—but that’s an old-school SUV long overdue for a remake. So let’s tune the XTS’s ride for a little more suppleness and add a bit more isolation; chip the engine for at least another 50 pounds of torque; swap this transmission for one of the new super-smooth, highly responsive 8-speed boxes; and tone down the digital readouts. While you’re at it, Cadillac, how about a stretch “L” model with another six inches of leg room in the back? Oh, and find a proper name.

The XTS is a good start. Now let’s finish the job—even if the price climbs by a few grand. Nobody wants a fake Mercedes-Benz; we want a real Cadillac!