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OFF-ROAD TEST

Cadillac SRX





26 March 2008


A Cadillac that represents something of a bargain

Who hasn’t heard of Cadillac, the US of A’s answer to – er – Rolls-Royce? At least that’s what it was, once upon a time. It has traditionally represented the very pinnacle of American car design and now you can have it in SUV form, right here in the R of SA. We tested it

The Cadillac SRX is a soft -roader of the full-sized variety rather than a pukka SUV, and its target market rivals are the BMW X5, Lexus RX and (while it’ll cost R150 000 more) even the cheapest Merc ML.

If you’re going to break into a market from ground zero you need to have something unique to off er and arguably Caddy has that, both in terms of the badge and in its styling.

The looks are futuristic and unmistakable, and the most striking aspect is the nose with its vertical headlights – a Cadillac signature – with massive rectangular foglights directly below them. The V-shaped grille is surrounded by a generous swathe of chrome, with the intricate and unusual Cadillac badge in the centre.

The upright lights are repeated at the rear which, compared to the front, is relatively undramatic apart from an elongated high-level brake light and a massive tailgate aperture.

The Cadillac’s profile is arguably its most controversial aspect. Here you notice the large, featureless planes of the sheet metal most, and with the liberal use of heavily tinted privacy glass it looks like – to quote one tester – a cross between a hearse and a station wagon. But the roof rails act as a reminder that this is indeed an SUV.

The SRX is based on GM’s Sigma large-car platform, as designated by the “S” in the nomenclature, with the “R” for reconfigurable, and the “X” for crossover – just in case anyone was wondering.

Is it good to look at and will it attract buyers based on its fashion appeal? The Leisure Wheels jury is still out on that one, but we do agree with Cadillac on one thing: it is certainly unmistakable.

Features and equipment
★ ★ ★

Under the broad bonnet is an all-aluminium 3,6-litre, 60-degree V6, equipped with loads of efficiency-enhancing technology. It has four cams, variable timing on both inlet and exhaust, and a range of electronic controls to distribute torque and maintain traction.

Headline numbers are 190 kW at a heady 6500 r/ min and a reasonably strong 342 Nm at just 2800 r/ min – an unusually low torque peak for a V6.

There are only five rati os in the electronically controlled transmission, however, though it does have “Driver Shift Control” manual shifting, as well as electronically controlled engine braking and downhill detection with brake assist. All four wheels are driven all the ti me, and torque is distributed equally front to rear until conditions dictate otherwise.

Our test unit boasted electrically operated everything, including the tailgate, third-row seats and giant “Ultraview” sunroof. The latter turned out to be a R22 000 optional extra, pushing the “as tested” price close to R480 000, which is nonetheless still some R65 000 shy of its nearest rival.

Accommodation
★ ★ ★ ★

The angular exterior translates into a roomy cabin and there’s plenty of luggage space in the rear. In fact the interior is voluminous throughout, and it lives up to the “X” in the nomenclature by having seating that can be mixed and matched to the load.

The middle row of seats slides fore/aft and with them in their rearmost position there is excellent space in all planes for three large passengers. Travel two-up and there’s access to an armrest with integrated drink holders.

The third row of seats glides up and out of the floor – great party trick this – at the press of a butt on to reveal pews designed (like most) for a pair of very, very small people. Factor in the SRX’s low roofline and gaining access to them is an achievement in itself.

However, for any degree of comfort to be achieved the middle row needs to be slid some way forward on its runners, but position it correctly and the Caddy could conceivably carry a full load of seven humans over a long distance.

Cadillac has solved the problem of how to accommodate the luggage cover in a seven-seater by having it retract into the side of the luggage compartment rather than into a removable sleeve running across the vehicle. It is a solution that works tolerably well.

Luggage space is impressive and with the middle seats folded there is a long, fl at luggage compartment, interrupted only by the rear wheel housings, which Cadillac have managed to keep commendably small. There is a maximum of 1968 litres of luggage volume, and there’s still 238 litres available with all the seats in use.

The driver and front passenger are cocooned in a bubble of luxury, and the treatment of the various surfaces and choice of trim material is very up-market and appealing, giving credence to Cadillac’s claim that much of it is hand-made. An item that clearly isn’t, though, is the glovebox lid, which both looks and sounds plasticky.

Front seats are both heated and electrically adjusted, the driver’s memory function incorporating the mirror and pedal box position.

The climate control allows for separate temperature control for the front occupants, while those in the back can dictate the directi on and amount of cooled air, thanks to a pair of roof-mounted vents and a fan-speed control.

Cadillac’s park distance control deserves special mention, because instead of an incessant beeping as the obstacle gets closer, there’s a more subtle visual warning system that is far more effective. Another impressive feature is the Bose in-car entertainment, which pumps out solid sound to a network of eight speakers.

Nowadays six airbags is considered the minimum and that’s what you get in the Caddy. Most rivals have more. Still, the front and side items are of the dual-stage design. Three-point seat belts are provided for all seven seating positions, with the belts for the front occupants incorporated in the seat itself.

Performance
★ ★ ★

The Caddy weighs in at 2110 kilos with a full tank of “gas”, so while not the class heavyweight it certainly isn’t svelte either. Still, 190 kW goes a long way and it shift s off the line with a degree of alacrity.

In fact, bring up the revs with some left -foot braking and you can get a little wheelspin, helping to achieve a 0-100 best of just under 11 seconds. The engine revs sweetly to around 5500 r/min but gets a little breathless thereafter. Keep your boot in and it’ll only shift at 6600 – a scant 100 revs off the limiter.

Overtaking acceleration is reasonably competitive, slightly delayed downshift s (and fewer gears than most rivals) preventing it from being much better than average.

In terms of outright stopping ability the Caddy was also off the pace of premium brand soft – roaders, the ABS working overtime and the pedal effort high.

Ride/handling
★ ★ ★ ★

This was one of those vehicles where we wondered whether we should even put it through our soft -roader course at Gerotek. After all, the rainfall around mid-December had been heavy and the ground was pretty much saturated and muddy when we tested.

A look at the heavily tarmac-biased Goodyear Eagle RS-A rubber (measuring 255/60 at the back and 235/65 in front) convinced us they’d clog up at the first hint of red mud, while that low-slung front spoiler looked especially vulnerable.

We needn’t have worried, thanks to Cadillac’s StabiliTrak traction control, which made up for many limitations. We managed to claw our way up and over more than one slimy incline and inched through a muddy river bed with the traction control not only happy but capable of effectively utilising what grip it could find.

And we didn’t rip anything off the underside, despite a catalytic converter that hangs low exactly halfway between the axles, and a spoiler that wouldn’t look out of place on a WesBank V8 racer.

On tar it behaved well, steering quickly and precisely, though the tyres seemed to lack outright grip. The ride is plush, only occasionally proving incapable of absorbing impact with potholes and speedhumps, the rear axle also occasionally being unable to maintain a fi rm hand over pimply tarmac or lateral undulations. However, even when unsettled by an obstacle, it quickly returns the body to an even keel.

Verdict
★ ★ ★

Is the Cadillac a serious alternative to the establishment? Well, it makes the same kind of sense as an X5 or a Lexus and is a whole lot more affordable than the former, and seats two more than the latter.

It also has more novelty value than either, yet still proves to be reasonably competitive in terms of ride and handling on dry tarmac (if not braking), and provided us with some pleasant surprises in terms of its ability off road.

A Cadillac that represents something of a bargain? You betcha’!