It’s been very frustrating to watch Cadillac suffer this past decade as their sedans seem bolted to showroom floors while all the other luxury brands have launched dozens of hot-selling three-row crossovers. Finally — finally! — Cadillac can compete in the car-based SUV market with a rockstar entry that combines amazing style, Euro handling, a lux cabin and the perfect size/value equation.
The XT6, ladies and gentleman, is that vehicle. Sliding in with base prices of around $50k means this machine is a cool $25k less than the shortie Escalade and a whole lot easier to drive, own and garage than that truck-based jumbo. XT6 even beat the new Escalade to the punch on this latest and truly sexy Cadillac design era — as the new Escalade debuting this week will show. Spoiler alert: the nose looks just like this stylish XT6.
Your author was fresh from a love-fest in the new Hyundai Palisade and Buick Enclave Sport when the XT6 arrived out front. We have a very thorough performance drive video as well as 70+ new photos of this gorgeous Caddy to accompany our impressions on its design, value, handling and pricing.
XT6 Performance Drive Review & Walkaround – Codename: Escalade Sport
XT6 is fresh from all sizes with numerous familiar Cadillac design elements continuing their proud tradition, like the vertical blade LEDs up front than now flip from ultrabright white to sharp amber as their turn signals. Vertical tail lights remain a staple feature as well, albeit less noticeably upgraded than the nose lighting.
The biggest news in the design is that the headlamps are slimline horizontal units forming a bit of a sharp scowl to the XT6’s facial expression. It is hard to describe but easy to love. Driving around Charleston, SC for a week we had the pleasure of seeing numerous people do double takes — and even laughed as an F-150 driver in front did one in his rear-view mirror~! People just haven’t been shocked by the sex appeal of a Cadillac design in years. Yes, the sedans like the CT6 look sharper than ever but they can’t shake the tired overall look that has dominated Caddy faces for over a decade. [The upcoming CT5 finally looks new too.]
New headlight shape and slimmer, narrower grille than before. Woop dee do, some might say.
Much ado about nothing? Perhaps. But the upgraded-LED-option headlamps on the tester are more than just a swap from vertical to horizontal. They also move to a double LED lowbeam on each side and a single LED square-ish projector in the center-most spot. It all works to create a stunningly clear view of the road ahead — making the in-gauge night vision option seem slightly silly for its big option pricetag.
Counterpoint: the Cadillac Night Vision is very handy on desolate two-lanes because the body heat of deer is so visible from nearly a half-mile away. You can see one white body shape, and usually a cluster more huddled in the bushes behind the lead stag. Ample time to brake and even warn other drivers.
Beyond the flash lighting upgrades comes a very practical (aka boxy) profile shape that really sets the XT6 apart from the ubiquitous XT5. This six or seven-seat Caddy makes clear that it is a practical machine going after the Volvo X90, BMW X7 and Audi Q7. No bad thing. Crisp details for the surfacing feel modern and timeless, while the boxed glasshouse with slight upkick behind the C-pillar add just enough youthfulness to keep your eye interested.
The tail keeps it practical with lots of global appeal in its lower reflectors, all-LED light elements and a license-plate area that mirrors the crest badge and front grille shape oh-so-subtly. It does the job of looking premium, practical and ultra modern.
Another global nod is the badging: you might notice the 400 on the right edge of the tailgate. That is a reference to the (rounded-up) metric torque numbers produced by the trusty and smooth 3.6-liter six. This is the only powerplant in the US-market launch models but a turbo four will join the fun sooner than later as a base model, just as it did in the 2020 XT5 as well.
New Sport Persona
XT6 really nails the personalization trend consumers love recently, with about five or six different grille styles and two core appearance options: the Premium / Luxury style with the bright finishes to the grille, window surrounds and other details.
The Sport trim dips all that stuff in gloss black and looks amazingly chic. It would be the easy favorite to these eyes for how contemporary and upscale that dark visage is on the road, but style is subjective and Caddy still honors its legacy of chrome with the standard trim. It’s not actually chrome though – but up close you can see is a bit more like oiled pewter and is called Galvano in Caddy-speak.
The cabin of XT6 impressed in three core areas: quality of luxury materials & assembly, cool and easy-to-use tech and right-sized accommodations with easy back seat utilization.
Wish the steering wheel were a bit thicker but besides that the XT6 is an A+ experience inside.
Materials & Assembly
From the hushed thump of the doors to the firm and supportive seats, the cabin of the XT6 feels deeply European in all the best ways. The Platinum trim really helped here with its softer leathers, alcantara headliner and real carbon-fiber accent details. Even the basic bones are really impressive, however, for the seat support and overall refinement.
Cadillac has standard Android Auto and CarPlay these days and once you’ve started using these things, you realize that a knob/toggle controller is easier and quicker than touchscreen controls for everything. As such, Caddy introduced a new dial/toggle that falls right to hand and a dedicated volume control knob also in the center console. The feel of the ‘jog’ joystick functionality is not quite perfect but it is still a dream versus previous Cue systems. The volume knob falls right to hand and after a week in this we kept looking for it here in other cars!
The video rear-view mirror is also particularly high-res and able to be used all the time — even at night and in the rain. It just makes visibility from all sides out back absolutely flawless, even with a full load of passengers or cargo in the trunk up to the roof.
Great seats and layout:
Standard six-pot seating is twin buckets for all three rows and the second row is nearly as comfy and supportive as the front row. The second row of XT6 is even roomier than the Enclave, which is impressive indeed for a vehicle that is a half-foot shorter overall.
The entertainment and climate controls are also very high-class and functional in the Cadillac.
The third row is much tighter than the three-across wayback of the Buick but there is still acceptable legroom for adults if you slide the captains chairs in front forward a bit. Entry and exit access is quite easy and visibility back there is good. USB ports and roof air vents on each side for the third row are nice touches as well.
Cargo space is better than expected with all seats up thanks to a deep well below the floor. The power operation to drop the seats makes it easy and there’s acres of space with the third row tucked away.
XT6 is a front-drive vehicle by default but this AWD is fully automatic, with an AWD lock button that is a must-push when you also select the firmer dampers of sport mode.
With AWD engaged the XT6 is perfectly balanced and handles like the best German megabuck SUVs out there. Flawless tracking, good roadholding and body roll resistance, and overall just a very surprising confidence around corners.
Notably, XT6 really feels rear-biased versus other front-drive-based machines like Palisade that ostensibly offer a lock AWD mode. XT6 has none of the squat on acceleration that Palisade and Telluride do, for example, and none of that sensation of being pulled. XT6 in normal mode does have fairly pronounced torque steer, though.
XT6 brings the optional dual-mode suspension with trim upgrades from base. The Sport trim has this feature as standard. What is slightly surprising is how firm the Caddy rides even in its soft mode. It is quiet a bit firmer than Enclave, for example, which rides over ridges and bumps imperceptibly. XT6 has a few more sharp inputs than you might expect from this brand. The handling precision is worth the tradeoff for myself personally but you should be aware of it.
What’s This Based On?
Driving new General Motors machines sometimes feels a bit like solving a puzzle of where this or that component and platform originated.In this XT6’s case, it is so shockingly different than anything else in their fold that it spurred me to find out where all this crisp handling and sharp steering came from.
It is tempting to think of this as a rebodied Enclave, but actually the XT6 is shorter and significantly lighter and more nimble than that big smoothy.
XT6 rides on a very heavily modified and stretched version of the new five-seat GMC Acadia platform. Don’t write this off as a badge and stickers job though – the two vehicles share virtually nothing for some core crash structures and lower-body platform elements.
The things that make the XT6 drive so well are all new and exclusive to the Cadillac – things like the ultra refined and precise German steering rack and the two-mode adjustable shocks that are quite crisp even in their relaxed mode.
XT6 stickers from just above $50k and the tester was just above $65k with nearly every option. That seems like alot until you consider how much more the Audi, Mercedes and BMW 7-seaters cost. The pricing is only about $5k above XT5 on average, however, for a vehicle that is easily twice as good.
Lease deals and sales promotions make XT6 very enticing on price, but it is still quite a bit more than the most-loaded Palisades or Highlanders at $50k.
Just to make sure you can trust all this high praise for the XT6 and weren’t just super fanboys of the crest badge American icon… an upcoming XT5 review tosses cold water all over the passion we felt for this crossover. The XT5 did put the excellence of the XT6 in stark relief, however, and really makes clear what a huge leap forward XT6 is for Cadillac.
We absolutely love the XT6’s new design confidence, its chiseled new face and being the right-sized machine at the right time. So much so that we started joking calling it the Escalade Sport!
The new XT6 might not have the tall-RWD-wagon coolness of the original SRX, but it carries that vehicle’s coolness into the 2020s and beyond… as if the XT5 never even happened. Thrilled to see Cadillac on the right track. Go drive this vehicle back to back with any rival to be as impressed as I was. Just don’t forget to tap the AWD button before driving enthusiastically.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.