Review: 2013 Cadillac XTS4 Premium

Remember when Cadillacs rode on bespoke platforms with Cadillac-exclusive engines and set the benchmark for luxury cars? Yeah, neither do I, mainly because I was born just one year before the (gasp) Nova-based Seville made its 1976 debut. While the CTS is the only vehicle that rides on its Sigma rear wheel drive-based platform, and the new ATS sedan rides on a bespoke platform, that’s not the case for this XTS. This big boy, the closest thing to a “traditional buyer’s” Cadillac in execution, rides on the same platform as the Chevrolet Impala. And the Malibu. And the Buick Regal and LaCrosse.

That being said, the Epsilon II platform is perfectly competent as a comfort-mobile. The real constraint in using a smaller, non-exclusive platform for the XTS is that the car’s creators fitted a giant body onto a not-so-giant platform. There’s plenty of front-to-back interior room (though it’s a bit narrow for a large car) and the trunk is large, but the proportions are all kinds of wrong. In particular, the XTS’s wheelbase is probably a foot shorter than it should be. The result is a nearly-cartoonish degree of rear overhang that was needed so the car would have a competitively-sized trunk.

Inside, the story is a bit better. Our tester was an XTS Premium, which is the mid-grade model (the Platinum is the top-of-the-line XTS), and, with the exception of the XTS Platinum, it’s the finest interior installed in a Cadillac in decades. Nothing is hard to the touch, and nearly every touchable surface is covered in convincingly-made imitation leather. Coloring in my raven black tester worked, too: caramel with jet black.

Despite the installation of ridiculously-obsolete navigation and entertainment systems in the Escalade and CTS, Cadillac has attempted to establish an infotainment leadership position with CUE (Cadillac User Experience), its new capacitive touchscreen navigation (with capacitive sensors on the center stack controls as well). First, the good news: it looks great (simple layout, fairly easy to learn, nice high resolution graphics). The haptic feedback (where every “button” press is confirmed by a silent, brief under-screen vibration) is a nice touch as well. But the fatal flaw is that it’s too slow. Upon starting the car, a 30-second wait for the navigation map to appear is unacceptable. There were also several instances of delayed responses to button presses. Pinch-to-zoom (as you’d do on an iPad’s Maps application) is possible, but there’s a brutal lag. BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI with Google Earth both trump CUE, but at a minimum, CUE puts Cadillac back into the game.

The front thrones are very comfortable, and the adjustable thigh support made my long legs happy. The lumbar support is adjustable up and down, fore and aft, and helped keep my back muscles content during several very long jaunts behind the wheel. Altogether, I put about 1,000 miles on this XTS tester during my week with the car, driving it from New York to Boston, then back to Pennsylvania, only to use it for my daily commute for a few days, then capping its stay with some family-schlepping time.

Rear seat room is also very good. I’m 6’4″, and had no problem “sitting behind myself” when the driver’s seat was adjusted to my liking. There are capacitive touchscreen climate control buttons at the rear of the center console for rear-seat passengers to adjust the temperature to their desired comfort level, which I thought was a nice touch.

In terms of size, think of the XTS as kind of a long 5 Series. Width-related dimensions (hip room, shoulder room) are equivalent to the 5 Series, but the XTS is 8.9 inches longer than BMW’s middle child (yet the Cadillac rides on a wheelbase that’s 5.2 inches shorter). Yes, that means 14.1 inches of extra overhang on the Cadillac – most of which you’ll see in the trunk, but there’s also plenty forward of the front axles. The Cadillac delivers about 4 inches more front legroom and about 4 inches more rear legroom within that shorter wheelbase.

But since cars are not sold “by the pound,” it’s important to note that there’s a cost to the BMW-exclusive platform not shared with (for instance) a Toyota or Honda: the 535i xDrive costs over $12,000 more than the XTS4 when adjusting prices to account for equipment differences (say our friends at Oh, and that’s an XTS Platinum, not the Premium that we tested here, so expect an even larger price gap against the 535 vs. the XTS4 Premium. Another potential competitor is the Infiniti M, which is a bit smaller than the XTS (it has 3.8 fewer inches of rear-seat legroom than the XTS does and 3.1 fewer cubic feet of trunk space), but TrueDelta reports that when accounting for equipment differences, the XTS is just $2,320 cheaper than an AWD M37x. Plus, Infiniti offers V8 and hybrid options for those who are so inclined, vs. the Cadillac’s one-powertrain-fits-all approach.

The Lincoln MKS is probably the XTS’s closest competitor. The MKS (non-EcoBoost) enjoys about a $3,350 adjusted price advantage against the XTS. It’s also remarkably close to the Cadillac in almost every dimension, with the XTS taking the legroom crown for both front and rear. Of course, Lincoln offers an MKS EcoBoost to up the power quotient from 304 to 365 horsepower, while the XTS has only a single engine choice.

So the MKS has a price advantage and an (optional) power advantage. Both cars have above-average interior materials and upscale designs. I’d give the interior edge to the XTS, though – its full-LCD instrument panel (vs. the MKS’s physical center speedometer and small TFT displays on either side of it) gives the Cadillac more flexibility and a more modern look. The XTS’s CUE infotainment system works better than MyLincoln Touch does, thanks to its faster response times and haptic feedback instead of audible feedback. But the XTS also delivers a superior on-road experience.

Nobody will confuse the XTS for an ATS or CTS (and certainly not a CTS-V) or even cross-shop them, but its brake pedal feel is excellent, with good firmness and surefooted stopping (no doubt, the standard front Brembos help quite a bit). The 304-horsepower 3.6 liter V6 feels adequate; it’s far from slow, yet you don’t get the sensation of smugness that there is just an overwhelming reserve of power under your right foot that you’ll probably never need, but is there just in case. The engine in this application sounds a bit more subdued and refined than its relative as installed in the CTS, yet it’s not the quietest V6 you can find.

Cadillac engineers did a nice job of blending ride quality with some semblance of handling competence. This is not a sport sedan, and I’m not reviewing it as one. Yet the XTS’s magnetorheological shocks are nearly-magical devices that allow suspension compliance while still responding quickly to road conditions. The steering is quick for a luxo-barge (2.6 turns lock-to-lock) and a bit light for my taste, but at least it transmits some road feel to the driver’s hands.

I was a bit disappointed that the transmission offers no “sport” mode as does the CTS. Instead, the XTS gives you small paddles behind the steering wheel. While it’s nice to be able to change gears from behind the wheel, you’re not driving a performance car, so be realistic about your gear-changing expectations.

As noted earlier, I put a lot of miles on this XTS. It really makes a magnificent road trip car; it’s quiet, comfortable, and fairly quick when called upon. Infotainment choices abound, and it returned decent fuel economy (the EPA says 17/26/20 city/highway/combined; I saw about 22 in mostly highway driving.

We talked in general pricing terms compared to other cars earlier, but there are the specifics. The XTS AWD Premium Collection starts at $55,810. Our tester had the $1,450 ultraview sunroof (similar to the one in the CTS; you can’t get a large sunroof in the ATS) and $920 destination charge for a total vehicle MRSP of $58,180. That’s a lot of scratch for a Cadillac sedan, but there literally are no other options available in the Premium aside from an engine block heater. Stepping up to the Platinum adds $4,575. Platinum adds rear-window sunshades, a standard ultraview sunroof, 20″ wheels (vs. the Premium’s 19 inchers), premium finish on the grille and brake calipers, real leather wrap on the dash and door panels, and a few other niceties. You’re definitely getting more stuff with the Platinum, but it’s also definitely a profit generator for General Motors.

If I were looking for a comfortable cruiser, and I was older (I’m 37; definitely well below the targeted buyer age for this car) but didn’t want to spend the money for BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz maintenance and repair costs, I’d give serious consideration to the XTS. Cadillac wisely kept the primary controls (steering, braking, shifting) as “normal” as possible, given the car’s buyer demographics, but I question whether older owners who don’t regularly use smartphones or tablet computers will have too steep of a learning curve with CUE. At the end of the day, the XTS is a credible replacement for the XTS and STS, and it shows what Cadillac is capable of in its interior design. Now, let’s see what they can do with the next-generation Escalade and CTS now that the bar has been raised.

Cadillac provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Techshake's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. Chris it’s a 2013 model year not 2012 as you have posted we were just at our local dealer looking at them. Great article by the way

  2. @Chris – thanks for the catch!

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