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2013 Cadillac XTS luxury sedan misses its target

Consumer Reports News: June 28, 2012 04:08 PM

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It's hard to figure out exactly who the intended customer is for the Cadillac XTS. General Motors would love to win over some Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series shoppers; doing so is crucial to nurture the cutting-edge luxury performance image Cadillac wants. Based on our first drive of the XTS, the large luxury sedan isn't on target.

Cadillac had a real challenge in creating the XTS. The brand strives to move toward the German competition, but it can't ignore the hordes of shoppers who bought Cadillac's previous large front-wheel-drive sedan, the DTS. So, the XTS aims to bridge that gap.

Retiring the DTS name, and the nearly 20-year-old platform it was based on, is a start. Instead, the XTS rides on a stretched version of the same front-wheel-drive platform used for the Buick LaCrosse. Magnetic ride control, which allows for almost continuous suspension damping adjustment, and Brembo-branded front brake calipers speak to the car's performance intent.

The XTS also advances Cadillac's technology image with the advent of the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) dashboard interface system. GM's version of MyFord Touch is simpler in some ways, but it offers many of the same distractions and frustrations of that system. (We chronicled our initial complaints in "Behind the wheel with the Cadillac XTS' CUE infotainment system.") It's troubling when you consider that many of us at the test track would rather navigate the knob and screen systems from Audi and BMW rather than swipe and poke at CUE. DTS owners who are moving from their car's simple controls to the XTS's will likely be frustrated, if not testing CUE's voice recognition with swears.

First impressions are that the XTS doesn't quite balance ride and handling as well as some rivals, or as well as the Cadillac CTS. Several luxury cars, including the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, manage to have both an absorbent ride and a nimble feel that belies their size. The XTS we tried from GM lacks both their fleet footwork and ride isolation. At least there is a very spacious and well-finished cabin with surprisingly supportive, contoured front seats.

Beyond the XTS, all of this leaves us wondering. If you're a traditional domestic luxury car buyer—who just wants something big, plush, and quiet, all without fussing with an overcomplicated dashboard—what do you buy? Now that Lincoln and Cadillac have gone high-tech, maybe the most likely beneficiary is the Hyundai Azera, Genesis, or Equus. It seems odd that the Koreans now build a better "American" luxury sedan than the Americans. Similarly, it seems like this marks a perfect opening for Buick to sell their Chinese-market rear-wheel-drive Park Avenue here in the States.

We'll find out more about where the XTS fits in the market—and our Ratings—after we buy our own to test at the Consumer Reports test track.

Tom Mutchler

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