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The 2004 Cadillac SRX is as useful as your mother's station wagon or sport-utility vehicle, but it sure doesn't look or drive like your mother's car. The SRX sports futuristic styling that stands out in a sea of boxy sport-utilities and minivans that fill school parking lots. And it drives more like a European sports sedan than it does a minivan or sport utility.
Still, the SRX, which goes head-to-head the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, is strictly for affluent families. It starts at about $39,000, but it can be loaded up with a host of available features so that it closes in on the $60,000 mark.
We like the stable yet responsive handling and smooth, extremely quiet ride. The V8 versions offer smooth, confident power, while the all-wheel-drive models are among the best-handling vehicles in the class on snow and ice. The edgy, angular styling is distinctive and the interior is stylish, comfortable and practical, though not warm and inviting.
The Cadillac SRX rides on the same Sigma global architecture used for the CTS and the upcoming 2005 STS, which replaces the Seville. It is an outstanding architecture in terms of structural rigidity, which gives it stable yet responsive handling. The SRX delivered a smooth, extremely quiet ride, along with spirited handling on highways and twisty mountain curves of Arizona.
Its next-generation Northstar 4.6-liter V8 delivers plenty of power, rated at 315 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet of torque. Cadillac engineers put 0-60 mile per hour acceleration at 6.2 seconds for the V8 rear-drive model and 6.9 for the heavier all-wheel-drive version. The SRX V8 we drove through the mountains of Arizona delivered smooth, confident power. It offers a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.
For 2004, the SRX will also be available with a new 3.6-liter V6 that makes 260 hp and 252 lbs.-ft. of torque. We have not tested the V6 model, but Cadillac engineers say the V6 versions will be capable of 0-60 mph acceleration in the low 7-second range.
Both engines come with five-speed automatic transmissions, though different ones. Both use electronics for engine braking and brake assist to adjust shifts on uphill and downhill grades, something we encountered frequently on the Arizona test drive. The downhill adjustments were disconcerting and unnatural, not what we would expect. Gear shifts were stretched out longer than felt comfortable. The transmissions offer a manual-shift mode allowing the driver to change gears.
Cadillac engineers have focused heavily on the SRX's all-weather capability. To begin with, it has a noticeably lower center of gravity than most sport utilities and a long wheelbase. In addition, Cadillac claims the SRX can be outfitted with more electronic dynamic controls than any vehicle General Motors has ever sold. SRX comes standard with anti-lock brakes, traction control, panic brake assist, and dynamic rear brake proportioning. It's also available with StabiliTrak, an active handling system designed to keep the SRX under the driver's control on wet, snowy and icy surfaces, in tight turns, and in evasive maneuvers. It is enhanced with optional Magnetic Ride Control, which GM calls the world's fastest reacting suspension control system.
In a winter test drive in northern Michigan, the SRX performed well on ice and snow against its competitors. The SRX was the best all-around performer except for the Volvo XC90. As it began to slip or slide, the invisible co-pilot gently nudged the SRX back on course unobtrusively.
Safety likely will be a major priority for families shopping the SRX, and Cadillac has addressed this. SRX comes standard with virtually every safety device available today. While crash-test results by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration weren't available at press time, we expect to see solid safety ratings because the SRX is built from the CTS sedan, which performed well in the crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CTS "good" grades across the board.
Quality is likely to be good as well. The CTS upon which the SRX is based scored high in quality in the recent J. D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study. Since the SRX is built at the same plant as the CTS and uses its underpinnings, good quality ratings are likely for the SRX.
For well-heeled families, the luxurious SRX provides as much, and in some cases more, practicality, functionality and room as other midsize sport utilities but it is wrapped in a distinctively styled package and delivers a spirited driving experience usually reserved for European sports sedans.