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Cadillac may not have created the recipe that makes the SRX, but it has come close to perfecting it. This is one utility vehicle that does it all. It has the driving dynamics of a good luxury sedan, the all-weather capability of some truck-based SUVs and the space and functionality of a minivan.
The Cadillac SRX is a good choice among luxury SUVs, if you can call it an SUV. It drives like a European sedan and its edgy styling stands out in a sea of boxy sport-utilities and minivans. Yet the SRX is quite practical. It can carry up to seven passengers, and its flat, carpeted cargo area works great for hauling cargo. Its sharp handling, quick acceleration and high-performance braking make for a sporty, enjoyable experience. Yet it offers a smooth, extremely quiet ride.
The SRX comes trimmed with leather upholstery and is loaded with luxury features. The interior is stylish and comfortable, if not warm and inviting. It's available with a V6 or V8 engine. Both engines feature the latest technology, including electronic throttle control and four overhead cams with fully variable valve timing. The V8s are smooth and confident and deliver brilliant acceleration for a vehicle of this size. All-wheel drive is available and we've found that the SRX performs superbly in the snow.
Improvements for 2006 are subtle, but noticeable and welcome. New wood trim on the center stack adds a bit of warmth to the cabin, while new wheel designs give SRX a more aggressive stance. The standard suspension has been lowered slightly for 2006, allowing what Cadillac claims to be the lowest step-in height in the class. A power rear liftgate is now standard on both models, allowing the owner to open and close it without touching an exterior surface or getting hands dirty; it's really handy when walking up to or away from the car with an armload of groceries.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cadillac should be flattered. The SRX's success has prompted similar vehicles from other luxury car builders, including the Mercedes R-Class. More are on the way. But for now, at least, Cadillac is off with an impressive head start.
The Cadillac SRX boasts a superb balance between a smooth ride and responsive handling. It's much more nimble than any truck-based SUV. We loved its smooth, extremely quiet ride and spirited handling while driving it on twisting mountain roads in Arizona. The SRX is built on the same GM Sigma platform as the Cadillac CTS and STS, which are couple of the best handling sedans to come out of Detroit in a long time. This platform provides a solid, flex-free foundation that allows the suspension to do its job. Throw in a much lower center of gravity than the typical SUV and near perfect front-rear weight distribution, and you have a utility vehicle that's fun to drive at a good clip.
The 4.6-liter V8 delivers lots of power. Cadillac's latest-generation Northstar V8 is rated at 320 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. With the V8, the SRX can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds (6.9 seconds for the heavier all-wheel-drive version), according to Cadillac. The SRX V8 never disappointed us on mountain roads in Arizona, and always had plenty of smooth power in reserve. The Northstar is the sort of engine that makes you want to floor the accelerator just to feel the thrust as speed builds (granted, not the smartest thing in an era of high fuel prices).
The SRX V6 generates 260 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. This too is a solidly powerful engine, even if it's not quite as enjoyable as the V8. Cadillac reports 0-60 mph acceleration in the low 7-second range for the V6, which is reasonably quick (as a rule of thumb, the 8-second mark separates slow from fast). No one is going to feel underpowered driving the SRX V6, and it can be equipped to tow up to 2000 pounds, enough for personal watercraft. If you want to tow a real boat, get the V8. It's rated to pull 4250 pounds.
Both engines deliver power through five-speed automatic transmissions, and these are good performers, too. Upshifts are smooth, but crisp and never mushy, and downshifts come quickly with a jab at the gas pedal. The transmissions also have a manual mode that allows the driver to do the shifting by clicking the gear lever. The SRX lets you brake and downshift going into a curve, and then power out and upshift at the exit, as in a good sports sedan.
The SRX offers good all-weather capability. Its relatively low center of gravity and long wheelbase give it better stability in terms of roll (lean) and yaw than most SUVs. It feels better planted in sloppy stuff, and the optional all-wheel drive maximizes whatever traction is available by sending engine power to the wheels with the best grip.
Active safety systems improve handling stability further: SRX comes standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control, panic Brake Assist, and dynamic rear brake proportioning (EBD). 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. We highly recommend StabiliTrak for its ability to help a driver you maintain control in slippery corners. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control under hard braking. Brake Assist and dynamic rear brake proportioning improve braking performance and stability. Traction control improves stability when accelerating on slippery surfaces.
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 electronic aids acted as an invisible co-pilot, gently and unobtrusively nudging the SRX back on course by decreasing power when necessary or lightly applying the brakes to individual wheels whenever they started to spin.
The Cadillac SRX makes an appealing package. It delivers as much or more functionality, space and all-weather capability as most sport utilities, but it's wrapped in a distinctive package and delivers a spirited driving experience. It's no wonder other luxury carmakers are following Cadillac's cue and creating vehicles like the SRX. The SRX remains one of our top choices in this class. The V8 is sportier and more fun to drive than a Lexus RX 330 or Mercedes M-Class, and it has more room and a better ride than a BMW X5. A V6 SRX with all-wheel drive compares favorably with a Volvo XC 90, in price and performance.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles; Michelle Krebs filed the original report from Arizona.