2020 Cadillac XT6 First Look: Key Addition Doesn’t Wear Flagship Mantle

Cadillac is a brand under repair. Cynics paint a faded marque in existential peril. Optimists see light on the horizon.

The crown jewel of the General Motors empire is pulling  up stakes from its Manhattan headquarters to return  to the safe confines of Detroit after its four-year experiment in the big city. This followed GM firing the brand’s top executive just a few months prior. The entire lineup is under review, as the future of the current flagship CT6 sedan is in doubt when it ceases production at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant in June after barely three years on sale. The new strategy is to make Cadillac GM’s “lead electric vehicle brand,” and it will get the first vehicle from the automaker’s new BEV3 platform, which will produce a family of electric vehicles of all body styles and offered with front-, rear- and all-wheel drive.

Countering the Lincoln lineup—with its magnificent Navigator getting raves and the splendid Aviator just unveiled—you wonder what Cadillac’s counterpunch will be.

The finger in the dike appears to be the XT6 global three-row crossover unveiled at the 2019 Detroit auto show that will be built in Spring Hill, Tennessee, for sale this summer.

The aging truck-based, profit-churning Escalade SUV may be the brand’s flag-bearer, but it’s still a few years away from a redesign. Might the XT6 assume the flagship mantle in the interim, especially as Cadillac strives for global relevance?

“Escalade is an aspirational vehicle but is too large for much of the world,” Andrew Smith, executive director of Global Cadillac, said. For many years Cadillac executives have recognized the need for a unibody three-row family vehicle to keep customers from leaving the brand. The urgency for an entry in this segment has grown with low gasoline prices fueling demand for larger utility vehicles in the U.S. and an increasing appetite for SUVs in China.

Enter the XT6, a six- or seven-passenger crossover that rounds out the core lineup. The compact XT4 is in the fastest-growing segment, the XT5 is in the largest segment globally, and the XT6 is a walk-up offering more space and utility for families that don’t need the full-size Escalade.

The XT6 is practical. It doesn’t try to make a broader statement for the brand. Work started before the XT4 was finished; the XT6 was developed with the full range in mind. Executives chose to name it XT6 instead of XT7 “because we don’t see anything slotting between this and the XT5,” Smith said.

It does not replace the CT6 as the tech flagship—for one, it does not have Super Cruise, which provides hands-free driver assistance on the highway. Super Cruise will start rolling out across the Cadillac lineup in 2020—after the XT6 launch, newly minted Cadillac president Steve Carlisle said.

The goal was to tap Escalade cachet with a vehicle from the same C1 architecture as the XT5, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia, allowing it to be made in the same plants in Spring Hill, Tennessee, as well as in Shanghai.

Under the hood, the familiar 3.6-liter V-6 has 310 hp and 271 lb-ft with cylinder deactivation and stop/start capability. It is paired to GM’s nine-speed automatic transmission, as opposed to the eight-speed in the XT5. Although it was designed to accommodate additional powertrains, execs are mum for now. Electric motors might not be in the cards. Carlisle pointed to GM’s strategy of purpose-built electrified vehicles such as the Chevy Bolt and Volt.

The XT6 has MacPherson strut front and five-link rear suspension with preloaded springs, and it gets an upgrade from the damping system in the XT5, XT6 chief engineer John Plonka said. Continuous damping is standard on the Sport model and optional on Premium Luxury. As in the XT5, the optional AWD system can be turned off for better fuel economy. A twin-clutch rear axle provides torque vectoring. AWD is standard on Sport, optional on Luxury.  So although the XT6 won’t do Moab, it will tackle the road to the cottage.

To stand on its own, it had to have presence. With the XT6 riding 9.3 inches longer and 2.3 inches wider than the XT5, Smith said it was one of the first times he was asked to make a vehicle taller. All this adds weight, but after much debate it was deemed vital. And although Cadillacs have been notorious for splitting industry-standard vehicle segments in the past, the XT6 sits in the heart of the segment dimensionally.

Designed and engineered in Detroit as a global vehicle, the XT6 had to have its own look and character. Once designers had a clear picture of the target buyer, they dropped the gigantic wheels, whereupon the sketches flowed easily. XT6 is the first vehicle from scratch to adopt the softer, simpler look of the Escala concept sedan from 2016—a divergence from years of hard edges—but it retains signatures such as the vertical light arrangements. The new look resonated in customer clinics, and clay models were sent to China for input.

Cadillac designers placed emphasis on a roomy interior. All three rows had to be comfortable. In China this is often a multigenerational purchase, designed for parents in the front row, children in the second, and grandparents in the back—so the XT6 comes with a choice of two captain’s chairs or a middle bench that seats three.

This seating arrangement necessitates rerouting air vents, allowing for ample head- and legroom for adults in the back, a dual-pane sunroof, and proper acoustics for conversations from front to rear. Seats have a new structure for comfort, and the leather has a new chevron stitch pattern. The front seats are heated and cooled; the second row is heated. Additional second-row cupholders are in a pull-out drawer under a center console, which has separate climate controls. There are outlets to power devices throughout.

Second-row seats pitch, tilt, and slide to access the back row, or you can go between the captain’s chairs. Cargo area buttons flip down headrests and fold the third and second rows completely flat—perfect for that Home Depot run. The well for the spare tire can also store the security shade. Above the well is a storage bin with a cover that stays in position at any angle—handy for tall groceries.

There are two models: Sport and Premium Luxury. Both can be ordered with a Platinum package. Luxury adopts the Escala face more closely with a lot of bright trim. Sport has a black mesh grille inspired by the V Series and more black trim for a murdered-out look. Standard wheels are 20 inches, with optional 21s for Sport.

Inside is a new-look steering wheel and upgraded instrument panel, but the overall appearance is similar to XT5 with some shuffling of how materials such as microsuede, engineered wood, and copper carbon-fiber weave are used.

The next-generation CUE infotainment system bows on the 2020 model with a rotary dial that moves like a joystick, or you can touch the 8.0-inch screen. And yes, there are volume knobs and an 8- or  14-speaker Bose sound system. Connectivity includes wireless phone charging and NFC technology to allow Bluetooth pairing of Android phones with a tap.

Although there’s no Super Cruise, driver-assist systems include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, lane departure warning, steering assist, and night vision with automatic high-beam and optional adaptive headlights, which are expected to become legal in the U.S. soon. Haptic safety alerts vibrate the seat.

The first pre-production vehicle rolled off the line in Spring Hill in September. Employees named it Elvis as it left Tennessee for a dealer meeting in Las Vegas. Dealers have clamored for it ever since, Smith said. The Shanghai plant built its first model in December.

The XT6 goes on sale this spring, competing against the Audi Q7, Infiniti QX60, and Volvo XC90. Competitive pricing means it could start anywhere from $45,000 to $55,000 and still slot easily between the XT5 ($42,690–$66,890) and the Escalade, which opens at $76,490.

Relocating Cadillac headquarters to Detroit will help with the launch of the XT6, and there are plans for a new model every six months, Carlisle said. Time in New York was well spent, he said, but “having the makers and sellers in close proximity will only help.”

2020 Cadillac XT6
BASE PRICE $45,000-$48,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 6-7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/310-hp/271-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4,500-4,700 lb (est)
WHEELBASE 112.7 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 198.8 x 77.3 x 68.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.7 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet tested
ON SALE IN U.S. Spring 2019





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