2012 Cadillac SRX Test Drive and Review

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2012 Cadillac SRX -- And now for something completely different

2011 Cadillac SRX. Photo © Aaron Gold

It seems that every luxury brand on the market is trying to be something else. Lexus made their name by building Mercedes-style luxury; Lincoln is now imitating Lexus; and even my beloved Infiniti is clearly influenced by BMW. That's one of several reasons I am so fond of the 2012 Cadillac SRX. Here, finally, is a luxury crossover that is doing its own thing. But is that enough to earn your hard-earned SUV-buying dollars? Let's drive it and find out.

2012 Cadillac SRX specifications:

  • Base prices: $35,185 (Base); $39,715 (Luxury); $43,540 (Performance); $45,975 (Premium)
  • Engine: 3.6 liter direct-injected 24-valve V6
  • Horsepower: 308 @ 6,800 rpm
  • Torque: 265 @ 2,400 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic with front- or all-wheel-drive
  • Wheelbase: 110.5"
  • Exterior dimensions: 190.3" L x75.2" W x 65.7" H
  • Ground clearance: 7"
  • Curb weight: 4,277 - 4,442 lbs.
  • Payload: TBD
  • Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs.
  • Roof Cargo Capacity: TBD
  • Cargo: 29.2 cubic feet (behind second row), 61.2 cubic feet (behind first row with second row folded)
  • Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway (FWD), 16/23 (AWD)
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles with free scheduled maintenance
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First Glance: You can go your own way

2012 Cadillac SRX. Photo © Aaron Gold

Rather than rely on someone else's methodology for success, Cadillac is using their own judgment and forging their own path. Which is not to say they are attempting to re-live the glories of the past -- aside from the wreath-and-crest logo and fancy script nameplate, modern Cadillacs have nothing in common with the gasoline-swilling La-Z-Boys the division used to produce.

Today's SRX is a modern, sharp-looking five-seat luxury crossover. I am in love with the styling -- the bold lines and sharp creases of Cadillac's "Art and Science" design theme are overlaid on a modern airfoil-like profile, with a slight bulge to the nose and big wheels (18" standard, 20" optional) that give it a futuristic concept-car look. Out back, the tall vertical taillights proudly recall classic Caddies of the 1960s and 70s, a parting reminder of Cadillac's heritage as the Standard of the World. Most bold designs are bound to alienate some percentage of the population, but I don't see how anyone could find fault with the SRX's styling.

Nor do I see how anyone could find fault with the price. The 2012 SRX starts at $36,060 (including $875 destination fee), about what you'd pay for a nicely-equipped Toyota Highlander. For that price you get power everything, faux-leather upholstery, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and an 8-speaker Bose stereo, plus four years or 50,000 miles of free maintenance. Pile on every available option -- all-wheel-drive, real leather, chrome wheels, twin-screen DVD player, rear-seat climate control, and more -- and the SRX tops out just over $53,000, which is only about three grand more than a base-model Mercedes-Benz ML350.

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In the Driver's Seat: Well done where it counts the most

2012 Cadillac SRX dash. Photo © Aaron Gold

Styling and value are important, but to me the most critical aspect of a luxury SUV is the interior -- after all, this is where owners will spend most of their time interacting with the vehicle. I was instantly impressed by the SRX's cabin, which is tastefully designed and exceptionally well built with top-quality fabrics and plastics. I like the styling of the dash and the tasteful mix of materials, but the functionality is good, too -- the instrument panel is an attractive three-dial unit, with a round LCD screen in the center of the speedometer that can display digital speed, warning messages, or next-turn directions. The center stack features Cadillac's pop-up display screen, which serves as a map display when extended and stereo display when retracted.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with an extendable bottom-cushion bolster that ensures thigh support for even the tallest drivers. The second row has plenty of room for adults, and an optional panoramic sunroof lets them take in the scenery. Higher-spec SRXs offer true first-class back-seat accommodations: Independent climate and stereo controls, headphone jacks and heated seats. The optional DVD entertainment system has wireless headphones and fold-down screens mounted on the front seatbacks. Rounding out the SRX is a 29.2 cubic foot cargo bay (expandable to 61.2 cubes with the seats folded), complete with tracks and a movable cargo gate that can prevent your belongings from becoming deadly projectiles in a collision. One of my favorite features is the power tailgate; with a switch on the driver's door, you can set it to open to 3/4 height, good for low-headroom garages or short drivers (like me).

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On the Road: New engine, big difference

2012 Cadillac SRX engine. Photo © Aaron Gold

The big news for 2012 is a new engine: The SRX is finally getting the direct-injected 3.6 liter V6 that powers many of General Motors' cars and SUVs. This is actually an improved version of the 3.6 that turns out 308 horsepower. Last year's SRX had a 3.0 liter V6 that didn't produce nearly enough power; with the new 3.6, the SRX accelerates strongly, as a luxury SUV should, and it tows up to 3,500 lbs when equipped with a $445 trailering package. EPA fuel economy estimates are 17 MPG city/24 MPG highway with front-wheel-drive and 1 MPG less with all-wheel-drive, which is about equal to its rivals -- but while most of the SRX's competitors run on premium fuel, the SRX burns cheap 87-octane gas, a benefit of its high-tech direct fuel injection system.

I sampled three SRXs during our press preview: A base model with 18" wheels and front-wheel-drive, a top-of-the-line SRX Premium with front-wheel-drive, and a second Premium model with all-wheel-drive. I was impressed with the comfortable ride and tight car-like handling of all three, although I preferred the firmer feel and better response over bumps that came with the 20" wheels. I did find the brakes a bit disconcerting; there's a good deal of pedal travel and then they bite rather suddenly, which took some getting used to.

The SRX doesn't have the hewn-from-granite feel typical of German crossovers; it shares some of its basic components with lesser GM SUVs, and that comes through in the way it drives. That said, it has way more personality and a much higher fun-to-drive factor than the Lexus RX350. It's no BMW, but I think most buyers will be satisfied with the way the SRX cruises down the highway and hustles through the curves.

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Journey's End: Dare to be different

2012 Cadillac SRX. Photo © Aaron Gold

Now in its third year of production, the SRX has already become second-best selling luxury CUV in its class, topped only by the Lexus RX. It's hard not to admire the Lexus for its impeccable refinement, church-like silence, and obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, but the Lexus is more expensive than the Caddy and it's nowhere near as enjoyable to drive.

Still, many people buy a Lexus because of their faultless build quality. The Mexico-built SRX can't claim the same track record, but with a 4 year/50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and free standard maintenance for the same time/mileage period, the Caddy is covered for the length of most luxury-vehicle leases.

If you prefer Lexus-style luxury but want to buy American, I'd check out the Lincoln MKX; ever since its 2011 facelift, it has rivaled the RX for luxury and refinement, although, like the Lexus RX, it is actually built in Canada. If you're longing for a fancy German logo on your key fob, I'd suggest the Mercedes-Benz GLK350. It's not as roomy as the SRX, but it's priced competitively and it's great to drive. The Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are great too. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Infiniti EX -- it drives more like a sports car than an SUV, which makes it a perennial favorite of mine.

That said, if you're not sure what you want -- or if you're open to trying something new -- then by all means test drive the Cadillac SRX. It provides a great blend of luxury and performance, it delivers excellent value for money, and it's unlike anything else on the road. Even if you've never considered buying a Cadillac, you might be surprised at how much appeal the SRX has. I sure was. -- Aaron Gold