2019 Cadillac XT4 First Test: Follow the Leader

Once the king of sedans, Cadillac is a bit late to the party in launching a second crossover to complement the XT5, its best-selling product in the U.S. and worldwide last year. Enter the XT4, which fills the gap and has something else Cadillac can use—a touch of youth.

Brand reps boast that a team of young designers created this compact crossover, which looks conventional from the side but stands out at other angles with its sharply vertical headlights and taillights. It eschews Cadillac’s usual thick, shiny grille for a tidier front face. Its short overhangs give it an upright appearance. In some ways, the youthful look fits a bimodal customer base: Cadillac is targeting both first-time premium buyers with prices as low as $35,790 and “downsizers” who want luxury-packed versions. With this approach, the XT4 needs to be a well-rounded performer.

The level of new technology in the XT4 speaks to the vehicle’s importance in Cadillac’s lineup. Sitting on a new architecture for compact SUVs, the XT4 receives a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is said to share very little with the outgoing unit offered on other models. It’s 15 pounds lighter and features three operating modes: high valve lift for more power, low valve lift for improved efficiency, and cylinder deactivation that turns off two cylinders when they’re not needed. This coarse, grainy powerplant makes 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and fortunately, peak torque is available at just 1,500 rpm.

During testing, our staff took note of the XT4’s eager but slightly lacking powerplant. “This engine makes the XT4 feel like it’s quicker than it really is,” senior production editor Zach Gale said.

However, when we tested the XT4, it reached 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, making it slower than a comparable Volvo XC40 (6.7 seconds), Mercedes-Benz GLA (6.9 seconds), Infiniti QX50 (6.4 seconds), and even the next-size-up BMW X3 xDrive30i (6.3 seconds). So why the slowness against similar 2.0-liter turbo SUVs?

Our Caddy tester had optional 20-inch wheels instead of the standard 18-inchers. It’s also heavier as tested than the Volvo and Mercedes (but lighter than the Infiniti and BMW). Perhaps, as associate online editor Stefan Ogbac said, “the engine is punchy, but there’s a bit of lag before you get boost.”

The XT4 brakes confidently in typical driving or when coming to an abrupt stop. It also goes up steep hills comfortably, makes quick three-point turns, and swiftly restarts the engine after a red light. But in other areas, the XT4 proved less adept.

“It seemed to steer, brake, accelerate, and corner in a fairly average manner,” technical director Frank Markus said. “Nothing stood out as exceptional. That might be my problem with the entire car.”

Occupants will experience noticeable amounts of body roll while winding through twisty roads on 20-inch wheels. We found this issue on models with and without the Active Sport Suspension, an available feature that adjusts damping 500 times per second. The XT4 displayed more stability at higher speeds on the freeway, we noted.

We also lamented the crossover’s tire noise, though it’s not enough to disturb a conversation inside the vehicle. A tester we drove with the smaller 18-inch wheels felt slightly more refined in terms of noise abatement. Despite some road noise, Cadillac has successfully prevented too much wind noise from entering the cabin, save from the blunting of the A-pillar.

Many compliments we give the XT4 warrant a qualification. “The XT4 rides well, but it’s somewhat stiff,” Ogbac said of the tester with the Active Sport Suspension. “Handling is OK but nothing stellar,” Ogbac adds. Although the car’s steering is accurate enough to take on windy roads, it feels slightly detached.

Added features editor Christian Seabaugh: “The steering lacks that delicacy that Cadillacs had for a brief time.”

In our figure-eight test, the XT4 managed 27.6 seconds at 0.61 g. Compare that with the XC40 that zipped round the bends in 27 seconds flat at 0.65 g, the GLA (26.6 seconds at 0.67 g), and QX50 (26.4 seconds at 0.69 g).

“It has very short gears,” testing director Kim Reynolds noted of the too-busy nine-speed transmission during the test. “Second gear is way too low, and even shifting third to fourth found me momentarily touching the rev limiter.”

According to the EPA, the XT4 returns 24/30 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive, lower than ratings for the QX50, XC40, or GLA but comparable with the front-drive X3, which tops out at 23/30. With all-wheel drive, the XT4’s numbers drop to 22/29 mpg. These latter models feature a twin-clutch system that can completely decouple from the rear wheels when the driver selects a particular mode, aiding fuel economy. Electrohydraulic braking replaces the traditional vacuum-assisted setup, also enhancing efficiency.

Seldom have we stepped out of a Cadillac wanting more quality time with the CUE infotainment system—until now. The new screen responds quickly to touch and stands by itself above two clean rows of buttons. Now, users also get a second option for controlling the system: a rotary controller on the lower center console next to the gear shifter. Plus, there are physical buttons for the climate control and a volume knob (unfortunately located directly behind the gear shifter). But those dreaded capacitive sliders have been banished to the bad-ideas bin.

“The new CUE feels like a solid improvement,” features editor Scott Evans said. “The touch panel was always the big issue, and the knobs and hard buttons solve that.”

Cadillac is offering different XT4 flavors. The base Luxury model has the aforementioned $35,790 base price and comes standard with CUE, LED headlights and taillights, and leatherette seats. We only tested the top two trims—Sport and Premium Luxury—both priced from $40,290. Sport models come with unique gloss black accents, and Premium Luxury models don metallic accents.

Of course, prices climb quickly with options. And they did on our testers, which ranged from $52,285 to $56,835. That’s a lot for a compact crossover. Cold weather packages, sunroofs, navigation, tech packages, and driver-assist goodies add considerable coin.

Even on our loaded testers, some materials feel more Buick than Cadillac. Hard plastics abound on the dashboard and doors, and the headliner looks and feels less than Germanic. And although Sport and Premium Luxury models both upgrade to leather seating surfaces, Evans pointed out the grain and sheen of the material “makes it look synthetic.” Which prompts the philosophical question: Which is worse, real leather that looks fake, or fake leather that looks real?

Rather than giving the interior of its entry-level crossover its own identity—much like Volvo did with the XC40—Cadillac disappointingly gave the XT4 a cabin that looks like a scaled-down version of what you’d expect from the brand, save for the infotainment screen.

Although on paper the Cadillac has more rear-seat legroom than both smaller and bigger competitors, it doesn’t feel that way. Rear occupants will find themselves wishing Cadillac had compromised some cargo space for some additional legroom.

Other products in the Cadillac line—namely the ATS and CT6—inspire thoughts of taking tight corners on mountain roads or enjoying the ride from the rear seat in unmitigated luxury. The XT4 doesn’t conjure up these same feelings.

To be sure, no entry-level crossover exhibits the best acceleration, handling, and design that its brand has to offer. Not even close. But the XT4 lacks in each of these categories, failing to offer the balance the small luxury crossover segment demands. It’s most comfortable as a highway cruiser, which is all some customers will need.

The XT4 was tested in extreme-heat conditions, and performance was adversely affected. We will attempt to retest and update these results at a later date.

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