Put the XT6 on the road, and strange things start to happen.
Dare Greatly. That’s the slogan Cadillac trotted out in 2016 during the height of the de Nysschen era. An all-new Cadillac-only V8, a new platform and renewed focus on craftsmanship were the talking points of the time. The Omega platform was launched to underpin the CT6 and was planned to eventually underpin a large, three-row crossover that would’ve taken the fight right to Munich, Ingolstadt, Gothenburg and Dearborn. This was supposed to end up being the 2020 Cadillac XT6 400 AWD tested here.
But in the next few years, the Omega platform was nixed. Cadillac’s new three-row crossover was now to run on the C1XX platform, the same one as the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave and in 2019, the XT6 was unveiled to one of the most silent crowds of journalists in the history of car launches. So what went wrong? What did we end up with? And does the Cadillac XT6 400 AWD deserve more than just an apathetic shrug?
The Omega platform was cut short the way most genius ideas at GM are, mercilessly at the hands of bean counters. The original business plan was to have it underpin three vehicles: the CT6 (reviewed here), a mid-size sedan and the XT6. Doing so would’ve spread the development costs out in order to justify this new, full-fat rear-wheel-drive platform which was part of Johan de Nysschen’s plan to fix Cadillac’s brand image. See, back in 2014 GM was tired of watching Cadillac get brushed aside as an also-ran, so they hatched a plan. Hire an outsider, someone with no ties to GM’s corporate culture to turn Cadillac’s image into that of a real luxury brand again.
After working at Audi and Infiniti, de Nysschen had some track record of turning a near-luxury brand’s image around. He almost did, but there were two problems. The first was the litany of questionable marketing stunts he pulled, from renaming the lineup to moving headquarters to New York City. The second is that his plan needed time. New products aren’t developed overnight, and GM eventually got sick of waiting around on this expensive endeavor. By putting accounting before driving, GM corporate pulled the rug out from under Cadillac’s rebuilding efforts, just as things were about to be perfect. So where does that leave the production-spec XT6?
Well for starters, it’s reasonably handsome. Adopting a traditional, rectilinear SUV silhouette, the XT6 makes itself known through little flourishes. Character lines are minimal and crisp, with the main one running the full length of the XT6 and intersecting the door handles, which helps lower the visual height of the vehicle. The greenhouse is also quite successful, a uniform design that’s both classic and classy in execution. Up front, slim horizontal headlights lead into a commanding grille, partially-flanked by vertical pseudo-grille styling elements. Compared to the gaping maws of many competitors, it’s downright tasteful.
Crisp, L-shaped rear lights and a license plate set into the hatch dominate the rear end in another classy, tasteful application of Cadillac’s design language. With a larger dash-to-axle ratio, this design would be superb. Unfortunately, due to the front-wheel-drive-based platform, the XT6 doesn’t quite achieve full styling success. Comparisons to the Kia Telluride (reviewed here) are easily drawn, although that Korean crossover sports even more restrained lines and a significantly lower price tag than the XT6.
The interior on the XT6 is rather nicely trimmed. Our Premium Luxury tester with the Platinum package features glorious gradated carbon fibre inlays, acres of french-stitched leather and a posh sueded headliner. The centre console is a bit of a mixed bag that’s nicely laid-out with a thoughtful pass-through for phone cables, wireless charging and dual-tier storage, but the decision to french-stitch plastic comes across as kitschy and insincere. The latest version of CUE is easy to navigate with a rotary dial augmenting the touch screen and plenty of hard buttons replacing the touch-sensitive controls found on previous iterations. The digital screen in the gauge cluster offers a bewildering array of secondary information, from fuel economy to voltage to audio information to navigation directions.
While the heads-up display is crisp in most cases, it’s easily washed-out when viewed through polarized sunglasses. The front seats are a bit lacking with poor thigh support and subpar upper back support, but the second row is comfortable and spacious and the powered third row is incredibly handy both up and down. Worth noting is the Bose Performance Series audio system fitted to our tester which features a very warm sound signature. Staging is average at best, but treble is crisp without being grating and bass is simply dominant, if not exactly precise. Projects like Germ’s The Hijinx Tape shake the door cards and mirrors with hilarious bombast, eliciting childish grins from drivers and passengers alike.
Put the XT6 on the road, and strange things start to happen. The first thing most drivers will notice is an unusually spongy brake pedal that’s disconcerting at best and spooky at worst. Another thing most drivers will notice is a curiously inert powertrain. While the LGX 3.6-litre V6 is excellent on paper with an output of 310 horsepower and 271 lb-ft. of torque, it’s a peaky powerplant not particularly well-suited to moving two-tons of Cadillac and it’s constantly at war with the nine-speed automatic transmission’s standard programming which aims to keep RPMs low and quiet. It’s also extremely easy to overwhelm the XT6’s front tires setting off from a traffic light in two-wheel-drive mode, dubbed Tour by Cadillac. In addition to unlimited torque steer, Tour mode also gives XT6 drivers access to a bizarrely crashy yet floaty ride.
All things that add up to create a vehicle that drives very ‘big’ but doesn’t drive nearly good enough to be a legitimate contender. That is, until Sport mode is dialed up. Suddenly the suspension goes taut, the all-wheel-drive re-couples to the transmission, throttle response sharpens, gears are held longer and the XT6 finally starts to make sense. How does pressing a button shrink the way a car drives by two class sizes and evoke the comfortable-yet-taut reflexes of great recent Cadillacs? And why isn’t this normal mode? As a quiet, responsive highway cruise missile for seven, the XT6 in Sport mode is very good indeed. The shocking effects of sport mode also translate to shocking fuel economy, just not in a good way. Over a week of mostly highway driving, we averaged just 14.0L/100km. Ouch.
The upgraded driver assist package fitted to our 2020 Cadillac XT6 400 AWD test car is incredibly good. Instead of attempting semi-autonomy, it serves to subtly augment the driver’s inputs. As a result, the lane-keep assist is excellent and the automatic emergency braking isn’t particularly touchy. Adaptive cruise works flawlessly and intuitively even when set to the closest following distance and blind-spot monitoring is both accurate and well-marked. Disorienting rear view camera mirror aside, it’s a wonder why all manufacturers can’t produce a driver assist suite this well executed.
So then, the 2020 Cadillac XT6 400 AWD. It may not be the Omega-platform juggernaut we hoped for, but it’s handsome, quiet, well-appointed and with the right options ticked and buttons pushed it’s good to drive. There’s just one problem. As tested, this particular XT6 was in the neighbourhood of $80,000, and it wasn’t even fully loaded. It takes a lot of dedication to look at a Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription with the optional Bowers & Wilkins and decide to have this Cadillac instead, and that’s a choice most consumers would never think of making. While it is easy to trim a few grand off the price tag while keeping the Platinum package, it still tallies out to around $75,000, about five grand too expensive for something based on a retail-grade platform. If the XT6 were built on the Omega platform it would’ve likely been phenomenal in all respects, but as it sits it’s just priced a little too dearly for what it is.