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The 2013 XTS is built in Oshawa, Ont. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)
The 2013 XTS is built in Oshawa, Ont. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)

First drive

Cadillac XTS: In search of lost glory Add to ...

On Sunset Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, BMWs, Audi, Jags and Mercedes-Benzes are thick on the ground. Not to mention Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys. There’s still gold in these Hollywood hills and this may be one of the heaviest concentrations of luxury and prestige automobiles in the United States.

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But one marque conspicuous in its absence is Cadillac. While there’s a smattering of Escalades quaffing down the premium unleaded here, Caddies are still as scarce as hen’s teeth, a situation GM’s upscale division would like to rectify.

“We’d like to return this stately brand to being the standard of the world,” says Don Butler, Cadillac’s vice-president of marketing. “We are benchmarking Cadillac not just against other manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes, but against all other luxury brands, like the Ritz Carlton, Gucci and so on.”

Butler and Cadillac may have their work cut out for them. By the company’s own admission, the last new model it introduced, the 2009 SRX, was a bit of a disaster for General Motors, relegated to ninth place in its category – out of 10 models. “Things with the SRX launch didn’t work out as we planned,” says Butler.

So here comes the new XTS sedan. Part of the new Cadillac “onslaught” of models coming down the pike, the XTS is the company’s first major launch since the SRX. “Cadillac is a bit of a rare species in southern California,” adds Butler, “we’d like to change that.”

Manufactured in Oshawa, Ont., the new XTS will be built alongside other GM products, such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Impala, and continues in the company tradition of producing mid-size sedans with all the upscale goodies and elbow room you’d expect to find in a full-size four-door. Trunk room, for example, is a healthy 500 litres, which Butler describes as “New Jersey-sized.”

The XTS also has approximately the same “mass” as the Audi A8 and is available with front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. The latter features a Haldex all-wheel-drive system, and more modcons and extras than the base FWD version, including a back-up camera, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.

Not that the base version is spartan. This is a Cadillac, after all, and the XTS’ starting price of $48,995 gets you remote start, leather interior, power tilt/steering wheel, magnetic ride control, and rear air spring suspension, among other things.

You also get Caddy’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) interface system, which greatly simplifies various tasks, such as Bluetooth phone calls, adjusting the climate control and changing radio stations. If you want to make a phone call, for example, once you’ve stored the number and contact, you just give a verbal command to “phone Bob Smith” or whoever, and it’s done. None of this calling up the function, contact, phone number and so on before you get through. Says Don Butler: “CUE is all about the number of buttons in the car. The fewer, the better, we say.” Given the demographic that the XTS will likely appeal to, this is probably a good thing.

Power for the new XTS is provided by Cadillac’s well-utilized 3.6-litre V-6 that, in this application, develops 304 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, and it features tap up/down manual shift mode.

There are two trim levels: Platinum and Premium, and options are many – a navi system, huge centre power sunroof, lane departure warning, blind side warning and a heads-up display. These last three are part of the “driver awareness” package, and in all respects, the XTS is a fully up-to-date, electronically sophisticated and very comfortable sedan.

Not the fastest upscale sedan out there, it does have surprisingly good handling. During a spirited morning’s drive in the hills behind Los Angeles, the car kept its cool under the tightest corners and delivered breaking and handling easily on a part – if not superior to – its European rivals.

Brembo brakes and a magnetic ride system taken directly from the Corvette help this car stay under control, and it is definitely not the kind of corner-wallowing, unresponsive land yacht that characterized its predecessors and got this company into trouble in the first place. Those who like to drive with enthusiasm should find the XTS to their liking.

As far as styling goes, the cutting edge/origami look that Cadillac had adopted of late is still in evidence, but it’s less angular and is smoother around the edges than some of its stable-mates. It still features a massive chrome front grille and definitely stands out in a crowd.

Cadillac is keenly aware of the shortcomings that have reduced this once-proud division of GM to a shadow of its former self, and is looking ahead to long-term success as opposed to short-term thrills. “Re-establishing the Cadillac reputation for quality is the right attitude for us to have,” adds production design director, Hampden Tener.

Tech specs: 2013 Cadillac XTS

Type: Five-passenger mid-size luxury sedan

Price Range: $48,995-$64,975

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6

Horsepower/torque: 304 hp/264 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode

Drive: Front-wheel/all-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.1 city/7.2 highway (2WD model); regular gas

Alternatives: BMW 3-Series, Audi A6, Lincoln MKS, Mercedes C-Class, Acura RL, Infiniti G37, Volvo S60, Toyota Avalon, Lexus ES, Hyundai Genesis

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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