The Cadillac XT5’s back-of-the-pack status within the highly competitive compact luxury SUV segment is born of the difference between greatness and competence. Judged against its peers—Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus RX, Mercedes GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60—the XT5 fails to impress whether we’re talking performance or premium feel. While competent enough to be Cadillac’s best-selling vehicle, the XT5 is outsold more than two to one by the Lexus RX. The addition of a new turbo inline-four base engine highlights a range of mid-cycle updates for 2020 that aim to polish the XT5’s packaging while broadening its appeal. But opting for that less-powerful engine does little to change the XT5 experience.
The new turbocharged 2.0-liter four is shared with several other GM products. In the XT5, it makes 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Expressed in newton-meters, that torque figure is 350, which is why the XT5 wears a 350T badge. The carryover 3.6-liter V-6—good for 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet—is a $1000 option on the Premium Luxury trim level and comes standard on the new top-level Sport model. There’s also an extra gear in the automatic transmission for 2020, bringing the count to nine speeds. All-wheel drive is standard on the Sport and commands $2000 to $2100 on lesser trims.
Despite a 264-pound advantage over the heavier V-6 Sport model, our front-wheel-drive 2.0-liter XT5 is, as you’d expect of the less powerful engine, considerably slower in a straight line. At a so-so 7.6 seconds, its 60-mph time is 1.5 seconds longer, and its 16.0-second quarter-mile pass at 87 mph trails the all-wheel-drive V-6 version’s by 1.4 seconds and 9 mph. Similar four-cylinder compact luxury utes from Audi, BMW, Lincoln, Mercedes, and Volvo all are considerably quicker than this 2.0-liter Cadillac, with some outpacing even the XT5 V-6. Part of the issue is obvious heavy-handed calibration work to keep this torquey engine from spinning its front tires. The engine responds to a flat-footing of the throttle with a lazy ramp up of thrust. When trying to wake it up with brake torquing and with the traction control off, it just goes limp. Even that can’t elicit a chirp from the front tires when pointed straight. The engineers have succeeded in quelling wheelspin, but the XT5 is also seriously lazy off the line.
The smaller displacement 2.0-liter enjoys a clear benefit over the V-6 at the pump. Our front-drive test car carries a competitive 24-mpg combined rating versus 21 mpg for a comparable V-6 model; subtract 1 mpg with all-wheel drive. In our driving, the four-banger averaged 20 mpg to the V-6’s meager 16 mpg. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop, the 2.0-liter returned an impressive 29-mpg effort, a 1-mpg improvement over its EPA highway number.
During full-throttle acceleration, the 2.0-liter’s 71-decibel sound reading is five decibels quieter than the V-6, while both XT5s registered a hushed 68 decibels at a steady 70 mph. Subduing this engine is a smart strategy because GM’s turbo inline-four has the flat aural character that’s more economy car than Lexus competitor. That relative silence did make it easier to hear the clomp of our test car’s optional 20-inch wheels (18s are standard) as they audibly relayed moderate road-surface impacts through the XT5’s structure. That harshness surely wasn’t helped by the slightly stiffer suspension tune that came from our example’s $4850 Platinum package, yet that bundle’s adaptive dampers did help return good ride quality and control on smoother pavement. The XT5’s steering is decently precise, if devoid of feel. And the new nine-speed transmission is well tuned to keep the engine making boost and feeling responsive around town. Toggle Sport mode, and the powertrain responds more eagerly and hangs on to gears longer before shifting. But the effect does little to transform this Cadillac’s preference for cruising over hustling. There’s a lack of assertiveness in the handling and not much grip or joy.
Opting for the Platinum package brings a different grade of leather upholstery, additional leather trim on the dash, and a microsuede headliner. It is a welcome upgrade that feels as if it should be standard on a trim level called Premium Luxury that’s priced at $49,790 to start (the XT5’s Luxury trim opens at $45,090.) Like most modern Cadillacs, however, there is still an overabundance of different materials and finishes competing for your attention, particularly on the door panels, as well as some lower-grade plastic bits on the center console.
Going Platinum on the XT5 also tacks on a number of additional options that further inflate the XT5’s price: the $2275 Enhanced Visibility and Technology package (8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, head-up display, a surround-view camera system, and a parking assistant), the $1700 20-inch wheels, $1200 three-zone automatic climate control and ventilated front seats, and $1025 for an upgraded 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with embedded navigation. Add in the $1300 Driver Assist package (adaptive cruise control and front and rear automatic emergency braking) and a couple other extras, and our test car totaled $63,115.
As a compact crossover, the 2020 Cadillac XT5 is generously sized for hauling people and cargo, looks a touch sharper with its restyled front and rear bumpers, and flexes enough refinement and amenities to pass as a luxury vehicle. But competition is fierce in the segment, and the XT5 can’t match the driving dynamics, performance, interior quality, and refinement of the other crossovers at its price point. While the addition of the XT5’s less-energetic, albeit more fuel-efficient four-cylinder option surely will make it more attractive to price- and fuel-conscious shoppers, the resulting experience isn’t particularly luxurious or entertaining. Given the V-6’s modest upcharge, more characterful sound, and better performance, the 2.0-liter’s savings just don’t seem worth it.
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