Driven: 2012 Cadillac SRX

By Brandon Turkus

July 29, 2011


—Santa Barbara, California
If you ever needed proof that crossovers are the next big thing in luxury, than here it is: as of 2010 the crossover segment constitutes almost 25 percent of the sales of the luxury market. It should come as no surprise then, that every manufacturer that styles itself with luxury pretensions currently offers a car-based, tall wagon loaded with tech and comfort features for the affluent buyer.
Cadillac is no different, and since its redesign in 2010, the SRX has been the Wreath and Crest’s best selling vehicle. When it debuted, it was with the choice of a turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 or a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter six. For 2012 though, the mid-size CUV will be powered by a version of the 3.6-liter V-6 that powers the CTS, Chevrolet Camaro, and other GM products.
Code-named LFX, the SRX’s new engine generates a best-in-class 308 horsepower, with 265 pound-feet of torque peaking between 2400 and 5300 rpm. Despite the increase in displacement, the use of lightweight materials such as aluminum and other composites has cut 20 pounds off the 3.6 liter’s weight, meaning it weighs about the same as the outgoing 3.0 liter. The extra power of the new engine does have a downside, and that comes in the form of EPA estimates that are lower than the older 3.0 liter. In front-wheel-drive trim, the 3.6 will net drivers 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway (compared to the 18 and 25 mile-per-gallon ratings of the old engine). The same issue can be seen to a lesser degree on all-wheel-drive models, with city mileage dropping from 17 to 16 (highway estimates remain at 23 miles per gallon).
On the road, the 3.6 feels like a natural fit for the SRX. Off-the-line acceleration is brisk, and with the low peak torque, the Caddy easily toasted the tires of our front-drive tester. Despite the oodles of torque flowing through the front wheels, our car never exhibited the sort of straight-line torque steer often associated with high-torque front-drivers. The charge of torque continued up the rev range, with the engine feeling pretty meaty most of the time. Power does tend to fall off before redline, but considering the target market (educated adults in their late 40s and early 50s), we can’t imagine many customers will experience bouncing off the rev limiter.
If you so choose to run the SRX to the top of the rev range, you’ll be rewarded with a pleasing exhaust note that infiltrates the cabin at all the right times. Thanks to a revised exhaust system, the Caddy sounds just right, regardless of engine speed.
As we zipped north on the 101 out of Santa Barbara, the SRX seemed like an able-bodied cruiser. Power was always available when needed, and the standard six-speed automatic was quick to swap cogs based on throttle positioning. Sliding the shifter towards the driver activates Sport mode, which adjusts the throttle mapping and shift points to deliver a more engaging experience. It did an admirable job of holding the revs as we charged up the hills that dot the California coast, but it using it wasn’t a necessity, as the shift logic in standard mode is quite good. The SRX also has an Eco mode, that (not surprisingly) is the polar opposite of Sport. Throttle response is retarded, and the transmission is more prone to early upshifts in the name of fuel economy (yawn).
Once off the 101, the road turned to a twisting ribbon that cut through the farm country outside of Santa Barbara. We slotted the SRX into Sport, and began hustling. Again, the engine/transmission combination didn’t fail to entertain us. Throttle response was quite good, delivering all the 3.6’s power with ease. Gun the engine in a curve, and it did tend to torque steer, but considering the excellent straight-line control, we’re willing to budge a bit on this. One area that we didn’t enjoy was the lack of feeling on the brake pedal. The pedal itself was hard, and didn’t offer a great deal of feedback in regards to braking force.
The other gripe we have with the SRX came from the steering. Our tester used a power-assisted, variable-effort and speed-sensitive steering rack that really cut down on the amount of road feel. It was pleasantly light, but it’s lack of feedback forced us to rely too much on the suspension for surface information and grip levels. This task was made even more difficult by the luxury oriented suspension tuning of the SRX. In terms of our Comfort Index, we expect our tester to score rather well, but it didn’t quite deliver the sort of communication through the chassis that we look for on the Involvement Index.
Body roll came on progressively, but seemed to take away from the driving experience during cornering, as the body just ended up leaning too much. Squat was neatly controlled, but getting hard on the brakes resulted in a diving front end that limited our confidence. The ride itself was nice over smooth roads, but it lost its luster once things got rougher. We blame the twenty-inch rolling stock on our tester, but we also believe that had we been driving an all-wheel-drive Performance Collection model with Cadillac’s continuously variable damping system, that even with twenties, the ride would have been smoother.
Despite our gripes about the lack of feedback from the steering, the difficult to master braking system, and the comfort-oriented suspension, we can’t deny that the new and improved SRX represents a nice leap forward over the older car.
VS: Lexus RX350
Think of the Cadillac SRX as a better Lexus RX350. Its starting price of $36,050 is about $3000 cheaper than the RX, and the Caddy’s V-6 engine has 33 more horsepower and 8 more pound-feet of torque. And the difference can be felt, as the Cadillac feels more urgent and willing than the more relaxed Lexus.
There’s an even larger differentiation between the two cars when in the driver’s seat. The Lexus feels numb in most every situation, with a soft, isolating ride and lackluster and overly light steering. On the other hand, even the uncommunicative steering of the SRX feels sharper and more intuitive on a complex road. Straighten the road out, and the Caddy manages to feel comfortable, but still capable of rapid directional changes.
VS: Lincoln MKX
The Lincoln is more competitive than the Cadillac on the power front, thanks to its larger 3.7-liter V-6, which produces 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. For those that didn’t major in mathematics, that means only three fewer horsepower and an extra 15 pound-feet of torque.
That added power doesn’t translate well acoustically though, as the Lincoln’s powerplant sounds less refined, and translates less of the “good” exhaust note that we enjoyed in the Cadillac.
The MKX also lacks the user-friendliness of the Cadillac, as it utilizes the love-it-or-hate-it MyLincoln Touch (MyFord Touch) system. This system is more technologically advanced than the SRX’s touchscreen nav system, but the learning curve is far steeper.
2012 Cadillac SRX
Engine: V-6, 3.6 liter, 24v
Output: 308 hp/265 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 4277 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 17/24 MPG
Base Price: $36,050
On Sale: Late Summer 2011