Driven: 2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport
By Bradley Iger
January 03, 2014
One of my earliest automotive memories is of my father's 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. As a wee lad, I remember a car that was seemingly endless in size, power and presence. Awash in leather and chrome, this was clearly a vehicle whose main mission in life was to announce to the world that the owner had arrived - both literally and figuratively. As the current flagship model of the Cadillac brand, in many ways the XTS is the spiritual successor to that Fleetwood. But where the Fleetwood had a more or less singular design goal from the onset, the XTS Vsport is asked to do a number of things well - some of which are intrinsically opposed to one another.
Much like BMW's M Sport lineup, Cadillac's Vsport trim bridges the gap between the standard models and the hardcore sports configuration of the V models. However, unlike the ATS and CTS, no V model is planned for the XTS, so the XTS Vsport becomes the top of the range by default. As such, the XTS Vsport is asked to provide a split personality for its buyers - one which is comfortable, compliant and effortless to drive, yet at the same time, dynamic, engaging and nimble when the driver gets the urge. Unlike the CTS and ATS, vehicles that are engineered from the ground up to beat the European sport sedans at their own game, the base XTS's reason for being is to provide an option to the old school Cadillac buyers - like my father - who want a large, comfortable, easy-to-drive and well equipped American sedan that offers a little bit of panache. For those buyers, the XTS's front wheel drive layout is of little or no concern whatsoever, as this is not a car designed to be driven hard - it is a car that is designed to be comfortable. And that is the crux of the issue with the XTS Vsport: on a fundamental level, it is car which was designed to be comfortable and easy to drive, and it has now been tasked with also providing a driving experience which is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Vsport trim line sees a number of upgrades over the base XTS, but the party piece here is clearly the 3.6-liter, direct injected biturbo V6 resting between the front fenderwells. First seen in the 2014 CTS Vsport, the motor loses 10 hp and about 60 lb-ft of torque in its transition to the XTS. Even so, it is still a very potent unit, generating 410 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque - torque which is on tap from 1900 rpm all the way to 5600 rpm. That's an increase of over 100 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque over the naturally aspirated V6 found in non-Vsport XTS models. Cadillac wisely chose not to attempt to send all that power through just the front wheels, and has equipped the XTS Vsport with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system.
Mated to a quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, it's a combination that will get you from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and on to handcuffed-in-the-back-of-a-patrol-car speeds with shockingly little effort. For all the gratification that kind of grunt provides this understated sedan, it is quickly tempered when you are reminded of the XTS's front-drive origin by way of a brief but unnerving dose of torque steer that often yanks at the light-feeling steering wheel when you dip heavily into the throttle from low speeds. But we would be remiss if we didn't say that this boosted motor gives the XTS a newfound feeling of athleticism in terms of passing ability in nearly any situation.
Like the standard XTS, the Vsport comes with GM's vaunted Magnetic Ride Control and, exclusive to the Vsport, HiPer Strut front suspension. This is perhaps where the Vsport's attempt at having a split personality is the most strained. Without the ability to set the suspension in a Comfort or Sport mode, engineers were tasked with finding a happy medium between the two, and the result is a mixed bag at best. During high speed runs over uneven roads, the soft springs in the Vsport allowed an excessive amount suspension travel - enough to erode our confidence that the chassis could keep up with the motor. Conversely, the Vsport's uprated suspension also equated to a slightly harsher ride around town than the standard XTS, transferring more information through the cabin about Los Angeles's potholed streets than we wanted to know. Again, an adaptive suspension that allowed the driver to choose between stiffness settings would likely solve these issues, but as it stands now, the XTS Vsport is forced to try to be both sporty and comfortable simultaneously - utilizing a singular suspension setting - and the result is a compromise of both.
Since the Vsport package sits at the top of the heap in terms of trim levels for the XTS, it comes loaded with comfort and convenience features. Surprisingly roomy and logically laid out, every surface your hands come in contact with inside the Vsport feels high quality and very much on par with the competition in this segment. The seats in the Vsport have adequate bolstering and offered an admirable level of comfort during long journeys, and legroom provided for all passengers is vast - even for those forced to sit behind the tall frame of your author.
Cadillac's CUE system adds an effective upscale aesthetic to the XTS, but in practice, we found CUE to be frustrating to use, as its touchscreen interface would often take several seconds to acknowledge a command, leaving us wondering if our last input had been recognized. Despite this, CUE still offers a wide breadth of functionality, and the use of a reconfigurable LCD display in lieu of a traditional gauge cluster gives the XTS a welcome feeling of modernity and tech savviness.
Perhaps the trick to the XTS Vsport is pinpointing who this particular configuration of the XTS this appeals to. The levels of luxury, safety, and convenience of the Vsport trim are more or less unchanged from that of a fully loaded Platinum trim XTS with the base engine - a car which is inherently good at being a comfortable, easy-to-drive cruiser. However, the presence of the biturbocharged V6 here may be enough to convince some buyers to spring for the Vsport, as it offers a very significant improvement in responsiveness over the base engine. A full-blooded sports sedan the XTS Vsport is not - the CTS fills that roll in the Cadillac lineup - but a comfortable, well-appointed vehicle with authoritive command of the road, it most certainly is. The Fleetwood Brougham would be proud.